Tales Of The City: Where's your dignity, David Bowie?

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The Independent Online

I've been a devoted, not to say demented, fan of David Bowie since the early 1970s (I used to go to fancy-dress parties as Ziggy Stardust), but I've never worked out why such a staggeringly good-looking man should agree to be portrayed on his record covers as such a prat. Turning himself into Lauren Bacall on The Man Who Sold The World was cool; so were the human-canine cover of Diamond Dogs and the flash-faced androgyne on Aladdin Sane. But Heroes portrayed him as a whey-faced beatnik, Lodger had him falling apart in a series of ugly Polaroids, and on Let's Dance he was a cross-eyed weed in boxing gloves.

His recent CD covers are even worse. On last year's Heathen, he was a grey-faced loon with no eyeballs and a mad light issuing from the sockets. Posters for the new album, Reality, show him as a Jacques Tati figure in a business suit, tie self-consciously dishevelled, apparently tripping over in the street. He looks, frankly, embarrassing (and David Bowie is never embarrassing). His expression is of outraged dignity, as if he secretly knew it was a crap photo-shoot.

There can be only one explanation for his disastrous style choices over the years. He has been retaining the services of Ms Carole Caplin...

Just plane stupid

I yield to no man in my admiration for Ryanair and their mystifying ability to fly one to Malaga or Dublin for £6.35. Now, however, they're getting too big for their Birkenstocks. They've started laying down the law about passports and identity documents. I've heard half-a-dozen stories from Londoners turned away at the check-in desk for failing to bring a passport - even if they're taking a domestic flight to Newcastle. I don't know if it's legal for an airline to insist that people carry passports - I'd have thought the Home or Foreign offices decided that - but it's pompous folly to initiate this and refuse to reimburse travellers if they miss their flights as a result.

Ryanair point out that passengers are advised about the ID requirement at six different times during the booking process. This was no help to a friend at the BBC, who was flying from Gatwick to Newquay in Cornwall. As he'd had his ticket booked for him, and it's not a journey that crosses many international boundaries, it didn't occur to him to dig out the old let-or-hindrance documentation. But at Gatwick the girl said: no passport, no check-in. "Have you a driver's licence?" she asked. To his relief, yes, he had. "It doesn't carry a photograph," said the woman. "I can't accept this." The man showed her his BBC photo-ID badge, a mark of probity that would get you into Fort Knox, the Golden Temple at Amritsar and the more exclusive houses of ill repute in Paris. But not a Ryanair flight. "Look at the picture, you can see it's me. And you can tell from the voucher that the BBC pre-booked the ticket. Isn't that enough security for a flight to Cornwall?"

"Can't be too careful," said the martinet. "Last week, I stopped a man from going to his own wedding." And she nodded, as if expecting applause.

Not so crazy for you

Having been to the launch of Madonna's book, The English Roses, and now seen its contents, what surprises me is not the vapidity of the characters (five wholly undifferentiated little girls) or the derivative nods to Cinderella and A Christmas Carol, or the way a promising climax is wrapped up in five lines as if the author had an important engagement to get to. What surprises me is the tone of testy irritation. Hearing Madonna read an extract to the tiny guests at her tea party, I assumed her cries of "Stop interrupting me!" were directed at seven-year-olds in the front row. But they're in the text. Along with "I've already told you," and "Why am I telling you this?" and other exasperated swipes. The fairy godmother tells the girls off for interrupting her, says: "I'm a very busy woman," and chivvies them with "I've got places to go and people to meet." Sounding, I think, a touch like the author herself, telling her kids that her busy schedule allows no window for intragenerational role-play or juvenile, nursery-based gender-bonding. She may, for all I know, have invented a new children's-book voice of testy impatience and dismissal, which will delight tinies all over the world. But I still feel a squeak of sympathy for her children.

My private grief

For several thousand middle-class parents, the new term has brought a fathomless misery, a traumatic revelation. It will hang around them like a terrible, microclimatic fog. It will make them snarl at their children and re-think life-strategies. And they'll get no sympathy from most of the nation. Because I'm talking about school fees.

They've gone up again, from £2,800 to £3,100 per kid per term in my part of London. That's a jump of more than 10 per cent. When I think back to the happy days when private schooling seemed a smart idea, the fees were less than £2,000. They've gone up by 55 per cent in six years, or just under 10 per cent a year. That's a startling 7 per cent above inflation each year.

I was told that there would be a letter with the new fee demand explaining the reasons for the latest swingeing increase, but evidently the school governors couldn't think of one. I expect it's to pay for a new science block my children will never use. But I wonder: will the cartel of private-school price-fixers keep on doing this until hapless parents cry "enough is enough" and start relocating the children, one at a time, to state schools?(And what message will that give the kid?) Are they, in effect, testing to destruction the extent to which middle-class parents can be screwed for unexplained fee hikes? I suggest they read JG Ballard's new novel Millennium People - in which the rebellious London bourgeoisie tire of being treated as mugs, take to the streets and start torching cars in Fulham...