The star of the new James Bond film is not Daniel Craig, despite all that attractive squinting he does. It is the Casino Royale itself, the still, seductive centre of the film where the lights are low, the stakes are high and the carpet is as deep as Alain de Botton. Here, minute details - the pulse on someone's temple, say - assume razor-sharp importance. Here, diamonds drip from ladies and chandeliers alike. Here, even the baddies are glamorous. Here, sadly, is an entirely fictional place.
Casinos are nothing like this, as I found out when I worked as a croupier in a London casino near Green Park. A combination of naïveté and too many gambling movies meant I expected my six weeks' training in blackjack and roulette to catapult me into a world where croupiers declared "Rien ne vas plus!" while gamblers kissed dice and gaily toasted fortune. I hoped that all players that were not actually Daniel Craig would at least be dressed like him. It wasn't to be.
The casino I worked at didn't sound right, for a start. Instead of a velvet hush, there was the stutter and ping of slot machines. The decor was wrong, too. In a flight of architectural fancy the joint had been designed to resemble a giant money clip (so as subliminally to suggest to punters they were "in the money"?). The walls curved and the ceiling sloped; all was held together with neon-blue strip lighting. The overriding feeling it gave was one of seasickness, like being in a bad Modernist painting. No Rococo mirrors here.
My uniform, a trade ballgown of 100 per cent polyester, could not have been less Bond. As defence against the air con it came with a velveteen shoulder shrug, a style statement of which the Queen Mum would have approved. But the greatest disappointment was the clientele.
They were not the beau monde so much as the demi monde; a desperate, twilight lot. Some, you suspected, were mainly there for the complimentary sandwiches. Others were clearly in the grip of addiction. They would nurse the same grubby piles of chips for hours, and would perform caricature gestures of frustration (yelps, fists drumming on the baize) when they lost.
Some followed arcane betting systems: I once spent an afternoon dealing to a wild-haired man in a woolly jumper who proudly, carefully, consulted a handwritten chart every time he made a bet. By midnight he was looking tense and sternly addressing the roulette ball. He was spotted leaving the casino at 5am, bitterly crumpling his secret chart in his fist. Like most addicts, the clientele cared little for how they dressed. Towelling tracksuits and sun visors were the norm. One fellow sometimes turned up with his toupee slapped on, sometimes without. "You watch those punters, love," confided my overseer or "pit boss", "they've got fleas."
One evening, though, I thought my glamorous cliché had arrived. An elegant woman dripping with diamonds sashayed over to my blackjack table and handed me a few hundred pounds to change, flashing long false nails. "She's more like it," I muttered to my pit boss, who replied: "That's right, pet. Pay him out."
Ian Fleming would not recognise London's gambling clubs today. All but the very exclusive ones are less Casino Royale, more Casino Pleb. But they are all the more interesting for it, and they still make great inspirations for films (think of Mike Hodges' Croupier). It's just the films are more likely to star Ricky Tomlinson than James Bond.
Leopard print: back in Vogue
The December issue of Vogue magazine is one to keep. Marking the 90th birthday of the British institution, it reprints highlights from the archive, from Erté illustrations to David Bailey photographs. There are also period pieces such as Vogue's moving list of new year's resolutions from 1943: "I'll do my own; make my own; And I'll keep my standards." Clothes are most interesting seen through the long lens of history; sometimes reading a fashion magazine, you can't find a page you want to read - here, you can't find one you don't. You also have to marvel at Vogue's ability to inspire (or rather, manipulate) its readers. Two years ago, I'd rather have died than wear leopard print, leggings and gold lamé. Now I want to wear nothing else.
* Are we living in a golden age of advertising? Judging by the recent crop of sales slogans, it seems unlikely. Five US, a channel devoted to American television exports, launched with the slogan: "Who said nothing good ever came out of America?"
Who indeed? No one, as far as I know. It seems pretty self-evident America achieved global cultural hegemony in the last century. But there we are. Next up, a huge billboard advertising an investment product asks: "Who said being tight was a bad thing?" Again, who indeed? Both adverts assume they can dive with familiarity into our thoughts; both end up bellyflopping instead.
Then there's the paint-splashing Sony Bravia HD TV advert, which makes me anxious (how will they clear up all that mess?), and finally this corker from the Spanish tourist board, more grammatical slip than advertising slogan: "Madrid only happens in Madrid." Consumers, let us rise up and demand they find better ways of parting us from our money!