John Walsh

Click to follow
The Independent Online
I defer to no one in my admiration for Liam Gallagher, the simian rock singer, and Patsy Kensit, the steely-eyed actress. It was intensely frustrating, therefore, to miss the siege of St John's Wood, when the nation's press sat on the couple's doorstep and enquired about their future happiness, or camped out at Searcy's and noted every delivery of champagne, napery and flowers for the reception-that-never-was. I devoured every word, in broadsheet and tabloid alike (the question of whether the bride would or wouldn't be wearing a trouser-suit was the ideological crux of the week, second only to yesterday's Mail exclusive "Why Marie Helvin Has Cut Her Hair at 43") and felt I was there with the fans, the snappers and the Casablanca lilies. But a remark by Ms Jodie Reddick of Hammersmith stopped me in my tracks. "I'm disappointed I didn't get to see Liam," she confided, "but I don't think Patsy's the right one for him. She's a bit vacant".

A bit vacant... Yes I can see that even a shrewd operator like Ms Kensit might be found wanting when teamed with a man who combines the intellectual grasp of Isaiah Berlin with the creative profundity of Dante and the romantic sparkle of Lord Byron. Remind me of the words with which he hymned the loveliness of his bride-to-be last year? Ah yes - "F***ing hell! Patsy- f***ing Kensit! I've got her f***ing number! And she's mad for it!". Appropriate sentiments, I feel, for St Valentine's eve. And the gracious bon mot with which he accepted the "Best Act in the World Today" award from Q magazine? Come now - "I'd like to say thank you very much. I was about to smash the gaff up anyway if you didn't do it". One for the next Oxford anthology. In the face of such brilliance, any girl might feel her light a bit dimmed. But once you start wondering about these things, you can't stop. You end up lying awake at 3am in fevered speculation about how Patsy and Liam actually get on. You wonder: what do they talk about? And it starts to dawn on you that you may have completely misjudged them.

Look at the evidence. They're always being photographed giving each other sweet little ("Mmmmwah!") stage kisses. They're pictured on the cover of the new Vanity Fair lying in bed on, or under, a Union Jack duvet. Liam is in a nice white woolly hat. Patsy has sensibly kept her bra, tights and boots on, possibly as a precaution against unwanted sexual overtures. Last year, the papers got excited because Liam was more worried about house-hunting than touring America with the band. This year the papers are excited because the couple are apparently getting hitched. Did anyone stop to think that none of this is rock'n'roll behaviour?

Married life. Napery. Bed linen. Acquiring a home... Where have we heard all that recently? Good God - it's Mr and Mrs Beeton. Their correspondence is about to be auctioned at Sotheby's, and fans of her 1859 Book of Household Management can marvel at the interchanges between Mrs B (nee Isabella Mayson) and Mr B (Samuel Orchart Beeton). A month before their wedding, Sam wrote to his beloved, specifying where she should order bedsteads, furniture, appliances, wallpaper and cleaning agents, thus planting the germ of her great book. Spookily it sounds exactly what the aggressively house-proud Liam might also have been doing recently.

At the same time, Isabella was writing to her sisters, demanding to know why no one has written a book to explain to brides how they should manage a household "and learn all the things they simply must know if they are to succeed in married life". The combination of common sense and lubricity in these words shouts "Patsy" to those who've admired her as long as I have. If I add that she appeared in Victorian corsets last year, in the film of AS Byatt's Angels and Insects, can you hear spooky music starting to play? And she's 28 which, given that Mrs Beeton died at 29, might explain that faint air of desperation that hangs about her.

If Liam and Patsy are the modern incarnations of Sam and Isabella, one looks with lively curiosity on the latter's exchanges of endearments. "I can assure you you will find in me a most docile and willing pupil," she writes to him submissively before the wedding. "I wish at this moment," replies Sam throatily, "I could breathe into your ears, closely and caressingly, all my fond hopes I feel for your dear welfare...". Is this the way the nation's top rock'n'roll couple converse in private? I'd like to think so.

Did you know that TS Eliot called the desiccated protagonist of his second most famous poem "Prufrock" after the Prufrock- Littau furniture company in St Louis, Missouri because he liked the way it suggested "a prude in a frock"? Nor did I. Or that the world's most famous detective and his sidekick started life as Sherrinford Holmes and Ormond Sacker ("Elementary, my dear Sacker. You know my methods"). Or that, before he got to be Tiny Tim, Dickens's sentimentalised cripple boy in A Christmas Carol went through more alliterative nicknames than Gary Glitter (they included Little Larry, Small Sam and Puny Pete, but thankfully not Malformed Malcolm). Or that Boris Pasternak found the name "Zhivago" on a manhole cover? All this riveting stuff turns up in The Language of Names by Justin Kaplan and Anne Bernays, just published in America. "Names," explains Mr Kaplan, "penetrate the core of our being and a form of poetry, storytelling, magic and compressed history". How true that is - but one doesn't have to confine the discussion to fictional names. Looking at the three party leaders about to burst from the traps in the election struggle, one notes that "Ashdown" suggests a drooping fag, "Major" is redolent of eccentric and/or fake ex-servicemen in Godalming pubs or Terence Rattigan plays, while with "Blair" you get a foghorn or the trumpeting of angels, according to taste. But then I'm in no position to comment, being stuck with a name that fatally suggests washing-up, brick obstacles and a brand of indifferent sausages.

The christening of genes is a phenomenon new to me, but I can see it catching on. Once, it was simple: you'd hear on the news someone saying, "Scientists in Los Angeles claim to have isolated the gene which causes hangovers/ageing/musical talent in human beings; there is, however, no cure for this condition". Now genes are given names like cocktails at the Algonquin or Class A drugs. "Dissatisfaction" is the newest. It's the name of a gene that influences sexual behaviour in fruit flies, and was discovered last week at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California.

Not only has the institute identified the wayward behaviour of female fruit flies - how they will happily consent to mate with frankly anybody, usually after a courtship lasting two and a half minutes - they've discovered how the "dissatisfaction" gene alters their behaviour. Females thus genetically indisposed will, it seems, "refuse to adopt a mating posture" and often either kick the male viciously or simply run away.

Obviously this is shockingly disobliging behaviour on the part of the female; but I think the gene is wrongly named. "Dissatisfaction" is far too mild. The scientific fraternity must rename it "Lesley Morris", after the Wren who successfully took the Navy to court after being sexually harrassed by 1,200 fruit flies, sorry, sailors, in four years.

Comments