THE word 'culture' always finds me reaching for my rolled-up copy of Cable Guide. Last Saturday was different. To the South Bank Centre for a spot of ballet. Until recently, my knowledge of ballet started and ended with Rudolf Nureyev's nostrils. Flared and finely fluted, they signalled to the world his sensuality, pride and defiance.

As a boy I was bewitched by them, and pored over photographs in the local library. I tried to emulate the great man's expression; but every time I relaxed, so did my nose. It was no use. I decided not to be a ballet dancer after all.

We left Kitty's flat, opposite an Italian cafe in Soho, and walked to the end of the road, straight into a gang of tall young Italians. They drifted towards us, looking over our heads at the cafe, their destination. We passed through them as if through a small forest. They wore navy trenchcoats and ties. It was the Cremonese football team, fresh from beating Derby County at Wembley to take the Anglo-Italian Cup. A good omen, I decided.

As always, we passed police, drunks and people begging on the streets. We passed a fine juggler in Leicester Square, working a queue for the big new film. We passed the offices of Prospect, a company designing an interactive virtual nightclub. 'Is it any good?' asked Kitty. It was a chance to show off my cultural credentials. 'It's good, but lacks the real piquancy of a Saturday night here in Soho,' I replied, choosing my words carefully. Her neighbourhood, see?

In Villiers Street we bought bagels and sat down. The golden majesty of Shell-Mex House hovered above us. 'I know I've told you this before, but I used to clean the windows on that building,' I said.

'You've never told me that before,' said Kitty.

So I told her how, as a window-cleaner for Shell, I had worked my way from the bottom, around and up to the top, floor by floor, three times in seven months. How one morning, transfixed by the beauty of dawn over the Thames, I had nearly fallen 15 floors with a beatific smile on my face. How I had once stood right there at the top, under those giant clock hands. God, I felt proud of myself. I turned to find her studying her bagel.

Then we walked towards that plain child of guarded optimism, the South Bank Centre. Across Hungerford Bridge and past two more people huddled in blankets asking for spare change. Living in central London will soon merit a campaign medal, like living in New York, I told Kitty.

The foyer was a different world. Not like the other London at all. There was light and space and nobody had grimy skin, or asked for money. It was a nice place. Very decent people were drinking coffee and eating cheesecake. A mellifluous male voice announced the start of the ballet.

You could barely see the black dancer on stage, but that was part of the design. Gliding and hovering in a full-length conical dress, she was a madwoman dancing by the light of a new moon. A high priestess practising some occult rite. A sleepwalker on the verge of waking. A voodoo zombie. She changed without thinking, as if by magic. I was profoundly impressed.

There were several moments like this, constituting a good night out, so we both left happy. Even the terrible e1ectronic oom-pah-pah at the end of the show did not spoil the evening's entertainment.

We walked back into the other London. More beggars, more drunks, more sirens, more tourists. We bumped into Sean, who sported a goatee beard, a 17th-century Royalist hairdo and knee-length suede platform boots, the colour of marmalade. He invited us down to his club, Merrie England. I kissed Kitty goodbye at her door. She went in, then out with her friend Naomi - to Merrie England.

I walked a few doors along the street and, pulling back the aluminium door, bounded up the steps to see Guy and Vivienne, back in the real city. But I liked the ballet. I think we might go again.

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