At the end of the evening there are only two of us standing. In several inches of sand in the boisterous balloon-filled basement of a Soho bar. “I think it’s time to go,” says Jonathan wisely
And to think it had all started so normally. Conversation kicked off with ubiquitous recession talk. Everyone agreed the worst is behind us – fingers crossed. Robert explains: “I spend four months of the year in Brazil and when I came back to the UK in March everyone looked so miserable. I think the general mood has got lighter since then.” Or perhaps it was just the shock of swapping Brazil for the UK in March.
Felix supports the recovery theory with a word not often heard these days. “I’m trying to buy a house at the moment and got gazumped.” There are, it seems, still housing hot spots in swanky corners of London.
Jonathan interjects: “Felix is the Red Baron of the office.” On further questioning it turns out he really is a baron and fresh back from the invitation-only Winterwell festival in Cirencester. He can’t remember who was on the bill but at least he got to hang out with his model friends.
It would have been a missed opportunity not to ask a table of architects what they thought of the recent Rogers/Charles spat. “Charles overstepped the mark” is the predictable consensus. Eugene says: “He wasn’t just passing comment, it was calculated comment.”
Tobi adds: “It shows you how much power his mum has over him.” Sorry? He explains: “Don’t forget, Rogers was knighted by the Queen.” It’s a new, if somewhat confusing, conspiracy theory.
A few local soho businesspeople sidle over with some colourful suggestions
And the suggestion that developers routinely push schemes under his nose for approval? Jonathan says: “It only happens when developers know they’ll get the thumbs-up. I’m sure there have been many schemes not shown to him because they know the reaction wouldn’t be favourable.”
It is about this time that two American women on the next table join in the conversation. One, it turns out is also an architect; at least that’s her story today. The conversation then takes a rather odd twist. “I’m a compulsive liar,” she begins. “Every day I choose a new profession for myself.” Today she began at the letter A and tomorrow is B. “B is for botanist,” she says, cheerily, “and on Saturday I’ll be a chiropractor.” Cue uneasy laughter. Her friend introduces herself as the “CEO of a hair colour home application business”. And who is to argue with that?
Tobi then returns a packet of cigarettes to their owner – Ieva – by tossing them across the table. “Don’t throw, it’s very rude to do that in Lithuania,” she jokes. “Not in Germany,” says Tobi, who spent four years working for Fosters. Why did he leave? “After working at that pace I was physically exhausted,” he says, adding that it was a great learning experience.
As several of the party sensibly go home, three of us head into Soho for what Jonathan calls “a sharpener”. We stand around debating which bar to go into and the sight of three suited men planning their next move in the middle of Soho at midnight causes a few local businesspeople to sidle over with some colourful suggestions. The bar with the sand on the floor was tame in comparison.