At last! I'm ready for the Nineties

Michael Bywater
Saturday 27 April 1996 23:02

Last week, I met some people in a vast and possibly fashionable restaurant in Soho. Earlier that day, the newspapers had announced that the Feelgood Factor was back. I don't know how they could tell, nor, really, what the Feelgood Factor actually is. It seems to be another way of saying that house prices have gone up, but that can't be right. Can it? They wouldn't say that about anything else. Food Prices Go Through The Roof - Population Dances in Streets, Major Set For Further Term. What is it about houses that we want them to get more expensive?

I don't understand it. But I have been alarmed, recently, at all the other things I don't understand, either. I didn't understand the people in the vast and possibly fashionable restaurant, for example. The people I was meeting were clear enough: a couple of publishing types, a pair of international financial consultants, a journalist, a drama queen who left early, feeling dreadful, my dear. The journalist explained the political situation in Bhutan. The financial consultants demonstrated their special cheesy smiles - they are taught how to do them when they join the firm - and wrangled about exchange rates. ("No, no," said one, "that's the selling rate. You need the buying rate. They're different." "Don't give me that crap," said the other; "it's my birthday." These people have gold credit cards and charge pounds 175 an hour.) The publishing types were ... publishing types: amiable, downtrodden, mournfully vigilant.

But the others; merciful heavens, the others. Feelgood Factor or not, the rest of it was certainly like the Eighties, back from the dead. The bar was a solid phalanx of killer suits, hair gel and bone-close shaves. As you walked in you were hit by a wall of something which could have been testosterone or might have been nerves. Yelping conversations about money and deals were conducted at full blast against a background sussuration of champagne bubbles. Women had come as playthings, in you-might-as-well- be-naked strappy little frocks, or in pairs, with mobile phones ("I'll just see if I can raise Maggie on my Orange") and karate-kick skirts which say "Take me! Take me! And I'll kill you if you try!"

The difference was that I didn't know who or what they were. In the Eighties, you'd have known. Estate agents, bond traders, financial PRs, brokers, talkers-up and 10-per-centers. They'd have had Porsches and TVRs (a side of smoked salmon in the boot, and a case of Perrier), and platinum Amex cards, and share options, and their private lives would have been as neat and sterile as operating theatres. They'd have been bastards. You'd have wished they were dead.

But now ... here they were, back again, exactly the same but subtly changed. What were they? Were they advertising people? Satellite television executives? Internet salesmen, image digitisers, network consultants, what? This is supposed to be the Nineties, not enough to go round, everyone collapsing into skint introspection, brought up with a hateful dull crunch.

It was bad enough to have to look at them and listen to them, but the worst thing was not knowing who they were. It was as though I had come down with some sort of Cow Disease, except instead of going Mad this one makes you go Blank. Maybe it was all the fish I have been eating. Perhaps I have got Dead Fish Disease, when you try to think, but nothing happens, like opening a door on an empty room.

Well ... it's my own fault, of course. I should have stayed out there, cusping the Zeitgeist, instead of hunkering down with my bad yellow-eyed woman, frolicking and splashing in our own personal sea of troubles. I should have been keeping an eye on fashion shifts, moving from Gaultier to Gucci to Oswald Boateng. I should have bought a Harley- Davidson, started a CD-ROM company, moved to a Clerkenwell loft, become a food writer; I should have spotted things.

But I didn't. When the bubble burst and the Eighties came to an end, I said to myself "Hah! The Eighties have come to an end! About bloody time, too, and I've done my bit so now I'm going to bed." It was a mistake. It's all very well having a lovely sleep but you wake with an immoderate rust of the soul, still able to see the skull beneath the skin but unable to say with any certainty whether it belongs to good old Yorick or Piltdown Man.

If I had played my cards right - if I had played them at all - it could have been a different story. I could have had a blonde, a chat-show, a Web site, a gite in the Auvergne, a high-performance glider, a goatee beard, an Oscar, a back-list, an oeuvre. Even had I played them wrong, I could have had a black Hugo Boss suit and hung out with lots of other shags in black Hugo Boss suits at the bar of vast and possibly fashionable restaurants in Soho and, if nothing else, I would have had the satisfaction of knowing who all the shags in black Hugo Boss suits were, and what they did. I could have taken holy orders and gone clubbing.

But now, as it is, as things are ... nuts. Dead man walking. I resent it. I feel like a relic. When young women want me to sweep them off their feet, I am, instead, meticulously paternal. People tell me that fresh coriander is the pesto of the Nineties, but I don't believe them and I simply don't care. I am becoming a fart. It's time for the sinecure, the reading-lamp and the well-worn tweeds, but even that takes money and I don't have any because I have been in bed.

There are two choices. It may be time to retire; to give it all up and take to fiction. I woke up at three o'clock this morning with the terrible sinking feeling of a novel coming on, but on the other hand it's Spring; the sun is shining; perhaps I'll give it a whirl: up, dress, shave, haircut; Lazarus risen from the duvet, jaunty and off on a spree. Next stop: Hugo Boss.

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