A city that can’t save an institution like Simpson’s is no sort of city at all | Rachel Cooke

A greedy London landlord threatens the centuries-old haunt frequented by Dickens and Thackeray

During the pandemic, I made as many micro-donations to struggling restaurants as I did to theatres and galleries, the coffee eclairs at Maison Bertaux in Soho (est 1871) seeming to me to be almost as important culturally speaking as a season at the Donmar Warehouse.

But if I expected all this to end post-lockdown, it seems I was mistaken. My latest heartache is for Simpson’s Tavern in the City of London, whose landlord has served its proprietors with an eviction notice, rent arrears having built up in the months when it was closed due to Covid-19. A crowdfunder is now in place in the hope it can yet be rescued.

Simpson’s has been on the same site in a courtyard off Cornhill since 1757; Charles Dickens and William Thackeray were among its patrons. It has bow windows and brass rails, wooden booths and lovely, long-standing staff. Best of all, there is a dish on the menu – unchanged for centuries – called stewed cheese: a hot sauce to be spread on toast, like welsh rarebit. It is, in other words, a national treasure and it seems to me that a city that cannot support such a place isn’t much of a city at all.

I cannot think of a sadder indictment of a landlord than for such a tenant to be lost, but I also believe there must be a London-loving saviour out there somewhere: the kind of generous soul who would be just as happy with free steak and kidney pudding for life as with seeing his name in gold letters on the back of a red, plush seat.

Peeling orange

orange spines on penguin paperbacks
‘…the spines of the Penguin paperbacks that filled my childhood home, volumes I associated even as a girl with warmth, optimism and endless bright ideas.’ Photograph: Sarah Lee/The Guardian

What to call a woman whose favourite colour, almost to the point of obsession, is orange? An orangina, perhaps? And what, I wonder, is the cause of such a preference? In my case, I think it must be connected to the spines of the Penguin paperbacks that filled my childhood home, volumes I associated even as a girl with warmth, optimism and endless bright ideas.

In search of answers to these questions, I’ve been reading Chromorama, a new book about colour by Riccardo Falcinelli, an Italian designer. So far, he has mentioned neither Penguin nor Hermès, the leather goods maker whose orange boxes induce in me a terrible lust. But I’m learning a lot. What do visitors think of the orange wallpaper in my office? It boosts my word count dramatically, but it seems it may depress other people. As Falcinelli notes, in Bernardo Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris and Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, orange tones were used to create an atmosphere of “enveloping melancholy”, a perpetual sunset heavy with the dust of memories.

Captivating coiffeurs

Henry Fuseli’s Standing Woman seen from the Back
Henry Fuseli’s Standing Woman seen from the Back: ‘His models sport phallic up-dos, held in place with combs, cushions, pins and powder.’ Photograph: Richard Valencia photography/The Courtauld

Having seen the Courtauld Gallery’s new exhibition of Henry Fuseli’s naughtiest drawings, I’m ready to believe that he and his wife, Sophia, did indeed have a hairdresser attend them every morning; Fuseli, whose admirers included William Blake and Mary Wollstonecraft, clearly had quite the hair fetish.

In these pictures, his models sport phallic up-dos, held in place with combs, cushions, pins and powder, and studded all over with pearls that are even more preposterously elaborate than those to be found in the risible TV drama Bridgerton – and looking at them makes one feel both a bit furtive and a bit drab.

The Courtauld has surely missed a trick by failing to sell in its shop a Fuseli-branded hairbrush, designed both for applying to gallery goers’ unfortunate tangles and – for those of the right inclination – to generously proportioned behinds.

• Rachel Cooke is an Observer columnist


Rachel Cooke

The GuardianTramp

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