I don't want my heroes in Pinner

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LAST week I heard for the first time an irritatingly memorable all-American phrase. Ugly, fatuous and mawkish, it gave me a fit of involuntary laughter which stopped short as I realised that it would soon become commonplace.

A comedienne had urged her audience to ask her any questions they liked, evidently hoping they would be as sexually suggestive as she was. But an American girl in the audience merely asked: 'Where do you come from?'

Taken aback, the comedienne said that was a boring question. Why had she asked it? 'Because,' said the girl, 'I'm from Boston and I heard you might be, too. I hoped to be able to do some geographical bonding.'

Try as I might to banish the phrase, geographical bonding has been on my mind, occasioned by reports that Bob Dylan is trying to buy a house in north London. My first reaction was to write and persuade him to come and live near me in Pinner. We could hang out in the Love Lane tea-rooms and throw a few potential lyrics around: 'The talkin' residents association committee meeting blues'; 'The answer is flowin' in the Pinn'.

But, diverting as this would be, I hope that he doesn't move to London at all. Crouch End, where the singer has viewed and is hoping to buy a house, is just a short trip down the North Circular Road; and while I have all Bob Dylan's music, remember all the lyrics better than he often does, and see him play whenever he is in Britain, I am wary about bonding geographically with him.

You can run into the most unlikely people in the most unlikely places these days; the future king of England among the package tourists in the Magic Kingdom; the Chancellor of the Exchequer among the beer-swillers at Ronnie Scott's jazz club; and now the prospect of the last remaining superstar legendary recluse among the shoppers in Crouch End High Street. 'There's a man works down the chip shop swears he's Elvis,' went a pop song a few years ago. Hardly surprising when the guy down the Indian take-away really is Bob Dylan.

Where will it all end? Michael Jackson in Giggleswick? And what effect would that have on house prices?

These are egalitarian times; much more egalitarian than the allegedly classless Sixties. The rich and powerful, famous and beautiful, all want to mingle with the people in one never-ending walkabout. It can lead to disillusionment.

When Dylan was last over to play a concert, some record company secretaries backstage were arranging to go out for a meal afterwards. Dylan overheard them and asked if he could come with. Next morning they were mobbed when they came to work by people asking: 'What did he say, what did he say?' The answer was memorably brief. 'Can you pass the ketchup, please.'

He hadn't uttered another word all evening.

More often than not it doesn't pay to meet your heroes. This was brought home to me when I met a gifted actress I much admired. The moment we were introduced she turned on me, spitting out that I worked for one of 'Thatcher's newspapers'; no great personal slight on me, as she went on to say that all journalists worked for 'Thatcher's newspapers', loathed the arts and were part of a secret conspiracy emanating from Downing Street to destroy the nation's theatre. Her stage technique never had quite the same effect on me again.

But if we should avoid meeting our heroes, we still need them, perhaps never so much as in the colourless era we seem to be stuck in at the moment. At the end of Brecht's play The Life of Galileo, Galileo's pupil turns on him after threats of force have persuaded him to recant. 'Unhappy the land that has no heroes,' he accuses. 'Unhappy the land that is in need of heroes,' Galileo replies. I used to think that Galileo had it about right, but now I'm inclined to side with his pupil.

One of the tangential characteristics of recessions is that they are leavened by celebrities suggesting a larger-than-life fantasy world to help us forget our everyday existence: the Hollywood stars in the Thirties, rock stars in the Seventies. But where are our fantasy figures for the Nineties? For the most part, the mundane triumphs over the exotic. Politicians strive for ordinariness and achieve it brilliantly. John Major's unpopularity emanates not just from doubts about his policies but from lack of charisma, abetted by his constant identification with the ordinary chap. Our prime ministers should be too busy with the unimaginable secrets of red boxes to be cricket fans. They should be captured on film talking to George Bush about affairs of state, not telling him the rugby score; they should dine in the best restaurants, not eat egg and chips in motorway caffs.

It is curiously therapeutic to believe that there is a small class of people out there who have lifestyles so different from ours and so mysterious that they belong to fantasy. The dispiriting truth, of course, is that all these people are ordinary. More talented than the rest of us or a little luckier or a lot richer. But essentially just as boring.

Reminded of this, we are apt to lose confidence in their ability to provide a fantasy world for us. We all go to Disney World, but can only speculate on what a holiday at Balmoral is like. Ministers should exude a certain separateness, even eccentricity. Bob Dylan should live in a place with the romance and resonance of a name like Woodstock, where he does in fact live. I'll stick to bonding culturally and musically, not geographically. Remoteness is an essential requirement for being an icon. Stay where you are, Bob.

Robert Winder is on holiday.

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