Hello there! It's the man who fell to earth

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The Independent Culture
MAYBE YOU didn't know he'd ever been away, but David Bowie has hit the headlines with his decision to return to live in Britain. It seems that the pop star has been away for a quarter of a century. He has not been on Mars or some more distant planetary body, as his artistic output may have led you to expect, but Bermuda, a place more notable for its golf courses than extraterrestrials. Bowie must have a fondness for places beginning with "B" because he started life in Brixton, grew up in Bromley and first came to public attention in Beckenham. If this suburban community is not exactly the first place that springs to mind as a hot-bed of artistic creativity, it is no fault of David's, because he established the Beckenham Arts Lab (after all, it was the Sixties) in a large, dingy pub called the Three Tuns.

Under the influence of his mentor Lindsey Kemp, mime played an important part at the Beckenham Arts Lab. As a local resident for almost as long as Bowie has been away, I must admit that mime does not seem to have caught on round here. Punters in Ladbroke's do not go into elaborate displays of silent, poignant despair when the first choice in their running accumulator fails to do the biz at Kempton Park. Nor do patrons in Sketchley's go through an elaborate charade of spilling imaginary drinks, pointing out imaginary stains, taking off imaginary garments, etc.

In fact, the most vigorous and sustained use of gesture is performed by drivers negotiating the bottleneck outside David's old haunt, but it is a moot point if their flamboyant digital manipulations are intended as an homage to the local star.

If he's thinking of renewing his struggle to transform Beckenham into the Montmartre of south London, perhaps Mr Bowie should be made aware that the Three Tuns, like so many nice, dingy old pubs in Britain, has undergone a terrible metamorphosis in his absence. Now done out in polished pine and cheap-looking brass, it has been renamed, with stunning originality, the Rat and Parrot. Following this transformation, the boite has gained a reputation in the locality for the lively behaviour of its clientele. If David were tempted to re-establish his Arts Lab, he would certainly be assured of appearing on television, since the local authorities have erected an impressively vast closed-circuit TV camera which keeps a constant glassy eye open for disturbances outside the hostelry.

Of course, Bowie may be heading for Bermondsey, Battersea or Balham, all of which seem eminently well-suited to his predominant requirement in a place of residence. Inexplicably, it has been suggested that the 52-year-old popster will probably choose to live in Chelsea or Kensington. "As long as it's within easy reach of the art galleries, he'll be happy," said a pal of his. "He's not going after anything too lavish." David's idea of lavish, however, is a bit different to yours or mine. During a Caribbean break a few years ago, I happened to see a Bowie residence in the Mustique area before he upped sticks for Bermuda. It rambled over virtually the whole length of an island.

I'd have thought he would be hard pushed to get anything as spacious in SW3 or SW5. In south London, this would not present a problem. Mr B could buy up the whole of Penge, where I know for a fact that he still has some cronies. As for art, he would be better off in the depths of south London than in the nobby faubourgs of the West End. Forget Cork Street, David, we've got Goldsmiths College only a mile or two away. It was at this celebrated birthplace of Britart that Damien Hirst first came up with his idea for The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, otherwise known as a great big shark. No wonder David Bowie has decided to come back to London. You don't get that sort of thing in Bermuda.