Who is this old fart? You can practically see the ancient grey hairs in his ears; practically hear the dottle being banged from his elderly Kapp & Petersen pipe; you could draw every detail of his carpet slippers and dented brass ear-trumpet...
No, I can't do this to him. I can't be horrible to Mick Jagger. Let us not forget that the King Stone, even at 52, even when mouthing (see above) the most plonking brand of platitudinous ectoplasm since the Sermon on the Mount, can still sing "Start Me Up" as if he were just about to be really rude to somebody in uniform. What's new is that, having been an Establishment figure for decades, Jagger now clearly aspires to become the ne plus ultra of authority figures, somewhere between Lord Taylor and the Warden of All Souls.
Tonight the boys are playing Wembley Stadium at the end of their monster, year-long tour, and the rock press will dig out the usual stuff about grandfathers and dinosaurs. I could never join this foolish consensus. I never thought the Stones were about youth and rebellion. I thought they were about religion.
When I was a cool dude of 14, I used to serve mass at a Catholic church in south London. (Weaslets go through periods of devout religiosity, too.) I was the thurifer, the chap who swings the incense-box and blesses everything in sight with clouds of sickly fog. For me the climax of the show (sorry, service) used to be the moment I stood on the apron of the stage (sorry, altar) and blessed the audience (sorry, congregation) with the thurible. One would do a curt little bow, wave the smoke-dispenser with a contemptuous gesture towards the head-bowed throng and receive their silent homage with a sort of internal rapture. It took a while to realise that the whole thing was a kind of substitution therapy. I wasn't being an altar server; I was being Jagger, in front of the Stones performing "Not Fade Away" to a fainting multitude.
When I see Jagger now, he seems in turn to have grown into the sacerdotal role. But just as I was a junior papist yearning to be a grown-up rocker, he is now aspiring to be a senior statesman. One looks around in despair for a senior statesman. What do they aspire to becoming? My eye falls on the figure of Alan Clark, a strangely Jaggerish figure as ladies' man, drawling iconoclast and don't-give-a-shit English icon. And I see that Clark is reforming his act and is anxious to become a Roman Catholic. Somewhere my 14-year-old self raises an incredulous eyebrow.
Mr Richard Leakey, the environmentalist and wildlife enthusiast, has been talking recently about his attempts to de-corrupt Kenya. He has also been talking with perfect equanimity about the redundancy of legs.
Mr Leakey lost both his legs when his plane crash-landed in the jungle. Like Douglas Bader, Leakey refused to be fazed by the loss of half his corporeal frame, ordered a brace of fake pins and proceeded to explain why he didn't actually need the original ones.
"All the important things in life take place above the knee," he told the Times. "I can still drive, I fly, I sail, I ride. There's nothing I used to do that I can't do now just as well...There are people with double amputations who climb Everest."
Listening to Mr Leakey ("Feet," he went on, unstoppably, "are the least important things..."), I wondered where I had heard the same, bizarrely stoic rationalisation of limblessness before. Was it in Reach for the Sky? Was it in that Beyond the Fringe sketch about a one-legged man auditioning to play Tarzan ("I have nothing against your right leg, Mr Harris. The trouble is, neither have you")? No. Opening my copy of the wonderful Oxford Book of Letters, published this week, I see that it was George Bernard Shaw, writing to his wounded friend St John Ervine in May 1918 to assure him that the loss of a leg in the war was no big deal.
"You will have all the energy you have hitherto spent on it to invest in the rest of your frame. For a man of your profession [Ervine was a playwright], two legs are a luxury... Instead of lingering in a hospital for a year, and then being sent back like a lamb to the slaughter, you will be quit of the army for life, and with a wound pension which in your case should logically be a reduction of the ordinary pension. The more the case is gone into, the more it appears that you are an exceptionally happy and fortunate man, relieved of a limb to which you owed none of your fame, and which indeed was the cause of your conscription; for without it, you would not have been accepted for service."
There's been great excitement at my local school, where the discovery of an early Victor Pasmore abstract construction in the boiler-house has provoked an orgy of philistinism in both the staff and the local press.
The wood and paint construction, Abstract in White, Black and Ochre, was apparently donated to the school in 1957, possibly by the artist himself. There it hung in a foyer until someone decided to put it away in the dark where its cool assembly of rectangles and straight lines couldn't do any damage to impressionable minds.
"Occasionally it would come out and we'd have a laugh," said "delighted school secretary Yvonne Hurley", speaking in the local freesheet. She was delighted because Sotheby's had identified the work and agreed to put it on sale with a reserve of pounds 2,500. They duly sold it for twice that, pocketing pounds 700 and leaving the rest to pay for a new classroom.
All this was accompanied by much hilarity in the local rags, one of which called the object "a bizarre piece of modern art", suggesting that the reporter concerned is not familiar with much beyond street urchins, crying clowns and green ladies. Typically, all the reports spelt the artist's name "Passmore".
The only lesson the pupils will have learned from all this is that if you stumble across something you don't immediately recognise as being of interest or value, you should a) ridicule it and b) sell it.
The other day I was being discharged from a casualty department (don't ask why) and was seeking a future appointment. The receptionist looked up from her screen and mumbled "I'm very sorry about the card. It's the only sort we have."
What could be wrong with an appointment card? At first glance there seemed nothing particularly odd about it, except that it was as big as three postcards.
"You're apologising for the size of it?" I asked. "No," came the reply. "It's just we feel embarrassed about giving it to people. Especially old people."
She handed it over. A nice colour photo of the hospital on the front. An embarrassing logo, apparently showing two adult aliens, one with a single triangular breast, and a baby alien, all caught in a swarm of bees. The rest was occupied by advertisements - a cunning marketing ploy, given that some unfortunates have to spend up to four hours in casualty with nothing to read but this piece of cardboard.
Three advertisers were featured: the local branch of Victim Support, an organisation which broke new ground last week when it offered counselling to a woman suffering the bottomless trauma of having her window-box nicked; second, a firm of solicitors touting for personal injury work ("Have you had an accident? You may be entitled to compensation."). The third - and the reason the staff are so reluctant to give the cards to the elderly - bore the legend, "It's so easy to keep putting it off, but making a will makes sense."
The technical term for this approach is FUD: Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt. As anyone with eyes and ears must have noticed, it's rapidly replacing sex as the motive force behind most advertising. But you might have thought a hospital waiting room would be one place you'd get a rest from itReuse content