How to describe it? How to articulate the effect provoked in me by these artfully aligned and textured surfaces? The task is worthy of Henry James or Wallace Stevens – some master of the intersection between social velleities and individual desires; but alas, there’s only me, and as usual I’m off my tit-shaped head on caffeine, and so barely equal to the task.
‘Back in the tail end of 2009, Nigel Farage stepped aside from his leadership of the United Kingdom Independence Party to concentrate on challenging the speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, in the parliamentary elections of 2010. In a characteristically forthright statement, Farage said that Bercow “represented the worst” of a legislature that had “broken the trust” of the British people. In due course Bercow, a somewhat maverick Tory, was returned to parliament and the speaker’s throne, but not before Farage himself had been spectacularly unseated. It was during an election stunt, while he was flying his light aircraft high over the Angleterre profonde of Northants. The banner trailing the plane, and bearing the legend “Vote for Your Country, Vote for Ukip”, created a little too much drag, and the habitually ebullient Farage fell to Earth.
I once asked Martin Amis how an interview had gone with a particular journalist and he thought for a moment before shrug-sneering, “Well, y’know, he was a Tim.” When I was a kid we used to stop on the school run to pick up the son of the then MP for King’s Lynn, Christopher Brocklebank-Fowler (not so much a wet as utterly saturated, he was the only Tory to defect to the SDP in 1981). Brocklebank-Fowler junior was called Tim, and my sadistic brother and I would tease him: “Timmy-Timmy-Timmy,” while he futilely protested that he was a Timothy.
At Paddington Station, where one occasionally finds a stray bear with a label around its neck reading: “Please introduce me to a life of prostitution and drug addiction,” the train departures board operates at a laggardly pace. By which I mean to say that the platform number for the train to West Drayton will mostly only be displayed five minutes before departure. As the platform is usually number 13 or 14, this necessitates a brisk walk of 500 yards in order to make the train. Even I, a sprightly pentagenarian, find it something of a push – but anyone less able, let alone disabled, would be scuppered.
I was in Basel so I thought I’d check out some raclette, a melted-cheese experience that defines Switzerland as surely as the hollowed-out Alps full of Nazi gelt and aggressively policed recycling schemes (in Zurich, you are fined for using the wrong bag). Yes, yes – I know, it was fondue that was once promoted as the Swiss national dish but that was before the 1970s, when the runny gloop flowed into the interstices of the British class system. Raclette sounded a bit more real to me: I liked the idea of shepherds slapping the cheese round down on a griddle by the fire, then scraping off successive wedges of golden deliquescence.
Or: The Failure of the Psychedelic Revolution to so much as Slow for One Instant the Incessant Gobbling-up of the Earth by the Moloch of Globalisation Considered as a Solo Uphill Bicycle Race through Basel
This article will appear first in Esquire magazine.
As I write, the traffic is still backed up from the Wandsworth Road – I can hear an occasional frustrated honk from a trapped van man, or the stifled yawp of an emergency services vehicle threading its way through the metallic mesh. I’ve only been out this morning to walk the dog: a turd-bagging totter around the block, but even here, several hundred yards away from the actual road closure, there are sheepishly bemused drivers diverted away from the flock.
‘In Barry Lopez‘s haunting, poetic book about the hyperborean realms, Arctic Dreams, there’s a magnificent story about an Inuit family who are washed out to the seas on a calved iceberg. Nothing is heard of them for about 30 years, until one day they rejoin the rest of their tribal group. The reason for their prolonged absence is this: it has taken them this long, on the deserted island where they fetched up, to hunt the seals, narwhals, whales and assorted other fauna, required to provide the skins, the baleen stretchers, the bone needles and the sinewy thread with which to construct a seagoing boat – as soon as it was done they headed home.
‘‘Which,” I asked the nice young man in Le Pain Quotidien, “is the most daily of your breads – by which I mean the most popular?” To his credit he wasn’t fazed: “The baguette,” he replied, “absolutely – we sell many more of the baguette than any of the others.” This seemed a shame to me, because the other loaves had a pleasingly rustic air about them – great cartwheels of golden pain ancien, reposing on equally golden wooden shelves, the whole reminding me not so much of a boulangerie in La France profonde, as of a BBC television adaptation of a Marcel Pagnol novel.
These are the coldest collations of the year: shards of glass tossed on the kerbstone, dressed with vomit. Nearby stands a seven-eighths empty bottle of supermarket champagne; while if you follow the straggle of pink streamers you can see beer cans lurking by the wheelie bin, tinnily jostling. The party has well and truly pooped out.
Last year there was comparatively little hoo-ha: the failure of the Mayan prophecies to come up to scratch left the credulous with sod all in the way of an apocalypse – while as for the more civic-minded, there was a mass sense of the anticlimactic: the Eve marked the end of the spectacular year of the Jubilympics, a twelvemonth of unsurpassed gloriousness and achievement, the like of which we’ll never see again in our lives, nor our children and grandchildren in theirs.