Tanya Gold

Goulash and whiplash

So why does the Gay Hussar seem so cheerful?

Goulash and whiplash
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Ed is a plank. He was always a plank — and now he is in Ibiza being a plank. Plankety--plankety-plank: goodbye to our most recent terrible leader — and who will be the next? I, meanwhile, am in the Gay Hussar, choking on my own grief, hearing ‘Crying in the Rain’, weirdly, in my head, trying to forget the images that flicker mercilessly across my eyes, disrupting my view of a book that says, in capital letters, for emphasis — tony blair (now that’s a leader, eh!) — Clegg, dry-eyed with realisation at the breadth of his failure, Ed Balls hauled down like an -Easter Island statue, Samantha Cameron’s victory dress, which was a bullet-proof vest on the front and a high-vis jacket at the back. Well, it was a long -campaign.

When a certain sort of leftie weeps, as I did on Friday, mournfully saying ‘The left is shattered’ to -passers-by in Westminster, who couldn’t give a toss, because they are Tory anyway — it has to be the Gay Hussar, a shabby Hungarian restaurant on Greek Street, Soho. The Gay Hussar has sheltered north London metropolitan geeks (OK, Jews, we can say it now?) from their own idiocies with duck and cake since 1953. It fell from fashion when Blair rose, because Blairites apparently ‘wanted salad’; salad and war. But still it is comforting, a tiny postage stamp of red near the hookers, the gays and the -oblivion; it has faint mirrors and wobbling tables and leftie-themed souvenirs, which create an air of dining inside a sort of politicised London Dungeon. ‘labour victory’ says a newspaper by the loo. (The date is 1974.) The last time I came here it was empty, and my friend — a Tory barrister — said: this is a Tory restaurant. It has tablecloths; and tablecloths are definitely Tory. But they don’t have to be, I say back, tablecloths can, if they are taught to act in their own interests, be progressive. Balls, he said. And, even as if I type, off I go. Balls!

Something strange though — today, as I dine with a fellow desolate leftie, this restaurant, full of photographs and cartoons and the writings of noble dead lefties staring pointlessly from the walls, as remote now as Cleopatra, seems jaunty, delighted even in this Tory spring. (Michael Foot is a design feature now, not a fate I think he would cherish.) It was on its knees recently, I read — ah, metaphor! — and was resuscitated by something called ‘the Goulash Co-operative’, which campaigned to keep it open; now there is a muted buzz. The customers chirp and giggle in the shafts of dust. But not us. I am thinking about Nick Clegg’s eyes (not a sentence I thought I would ever write); my companion whimpers disconnected words in a stream of grief consciousness: ‘Michael Gove… the Human Rights Act… The NHS… the BBC! And the badgers! What about the badgers!’ ‘The BBC!’ I whimper back, ‘The badgers! And the badgers on the BBC!’

We snuffle self-righteously, and order: cold salami, hot sausage, goulash soup, chicken with paprika, schnitzel, potatoes with paprika, a strudel and a big sticky ornamental cake. This, you see, is how north London metropolitan geeks (OK, Jews, we can say it now?) commemorate a rout and douse their agony; by spending the equivalent of two weeks jobseekers’ allowance in a restaurant from the past. It’s very nice, better than I remember. Maybe they have changed the chef.

I suck the cake and wonder where the cuts will fall. Nowhere near The Spectator I’ll wager, and that is fine; advocates of prosperity theology, we deserve it all. Bring more cake into the grand and bitter Tory dawn! And goodbye plank. May our next plank be a better plank.

‘To go?’
The Gay Hussar, 2 Greek Street, London W1D 4NB; tel: 020 7437 0937.