Behaviour you can count on

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The Independent Online
METROPOLITAN life enervates the animal spirits of metropolitan people. Civilisation takes its toll. It's not just the traffic, or the fact that your house looks out on to a cash'n' carry, or that the sky sits like a scab over the city.

The underlying reality is that - for all the rudeness the city produces - London is a city of manners, a mannered city. In London, social, intellectual and educational respectability combine in a vicious triangle of good behaviour.

As a result of this affectation, London voices sound strangely high-pitched, the language is uniquely mandarin. An editor cancelled our lunch with the words: 'Incredibly, I'm afraid, a cloud no larger than a man's hand hangs over Thursday. Do you mind?' A countess asked a waiter for a match: 'Excuse me, a light. Can you bear it?' And a fat man in a pub off Berkeley Square, asked by a barmaid if she could help, said: 'I'm sure you can, though precisely in what way I can't immediately tell. A half of lager, perhaps?'

In London, you can go out to dinner with a marketing director, an account executive and film editor and be certain, practically certain, that the evening will not end with a rubbish bin being thrown through a shop window.

The same cannot be said for life in Australasia. Social mobility in this part of the world is such that middle-class boys, boarding school boys, know how to fight in pubs. In England, boarding school boys have so little physical confidence they cannot properly be said to be able to dance in pubs, let alone fight.

There is a wildness in the young around here, and adolescence persists till the early thirties. Whatever the official culture (fairly prim, perhaps), it is different after lights out; lost in the back country with a tray of beer and a cubic foot of wine, things are very different.

And the difference is expressed by the most respectable people. These are not rough boys who work in lube bays, these are not grinders and grease monkeys, these are lawyers and stockbrokers, they are marketing directors and software designers.

In London, the fat solicitor next to you at dinner - with the jowls, and the watch chain, and that courtroom way of talking - he certainly knows the difference between an -ible ending and an -able ending, and the origins of Belgium. But can you think he ever made a speciality of drinking 20 ounces of whisky and climbing from one flat-bed van to another while going 95mph the wrong way down a motorway? That's how it is here (the whisky is essential, they explain, on the floor of the stock exchange: you'd never attempt it sober).

Your best friend (now on the area health board) and the partner of the accountancy firm you use: were they ever seen, how shall we say it, making water into the input hole of a beer truck as it was pumping beer into the pub from the other end?

These things don't happen occasionally here, they happen all the time, they are required to happen. And though they are deplorable, these events have at least helped to slightly redefine the sense of the word deplorable (something somehow engaging but impossible to own up to in public).

Here is a ward sister who looks both crisp and demure, and in fact she still lives at home. Her sister told me she used to wage monthly bets with her room-mate. As a result of these competitions she put on two stone in a month (she won that month). The following month she took off two and a half stone (and won that one, too). The month after that she slept with 48 men ('sleep', of course, is not the word) and that was the month she lost.

The creative director and part-owner of a city advertising agency has a scar on his knuckle and his senior account director has three false front teeth. Draw your own conclusions.

He's a stockbroker now - once he threw a full flagon of sherry off a terrace towards the street 50 yards below. He could not see where it landed, but judging by the quality of the sound of breaking glass, it did not land on anyone.

It is not London; these things are not characteristic of London. Maybe this part of the world was colonised by Mancunians. Wholly deplorable, of course; perhaps that's what makes it tolerable.

Miles Kington returns on Monday.

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