It was the night of Independence Day. Although my life is, of course, a whirling charivari of madcap public events, an invitation to the European premiere of America's top summer movie is still pretty hard to ignore. Leicester Square was crammed, my dear, with aspirant star-shaggers straining behind barricades for a glimpse of celebrity flesh. I have the true cineaste's contempt for that sort of carry-on, so, wearing the simple homespun garb of the ordinary filmgoer - bolo tie, wraparound mirror Ray-Bans, David Bowie stiletto heels and the word "Slave" carved on my cheek - I slipped quietly into the Odeon Cinema.
From my glamorous vantage point in the Upper Circle (the far corner of Row N, up there with the permafrost and the projectionist's discarded sandwich) I watched the celebs come and go. Vanessa Feltz appeared wearing a charming bedspread festooned with seed-pearls. Mick Hucknall, the mellifluous singer with the Simply Red barbershop combo, squired a young woman, the tops of whose stay-up stockings were perilously on display. One of the boys from Men Behaving Badly amusingly dropped his ice-cream on his shoe. Ah, the glamour of renown...
The film was complete bliss, in its brainless and derivative way, contriving to echo, at various points, Alien, Star Wars, Close Encounters, The American President, Top Gun, True Grit, 48 Hours, even a bizarre 20-second nod to Showgirls. The best non-special-effects bit was when the action switched between a dozen combat units around the world, all of which were getting orders for the final shoot-out, and discovered a trio of Brit officers in (I think) the Iraqi desert, saying "About bloody time, too" in wizard- prang tones, at which the audience cheered lustily.
Afterwards we milled about in front of TV lights and sound booms like fluffy cats cruelly impaled, then everyone roared off in coaches for the Earth Gallery in Kensington. There, once you'd got past the bouncers, a revolting, mummified alien in a glass case with Prince Charles ears but no nose or mouth, and a Michelin-man-sized spaceman who bobbed slowly through the crowd, miming weightlessness, the design highlight was a glowing planet suspended at the top of an escalator. At the top, you did not, however, encounter a new plane of being; you encountered a tray of Moscow Mules (which amounted to the same thing).
The Gallery is part of the Science Museum and there was something inescapably decadent about munching your hamburger among the ancient exhibits of quartz and silica. But then elemental rockery and dressy sophistication were the order of the night. Silica deposits enhanced the silhouettes of several women in black decolletage. Two sweet-faced old ladies sat gossiping, oblivious to the fact that they were backgrounded by anthracite fossils. In the Igneous Rock room, a lanky Spinal Tap victim in crushed blue velvet and rectangular shades dashed hither and thither as if looking for a friend; it soon became clear he was trying to move in on Mick Hucknall once the latter had stopped chatting with Ruud Gullit, the dreadlocked football star (What were they talking about? Conditioners?).
Suddenly the haze lifted and someone introduced me to Jeff Goldblum, the film's bug-eyed star. I told him I thought he made a very believable scientific theorist. "I won't take advantage of that," he said. "You know, Jeff", I continued, "science fiction movies seem to me to embody a broad- brush existentialism, in which the identity of a whole society is forced to change, the better to explore its essence, its quiddity. One thinks of Kubrick, of Tarkovsky..." but unfortunately Mr Goldblum had left the building some minutes before I finished speaking. The crushed-blue Hucknall fan did one last circuit of the room and collided with the strobe-effect spaceman. Up the stairs came the Hussar, part of some Moscow Mule promotion. Beam me up, I thought, Ridley Scotty.
British fans of Twister, the other big summer movie, will have marvelled at the tornado chasers, a gang of whooping propellor-heads who spend the film driving erratically across the American heartland and shouting "It's a T-5!" as they pursue the dancing funnels. Their goal is allegedly to insert some complicated machinery inside a tornado that will help scientists gauge the future incidence of the things and save lives; but it's obvious that in real life these guys are all closet New Agers who just want to be blown to hell by the elements - like the American surfing fraternity, but without the elegance. It couldn't happen here, you think, because a) the closest thing in Britain to these weather conditions are the tournedos Rossini at Le Gavroche and b) British people have a more supine attitude to Mother Nature. You may get the occasional idiot fringe of bungee jumpers and windsurfers, jumping out of cranes on Battersea Bridge or slaloming around the sewage in Chichester Harbour; but the majority of us still prefer a little light sunbathing to chasing torrential rainstorms and the like.
That was before I took my children kite-flying on Saturday. Hearing there were some kite displays at a nearby airfield in the Wallops of Hampshire, I drove over with my old-fashioned, rhomboid-shaped kite with its ribbon- bow tail - and stumbled onto a whole new civilisation. Everywhere, vast, alien-invasion Uber-kites strained against the wind while their owners careered across the greensward at 50 mph in lethally dangerous three-wheel buggies. Modern kites whiz about the place like webbed boomerangs, threatening to slice your head open. Some of them are so complicated they require the use of three hands. And then you discover there's a small village of inventors, designers, maintenance men, cheerleaders and dreadlocked visionaries keen to explain to you about "ballet and precision" or "the Zen of kiteflying". But one important thing came out of it. Did you know that, at the International Kite Festival in Japan last weekend, the UK came first, second and third in formation flying? Forget beach vollyball. Hello synchronised kiting. We must lobby the International Olympics Committee without delay.Reuse content