Even Andy Warhol was once just an anxious-to-please young man

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The Independent Online
Good God, they're actually blaming the kebab. Of all the things that might have contributed to Paul Gascoigne's being dropped from the World Cup squad - unfitness, incomprehensibility, indolence, steel rods in the tibia, dodgy ligaments, Marlboro Lights, smashed cheekbone, fondness for Newcastle Brown Ale, thigh strain (caused, apparently, by "getting out of bed"), friendship with Rod Stewart, tendonitis, compulsive desire to look for sympathy round at his ex-wife's house - they're blaming his downfall on a lump of grilled chicken in some pitta bread.

Poor Mr Brahim Ibnou-Cheikh, the proprietor of the Palms Cafe Kebab shop in London's Brewer Street, is himself being grilled by the London press as the man who served Gascoigne a chicken kebab (with chilli sauce) and precipitated his downfall, when the fun-loving midfielder's late-night snack was snapped on camera by some opportunistic student busybody and published in the Mirror as evidence that Gascoigne had thrown away the last vestige of health, sense and sanity. "People are saying it was a lamb schwarma but it was a little bit of chicken and no chips," Brahim told the Evening Standard, defensively. "I guarantee it didn't do him any harm, my friend."

Note how those words "my friend" carry a sinister whiff of the souk about them. But it would be a crying shame if Gascoigne's career were to be ruined just for indulging in what is now a national dish (just as Meat Rogan Josh has now become more typically British than Fidget Pie). For many, the kebab is a marvellous, if guilty, luxury on Friday nights, when you've had one or two fortifying aperitifs (well, 17 actually, and in straight glasses) and the warm strip lights of the Abrakebabra or the Ali Khan takeaway beckon from across the street like a Port Said hooker. It is a delightful and nutritious dish, full of protein and, er, enzymes and so forth, of lamb or chicken accompanied by a piquant, incendiary sauce and a light, low-calorie salad and encased in a wholemeal envelope. It couldn't be healthier.

A nutritionist once told me that the long, tabla-drum skewers of meat that you see in Shaftesbury Avenue having bits sawn off them by Turkish swordsmen are probably as healthy as roadside cuisine gets, because all the bacteria that breed in their folds are burnt to cinders. And its magical laxative properties - precisely calibrated tests in south London suggest that the average interval between devouring the last shred of tepid kebab fibre and visiting the lavatory is now just 14.8 seconds - should recommend it to any fast-moving sports icon with no use for a sluggish metabolism.

On the subject of food and celebrity ... Despite the departure if Geri Halliwell, the Spice Girls are going ahead with their 40 American gigs. But according to one mischievous rock impresario, they may be legally bound to display signs at each concert offering fans a refund, if only of 20 per cent because of the non appearance of the buxom Ginger. But once you start thinking in percentages, where does it stop?

I rushed to my local Sainsbury's. By the bread section, there was the Spice Girls Cake (pounds 7.99, serves 12, and has "the first-ever edible photographic image" on the top), but nobody had yet thought to chop a one-fifth wedge out of it and reduce the price by pounds 1.59. The lawyers will be onto them soon.

In the Snacks and Nibbles aisle, staff have not yet been through the Walkers crisp packs, taking 20 per cent of Spice Girl spud out of the ones still displaying the doomed quintet in their glory, and dropping the price to 20p. I was distracted by a "Ginger Spiced Sponge Cake Baking Kit", which puzzlingly featured no sign of the flame-haired chanteuse on the label and made no allusion to music or Girl Power or the constancy of female friendship on the packaging. Had they just forgotten? Then I realised (rather sheepishly) that it was a ginger spiced sponge cake baking kit.

After clocking the dozen other Spice Girls endorsements that will need adjusting, a thought struck me. I nipped round to the Home Medicines department but, amazingly, nobody had yet approached Ms Halliwell to flog the one thing with which she's now associated. It is time for a celebrity-endorsed gastro-enteritis cure? I can see it now: "Upset tummy? Reduce your Spice Level by 20 per cent ..."

The Andy Warhol exhibition at the Barbican is an extraordinary hymn to blankness, a succession of things to look at and walk around, all of them eliciting the response, "So ...?" We are invited to inspect the biscuity wool suit, the shirt and tie and lace-up boots he bought in Hong Kong, and we duly look into their inner recesses but they refuse to disclose any deeper meaning. As for the black turtleneck, the black jeans and sneakers ... Anyone else's clothes get given to Oxfam or the Salvation Army after their demise; with Andy, they become part of the archive. We look at the photo-booth pictures of Gerald Malanga and Edie Sedgwick and Andy himself (a self-portrait!) and think, anyone else's photo-booth pictures of their gurning mates tend to wind up in faded albums or in the bottom drawer of the filing cabinet.

We look at bits and bobs from the rest of his life, his corsets and wigs and cosmetics, even the Aspergum and Senokot in his medicine cabinet and listen to his phone calls, and clock his collection of Brillo and Del Monte cardboard boxes and his Polaroids of Factory parties, and the studied look of non-involvement on his face as he is embraced by Candy Darling or Jackie Curtis, a look that says, "Get me away from these bloody people" - and you end up with a tragic case: a loner who was always stuck with an entourage, an artist so famously lacking a private essence that his public life was exploded into a thousand bits that got memorialised separately, down to his socks. He was a man deconstructed by fame.

Early in the exhibition, however, you find signs of the man who preceded the loner and rather attractive they are too: his shoe fetishism (he drew shoe designs with a deep voluptuous "V" like a cleavage), his sprightly Fifties graphics like Ronald Searle cartoons, with cute cherubs and spindly angels. There's a snap of him walking through Greenwich Village looking quite unlike himself (and weirdly like Truman Capote) in a preppy bow- tie and glasses, carrying a portfolio and an anxious-to-please expression.

And there's a tableau of his early life, where you can make out a note sent by Anna Mei Wallowitch, his agent, on Dec 11 1957, which reads, "Dear Andy, Enclosed in check no 99 for $491.25 in payment for the finished drawings of Playmouth's 16-page booklet done for N.W. Ayer. Less commission of 25%. Yrs truly ...". You can just imagine him, five years before his self-invention as the Factory artist, feeling genuine pleasure, in a way he wasn't to feel it again, at getting paid a few hundred bucks for his drawings, just (phew!) in time for Christmas.