The hazards facing those who attempt to scale the notoriously perilous north face of cool can leave bystanders wincing. My erstwhile colleague Annie Blinkhorn recalls being dragged to "an art performance happening" at the South Bank some five years ago, when she was stepping out with "a deranged and pretentious artist". In the gaggle outside the event she got talking to "two skinny, scowling young lads in leather jackets", who said: "We're in a band and we're going to number one." "Really?" said Blinkie. "What are you called then?" "The Libertines," they said.
At which Blinkie choked on her beer. "You cannot be serious - what a teenage name! Why not just call yourselves The Naughtiest Boys in the Sixth?" At this juncture Blinkie's "artist twat of a boyfriend" approached, incensed to see two younger, hipper blokes talking to his girl. "Want a fight?" said the artist twat. "All right," said The Libertines, "We'll have you." "Go on then," said the artist twat. "Hit me." "No, man, you throw the first punch and then we'll hit you back." "No, you've got to hit me first, you little shites." "No mate, you chin us." Neither side could possibly commit themselves to the crime against cool that is giving enough of a toss to initiate action.
Cut to now and at least one of those young men has learnt how to start a fight. Pete Doherty, lately of The Libertines, now front man of the equally lamely named Babyshambles, was arrested last week after allegedly punching a film-maker.
The only reason anyone is interested in this sordid everyday tale of a fading musician twat is that Doherty is said to be dating supermodel Kate Moss. This is a perfect illustration of the pitfalls of cool. Moss has long been acknowledged to be the epitome of Frigidaire chic, but boy does she work at it. She slouches, she slumps, she sashays, she pouts, she parties, she smokes cigars, she changes frocks and boyfriends like most of us change channels - she even entitled her own thirtieth birthday bash "The Beautiful and the Damned", which is as criminally teenage as calling your band The Libertines.
The problem for Moss is that your cool quota diminishes in direct proportion to the amount of effort you are seen to be putting into maintaining it. Her "Get out of Jail" card for years was the fact that Moss once stepped out with Johnny Depp, the most effortlessly cool man on the planet. But effortless cool is nearly always underpinned with tremendous ability. Prodigious talent is far beyond the fickle ejections of fashion's moving throne, which is why most of us would have no trouble deeming Lucian Freud or Dame Judi Dench "cool".
Kate Moss's reputation, meanwhile, is underpinned by the rather less enduring attributes of beauty and the sort of cockiness you would expect from a streetwise girl from suburbia. But she is hardly the Dorothy Parker de nos jours. And as such the quest for cool is inevitably looking effortful. Dating a heroin addict like Doherty just reminds one of the glory days gone by when she took champagne baths with Depp.
I too once fell in love with a boy who took hard drugs and said he was going to be the world's greatest artist - what girl hasn't? - but I was 17. Kate Moss is 31, for Christ's sake. And a mother. For most of us, children kill any aspiration to cool stone dead. It's bad enough looking foolish in the world's eyes, but torturous to appear so in the eyes of your own child. Who didn't spare a blush for the Blair offspring when their dad appeared on yoof TV last week eulogising Franz Ferdinand? On current form it's only a matter of time before Blair and Moss are photographed together at a gig. But the supermodel would do well to remember that cool obeys cruel bylaws: one public stumble and you're permanently tepid.Reuse content