Then to the Wolseley for an after-show supper. This was my first trip to this happening eatery – and how pleasingly daft it is. The decor looks as if the old car showroom has been remodelled as a cross between the Batcave and a fin-de-siecle Viennese coffee house. However, instead of caped crusaders the banquettes were stacked with the usual Footballers’ wives and nouveau riche provincials.
The food was goodish, excellent trimmings, including superb espresso, but my companion’s halibut came swimming in a sauce as thin and salty as the sea it had been pulled from. Worse still was the behaviour of the staff. When we arrived the Maitre D’ said “Please wait in the bar Mr Self until your table is ready.” But when that time came he stuck his head round the corner and cried “Come on, Will!”. While that sort of wanton familiarity may be all right with Privy Councillors – it’s anathema to me.
Like most London householders I deplore the rise of thuggish trick-or-treaters. Hulking young fellows turn up on your doorstep demanding sweets, their costumes consisting of little more than a hoodie pulled down over their eyes and a scarf wound round their mouths. If you were to refuse, they look well capable of “tricking” you with a few rounds from a Glock. Still, such antics do have their upside. I went out on Monday evening wearing nothing but my habitual Will Self horror mask, and came back a couple of hours later with my pockets stuffed with all manner of cachoux, truffles and other expensive bonbons.
To the Criterion for the revival of Simon Gray’s 1975 satire on middle-class mores, Otherwise Engaged. Anthony Head and the other flared-jeans-wearing players were superb. The set was a delight – a perfect recreation of an echt Hampstead home during the Heath administration, right down to the Eames recliner, the Hockney print on the wall and the Habitat lampshade. The strange thing was that just as this modernist decor hadn’t dated at all over the past thirty years, nor had the Anglo-Saxon bourgeois attitudes so cleverly skewered by Gray.
Here was the same tedious preoccupation with the superiority of an Oxbridge education, the same fatuous remarks about literature and publishing, the same misogyny masquerading as permissiveness. The only line in the play that jibed at all was when one character – a public school teacher – remarked that soon private education and healthcare would be abolished.
How strange it is to recall a time when Britain seemed on the brink of a socialist dawn! And yet, if Otherwise Engaged demonstrated anything conclusively, it’s that despite Thatcher and Blair the metropolitan middle class have enjoyed – if that’s the right word – an era of unparalleled social stability.
I don’t imagine there will be too much mourning today for the defunct ministerial career of David Blunkett. Only the prurient could wish this farceur to go on stumbling through Westminster with his trousers round his ankles. Only the deluded can imagine that his work on the pensions crisis would’ve averted it. Blunkett’s supporters say he was drawn into his dodgy DNA dealings by the need to pay for the court costs arising from his battle with Kimberley Quinn over access to their child William. More morally conservative types might say: tough titty, if you embark on an affair with a married woman you’ve got it coming. Slightly more liberal pundits would incline to the view that while adultery is understandable, inadequate contraception is not.
My feeling is that there’s something breathtakingly crass about having any dealings with a firm specialising in paternity testing, when you yourself have inflicted so much damage on so many people by an act of unthinking insemination. It’s impossible for anyone but Blunkett and Quinn to know the full extent to of their mutual acrimony – but I would argue that it’s also only they who can solve it, and make adequate provision, both emotional and financial, for their child.
Over the past 20 years an elaborate bureaucracy has been built up in this country, the aim of which is entirely to stop sundered parents from fighting with each other, and force them to put the needs of their offspring first. The Children and Family Court Advisory Support Service, the Child Support Agency, the Family Courts, the Lord Chancellor’s Department, umpteen family lawyers, family therapists and trained mediators have been hurled into the breach. Yet when all’s said and done – and more importantly spent – fathers don’t want to provide financial support for their children get away with it, and mothers who refuse to comply with court orders on access do as well.
I know of so many mucky and sad situations where legal interventions, far from bringing warring parents to their sense, have merely inflamed their passions and ushered them into a Bleak House of litigation. If Blunkett and Quinn, their affair over, had had the good sense to approach its aftermath as responsible and mature individuals, then perhaps the future happiness of their child would’ve been assured. Ministerial careers may only last a few years – sexual passion a few minutes, but relationships between parents always last a lifetime.
Apparently a survey has revealed that 67% of children believe that their mothers are the adult in the family who “wears the trousers”. My only surprise is that it’s not 100%. Where are these third of fathers who effortlessly juggle the work/life balance? Who remember recorder lessons and gym kit while dealing with an office crisis? Who know instinctively when the carrot and the stick should be deployed? I don’t see them on television, I don’t read their top-tips in the magazines. I suspect these children are deluded and that in our metrosexual age they’ve simply mistaken one trouser wearer for another.