Mary Dejevsky: Tourists can be delicate flowers


Related Topics

At the height of the rioting in London, I arrived home to find our American guest transfixed by the television coverage. I doubt she had much sleep that night; early next morning I found her tapping her computer, searching for flights back across the Atlantic. Within the hour, she had left for Heathrow, convinced that the army would be enforcing a curfew by dusk.

Now you can scorn such apprehension. You can insist that the anarchy was never going to lap at our door; that Tottenham and Croydon were quite a long way away and even Brixton and Clapham were hardly around the corner. But that is not necessarily how it appears to a visitor. And looking at some of the television footage as it is repeated, I'm not really surprised.

VisitBritain, the UK's publicly-funded tourist authority, moved quickly to suspend its international pre-Olympics video promotions. It was the right decision. You don't want happy pictures of London buses, Shakespeare's Globe or Camden market when the reports on the preceding news bulletin say something so different. Even if the two realities coexist, as they actually did in those disquieting days, you know which will leave the greater impression.

Tourism, especially upmarket tourism of the sort Britain always wants, is a delicate flower. Globetrotters can choose where to go; they can afford to cancel. But the damage to the economy, I fear, has further, perhaps much further to go.

I was on the King's Road in Chelsea on Saturday. I saw several people – in their 20s – sporting "Keep Calm And Carry On" T-shirts. But I noted, too, that the prevailing demographic seemed older than usual. If you remember the Blitz, however distantly, a few high streets in flames in less-privileged parts of London are probably not going to faze you. But crowds were still sparse. I didn't have to queue for my milkshake in McDonald's (a first), and had a window table to myself (ditto). The tills at M&S were silent. Next day, the shopping streets of Kensington seemed similarly bereft.

Someone, though, has an eye to a profit. A while back in this Notebook, I mentioned the promotion for armoured cars that had popped up in the nearby BMW showroom, and asked whether this showed that the neighbourhood was going up (more to be protected) or down (more villains out there). That same showroom, I was startled to find yesterday, has returned the bullet-shattered car-door from that promotion to the front of the window, but pride of place – leading the procession of luxury cars – is given to a BMW in white-and-yellow police livery. Only a few nights before, I had seen a teenage girl bound over at Westminster magistrates' court (just around the corner) for throwing "concrete masonry" and causing £5,000 worth of damage to just such a vehicle.

While admiring the chutzpah of BMW's advertisers, I couldn't but wonder whether that cop car might not be more usefully employed on the street.

Oh dear, what can the matter be?

How was it for you? For me, it was a juvenile disappointment. But then I generally find that talk of penises and lavatory seats doesn't fit particularly well with dinner. Saturday's Comedy Prom was a bright idea that misfired by underestimating its audience, straying too far from music and forgetting that a large part of its audience – listening at home – would miss the visual jokes. Much of this can be rectified next year.

But the visual thing grates. That same evening, the BBC was competing against itself, televising a recording of the National Youth Orchestra Prom, even as it relayed the Comedy Prom from the Royal Albert Hall. This is absurd. Why not just show all Proms live on BBC4?

Talking of the National Youth Orchestra, I hesitate before casting aspersions on an undoubted national treasure. But following as it did Venezuela's fabled Simon Bolivar orchestra, one difference was glaring. Where were the black and brown faces? There seemed fewer by far than at Oxford and Cambridge (which take so much flak at admission time), fewer than at Greg Dyke's "hideously white" BBC. With the current furore about gangsta rap, is music apartheid not something worth worrying about?

Those fortunate, Teflon-plated, few

The Press Complaints Commission, the independent body that enables the newspaper world to regulate itself, has advertised for a new chairman to replace the low-profile Baroness Buscombe. She recently declined to seek a second term, after criticism that the PCC had been soft on illegal phone hacking. The advert, by the way, strongly infers that the less the new chairman or chairwoman knows about newspapers, the better. We'll see about that.

What interests me more is the way some individuals float away so effortlessly from their mistakes, while hapless others are unjustly held to account. Tony Blair is a classic example. He is still enriching himself hugely, dispensing advice, despite initiating a diplomatic and military disaster to rival Suez; Gordon Brown was left to clear up the mess. The former US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, is a Blair. As a government Russia specialist, she advised George Bush senior to tell the Ukrainians not to seek independence, weeks before they voted overwhelmingly to do just that. Yet she prospered, ultimately failing to heed the Clinton administration's warnings about al-Qa'ida, just weeks before 9/11. Her reputation intact, she is now comfortably ensconced at Stanford University.

And so back to the PCC. Lady Buscombe took over from Sir Christopher Meyer, on whose watch the first phone-hacking prosecutions occurred. Has anyone asked what Sir Christopher might or might not have done differently? But then he was the flamboyant red-socked diplomat whose publisher's sleight of hand got his racy memoirs of Washington embassy days past Foreign Office censors, earning him a tidy sum and a new career in punditry – but also shutting publishers' doors to other government servants with more substantial tales to tell.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Support, Help desk)

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Learning, SQL, Brokerage)

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Lea...

UNIX Application Support Analyst- Support, UNIX, London

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: UNIX Application Support Analyst-...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US  

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Robert Fisk

Next they'll say an independent Scotland can't use British clouds...

Mark Steel
Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention