The burghers of Worthing, the West Sussex seaside town, have come out against poor Oscar. Some vocal locals think that their haven of gentility should abandon its links with the great Irish playwright and stop celebrating the time he came to stay.
It was in summer 1894 that Wilde decamped from his Chelsea home for a holiday on the south coast. He and his wife and family booked into No 5, The Esplanade, Worthing for August and September, and he wrote the first draft of The Importance of Being Earnest there. He obviously liked the place, since he named a leading character after it – Jack Worthing.
Now, 104 years after Wilde was jailed for homosexuality, a local historian called Hare, author of Worthing, a History: Riots and Respectability in a Seaside Town, raises the spectre of Wilde's gayness and his preying on teenage boys.
Mr Hare regards Wilde's attempted seductions as "a bit unsavoury" and says: "It reminds me of Gary Glitter." It takes a mental stretch to see much equivalence between the writer of "I'm the Leader of the Gang (I Am)" and that of Lady Windermere's Fan, but Mr Hare – the self-appointed chronicler of local Respectability – thinks the blue plaque that's hung on the seafront for years was ill-advised. He's backed by a local agitator called Stevens, who warns: "I would fight tooth and nail for any campaign to erase a link between Worthing and a child abuser."
Noble sentiments, but unrealistic. Once a place starts to rewrite its past and detach itself from potentially embarrassing associations, there's no end to it. Should Dublin and Zurich take down their statues of James Joyce because he wrote about a character taking a morning dump and, later, masturbating at the sight of a crippled girl on a beach? Should Jimi Hendrix be posthumously stripped of his blue plaque in Mayfair because he was a fiend for heroin? Come to that, wasn't Worthing where the Arabic scholar Edward William Lane translated The Thousand and One Nights? And didn't the late Harold Pinter write The Homecoming while staying there in 1964? But I doubt their links with Worthing will ever be made public – not with those unrespectable tales of seraglios and heroic thieves, those anti-America rants and poetic effing-and-blindings.
Go on then, Worthing: rub out any links you have with interesting historical figures who happened to be sinners, just like the rest of us. And when they've all been excised, you can boast (truthfully) about being host to the world's annual bowls championships...
As we enter a year of bleak, belt-tightening misery, learning to forage for herbs in the park and bring back the ancient arts of darning socks and mending things, I predict a renaissance in London bus-usage. Instead of being seen as wheezy, smelly and full of razor-fanged rude boys, they'll seem a sensible alternative to spending £4 to go one stop on the Tube, or £30 for a taxi from Dulwich to Regent Street. Dinner guests will brag about their discovery of the No 3 route from Crystal Palace to the BBC ("... and it's very reasonably priced") and senior managers just parted from their Bentleys will climb aboard the No 168 and tell the driver: "Take me, my good man, to No 44, Rufus Road..."
With brilliant timing comes a psychological profile from Salford University, explaining how your personality is defined by where you sit on a bus. Dr Tom Fawcett says those who sit in the front seats on top are "forward-looking" (you don't say), those at the back are "rebellious", and those in the middle "independent-minded". Downstairs, those at the front are "gregarious meeters-and-greeters", the middle lot are "strong communicators", and those on the facing seats are "risk-takers".
Dr Tom tested his theory on bus rides between Bolton and Manchester. Had he explored London buses, I feel he'd have found other things: that the people in the middle seats upstairs are cowering equidistantly from the blade-toting muggers at the back and the shooter-packing Russians at the front; the communicators downstairs are desperately trying to score some weed; and the "risk-takers" on facing seats are knackered sixtysomethings who've collapsed sideways after waiting 45 minutes for this psychologically fertile form of transport... See you on the top deck. Happy New Year.Reuse content