Tales Of The City: And the bandanna played on

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The Independent Online

Two days back from les vacances in Andalusia, and already the children are bored by the awful nullity of London in late August, when all their little friends are still in Umbria or Dubrovnik. So I took the two youngest to see Pirates of the Caribbean the other afternoon. Would it be suitable for a sweet-natured eight-year-old girl? "It's a 12A," said the nice lady at the Odeon. "So it should be OK so long as there's a pirate present?" "I beg your pardon?" "Sorry, I mean parent..." And indeed there were hundreds of pirates present, their faces expressing various stages of decay, putrefaction, venality and all-purpose disgustingness.

The locus classicus of piratical behaviour - what you might call the quintessence of piratosity - came in the form of Johnny Depp, playing the charismatic Cap'n Jack Sparrow, a creature of exotic demeanour, his beard bifurcated into two forked tongues, his eyes rimmed with black eye-shadow, his ears and neck dangling more variegated bijouterie than Gypsy Petulengro on Brighton Pier.

I couldn't work out what Mr Depp was saying for several minutes, then realised that this charming American actor was talking in a foppish, limp-wristed, finger-pointing affectation of English languor circa 1780. Why? Did pirate history include Captain Bloods who were camp alcoholics? Was he imitating John Galliano, the fashion designer, who is often dolled up in crazy pirate garb - or was he a nautical version of Richard E Grant in Withnail and I, chronically drunk and louche and outrageous? Which cinematic forebear was he parodying?

That evening, I lit off to see The Rolling Stones play at Twickenham. On the train from Waterloo, our neighbours chatted about GCSE results and how lovely Mauritius is at this time of year. They looked like people unused to going anywhere by public transport.

On the long walk from Twickenham station to the concert, we passed a family cooking fat Duchy of Cornwall sausages at their garden gate, dishing them out in half-baguettes at £3 a pop and being congratulated on their entrepreneurial spirit by passers-by. It was all frightfully charming. At the stadium, chaps my age queued to buy £40 polyester shirts bearing the cover of the Some Girls LP. Easily the least authentic rock'n'roll sight I've seen in any rock audience was the lady in front of me offering her husband a plastic picnic container filled with sliced celery and cherry tomatoes. She was incontrovertibly a Stones fan, having paid £60 for her ticket, but had come a long way from the days of grooving to "Let's Spend the Night Together".

The band hit the stage with a barely-recognisable "Brown Sugar", but the music improved, the light show was fantastic and by the time we got to "You Can't Always Get What You Want", your humble scribe was dancing like one of those attractively portly hippos in Fantasia.

Then Keith Richards approached the mic. "Zreally grey be back," he announced blearily to the crowd, punching the environs of his heart with a show of dazed sentiment. "I better sing summing, 'fore I get too carry-dway..."

I stared in utter amazement. "That's it!" I yelled. "That's the Johnny Depp voice! Keith is being the pirate. No, I mean Jack Sparrow is Keith Richards!" And it was true. It all fell into place. Keith, with his wardrobe of bandannas, batik shawls, silk scarves, skull rings and rum-soaked hedonism (not to mention his knives and guns) has always been the perfect role-model for the modern pirate.

But how amazing that Mr Depp should make the connection and actually carry it through. It was amazing to discover the impersonation and the real thing on the same day - and see how the image of both the cut-throat degenerate and the drugged-up midnight rambler are both now as cute as pre-sliced celery and cherry tomatoes.

Revenge is a dish best served through the post

I've been following with fascination the Philip Hensher/Tracey Emin saga - and the former's quest to discover who has been sending him un-asked-for, special-offer ceramic collectibles from the Franklin Mint through the post. It's a sneaky form of modern torture, filling in application forms on someone else's behalf and enriching their breakfast time with woodland scenes and Arcadian figurines on which (the makers always point out, in their strangely philistine way) "every detail is meticulously rendered".

Now that Philip H has gone public about how he's been the victim of these murky transactions, I'd better confess I've been a victim too. The stuff I get isn't figurines, but something more sinister, more knowing. Every few months, I receive a communication from Bobby's Tailors in Kowloon, Hong Kong, thanking me for my measurements (waist 48in, inside leg 26in) and my choice of handmade, three-piece, gaberdine suit, and politely asking for the £210 in payment. Sometimes I get a Bobby's catalogue, as a teasing reminder that my sartorially-minded stalker is still on my case.

Other times, I receive letters from disadvantaged children in Gabon or Malawi, thanking me for undertaking to cough up several thousand quid to help this or that charity and hoping that God will guide me to let them have the money and save their lives... These are heartbreaking letters from real people in real distress, which I can't do much about, beyond sending a few quid. They're a lot worse than getting Lladro milkmaids through the post.

I don't know if these missives suggest an subtle criticism of my taste in clothes or of my vile, uncharitable nature - but I wish whoever's doing it would desist. Jesus, what was it I wrote that upset you, two years back?