Once I believed that if I lived in London and drank in the right bars I would have a good time. I was wrong. Fashionable London is no fun, no fun at all. Last week I went with a friend to one of the most socially desirable bars in town and I had a terrible time; not because of the friend, and not because of the bar, but because of the people in it. Oh-so-delighted with themselves for being there, oh-so-careful to conceal their delight, these were the self-elected fashionable Londoners and a more uptight band of miserable bastards it would be hard to find.
Should young people be like this? Could their ambition be to appear in the 'In column of a magazine piece which tells you what is hip and what is not? Attractive people with an amusing jobs and London all around them - should they be constantly shifting their gaze over each other's shoulders in the hope of being able to stare right through Johnny Depp?
Should they be behaving like the worst kind of suburbanite - sexless, scandal-mongering, small-minded, tweaking metaphorical net curtains as they peek anxiously at the competition? 'She was in the congregation for the bit when Hugh Grant was meant to marry Anna Chancellor, but she looked really bad, Josh said. 'I heard, ya. Of course he wrote that thing on Rufus Sewell, but apparently Izzy really hated it. 'Ya, I heard.
Should their eyes be so dead, their souls so tired, their impulses so thwarted? They don't even flirt with each other - you can't if you never look anyone in the eye. Of course the men parade past the women, run their hands through their hair and drawl boastful nonsense about independent production companies, while the women, tautly feminine in their faux Leger, throw them the occasional bright, steely glance. But there is no desire in the air: no desire for anything at all, let alone one another. And there is certainly no fun.
Yet these people are dedicated to the pursuit of pleasure. New bars, new drinking clubs, are opening for them almost every week; but who among the Fashionable Londoners is actually having a good time in these places?
See their poor faces as they burst into the foyer of the Groucho Club, that mixture of panic and disdain in their eyes as they look wildly about them - are you more important than I am? God, you might be . . . didn't I see you with Charlie Parsons? No . . . oh, thank Christ for that, I'm more important than you are. The Groucho, like almost all these clubs and bars, is beautifully imagined, and it should be easy to have a good time there. But the truth is that a night out in Fashionable London is not about having a good time. It is about being a part of Fashionable London.
Fashion serves a purpose: it can catch a new current and blow it back in our faces like an enlivening breeze. This is enjoyable, even necessary. But when fashion is merely regurgitating the same stale air, searching desperately for anything that has not been thought of before - or at least not for the past year - then it is time for people to breathe more slowly and more deeply. If fashion becomes too important it stops people thinking for themselves. Natural impulses and desires become perverted, assailed so relentlessly from without that they atrophy within.
Over the past 10 or 15 years, ours has become ever more of a buying and selling culture, and one of the consequences of this is that the media has created the notion that a fashionable lifestyle is accessible to more than just the famous. Yes, you too can wear Michael Jordan's trainers/drink cocktails mixed by Mick Jagger's favourite barman/be colonically irrigated by Princess Diana's therapist]
Alongside this notion the media has also, very cleverly, instilled a latent panic in those that aspire to this fashionable lifestyle. It tells you what is socially desirable but, it implies, if you stop reading this magazine, this newspaper, if you lose touch, if you blink, dammit, you will backslide horribly and before you know it you will be banging on the door of The Atlantic when everyone else is laughing at you from the inside of The Pacific, or The Arctic.
No wonder Fashionable London is full of people aping the style of the famous - the devil-may-care scruffiness, the black specs, the noli me tangere cool - but without the substance behind it. No wonder these people lack the insouciance to let fashion move elsewhere without them.
No wonder they don't have any fun. They are all terrified that if they were to relax and live in the present, in themselves, they would be revealed as the secretary from Ealing they really are, inside the persona of the Notting Hill Record Company Personal Assistant.
But it is a tyranny that is turning bright young people into boring, androgynous, nervous wrecks. So what if Johnny Depp is drinking in a bar that is edging yours into the 'Out' column even now? Relish the here-and-now, have a decent drink and flirt. Grow up. Have fun. And when, next week, you see the article in the Style and Travel section of the Sunday Times entitled 'The New Enjoyment - don't read it.
The Opinion section on 8 August included an article by Laura Thompson published under the headline Dance of the Dead, Swinging London it ain't. This article was illustrated by a photograph of 'party people' in a restaurant. This photograph which featured Sarah Baron, Roger Streeten and Charlotte Couchman dining with friends was not taken on the occasion of Laura Thompson's visit to the restaurant she was describing and should not have been used to illustrate it. The comments contained in the article were not referable to any of the people in the photograph. We apologise unreservedly to Ms Baron, Mr Streeten and Ms Couchman for any embarrassment our article may have caused them and have agreed to pay them an appropriate sum in compensation.
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