It is only when everyone leaves that London comes alive
The Viagra raids in Soho were too late. It's in the national bloodstrea m. Priapus reigns
The writer and broadcaster Terence Blacker contributes a twice-weekly column on a wide range of social, cultural and environmental issues. He is the author of four novels, of prize-winning fiction for children, and has written a highly praised biography of the brilliant reprobate Willie Donaldson.
Monday 10 August 1998
I know, I know - it's a bit unusual to be sending out "Wish you were here" notes when I'm the one stuck at home, but I simply couldn't resist! I thought of you all on your holiday, sitting in the shade, sipping something exotic, your family and friends playing attractively nearby, congratulating yourselves on having "got away from it all".
It occurred to me that, although you're not ungenerous people, you might be feeling slightly smug. Every evening as the agreeable local wine flows at that remarkably unspoilt little hostelry you've discovered, you'll be speculating about what those of us left behind are doing. You'll make jokes about the weather, the repeats on TV, the foreign tourists seething like soldier ants through the underground. Soon you'll send us a postcard, smeared with sun-tan lotion in which you will attempt to conjure up the divine weather, the startlingly blue sea and something rather hilarious that happened at a mock bullfight down in the village.
Don't bother. The fact is that, ever since you left, London has been the most fantastic place on earth. Within seconds of the dreary holiday- addicts clambering on to their plane or pulling out of the crescent in their laden hatchback, the place came alive. Here are just a few of the things that have been happening in this gorgeous capital during the happiest, zaniest month of the year.
Poets have been taking their clothes off. Don't laugh, it's true and it's very beautiful. At the ICA's First International Festival of Naked Poetry, the latest literary fashion to hit Europe has been playing to packed, strangely silent and absorbed audiences. Poetry declaimed in the buff, the ICA's curator has revealed, "creates a greater spiritual connection with audiences".
Yeah right, you'll say, remembering pictures of Allen Ginsberg, squatting plump and naked on the stage at the Albert Hall, reading Blake and discussing masturbation. But no, this is the lovely young French writer Emmanuelle Waeckerle (even her name's a poem), the hunky St Petersburg couplet Tim Gadaski and Vladimir Yaremenko. The word in the Poetry Society is that these are the most physically perfect versifiers since Ted Hughes first arrived in London, emanating such a powerful sexual aura that women were physically sick at the sight of him.
As you sit, palely leering at naked foreigners on the nudist beach and then guiltily visit a local church to top up your cultural intake, those of us at home are getting naked foreigners and culture in one erotic yet intellectually stimulating hit.
There have been Viagra raids in Soho. But they were too late! It's in the national bloodstream. Priapus reigns. Strangers make love in the fountain in Trafalgar Square, sometimes for days on end. Naked European performance poets have caused sex riots in the Mall. At the Lambeth Conference, bishops are unable to discuss anything but varying aspects of contemporary physical relations.
Frank Field has been unmasked. D'you remember, when the Government's first cabinet was announced how the most intelligent, creative, morally unsullied minister was Frank Field - how he showed that New Labour was more than just image, spin and cynicism. Apparently that was all a fantastically sophisticated joke. We now discover that he was grindingly ambitious and, far from thinking the unthinkable, he wasn't much good at thinking at all. Who said that the Government had no sense of irony?
Everyone's bumping up, according to Jay McInerney. In town to promote his new novel, America's hippest fictioneer revealed that, while his fellow countrymen have become thin-lipped and puritanical on the subject of drugs, something called "a cocaine culture" has London in its grip. "I can't even get in the bathroom in Soho because everyone's bumping up," he complained to one interviewer. See what I mean? London's too hot even for Jay McInerney - that's how groovy it is.
Ann Widdecombe has become an icon. When you left, she was a slightly sinister, morally superior woman from a discredited former government. Now she's the most adored, cuddliest woman in Britain, a heroine of chatshows and celebrity quizzes and the wacky co-host of The Big Breakfast with Johnny Vaughan. And guess what - the single she released with the chanteuse Louise Something of the Night has already gone platinum!
Still, you probably think you're having a better time, sitting out there, as tanned and wrinkled as an old avocado, gloomily reassessing your life as your holiday grinds on. Back here, we don't envy you one bit.
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