Now I don’t mean to cause offence (much) and I certainly don’t want to sound like a prude but when in the name of Fred & Ginger did we get from Let’s Face the Music and Dance to Stupid Hoe Me So Horny? I only ask because in less than a century humanity seems to have reached an apex of glamour and sophistication in the 1903s and it’s been a precipitous slide back down the evolutionary greasy pole ever since.
Don’t call me a Robinson’s Jam Golliwog apologist just because I am appalled by black rap culture. I do happen to feel horror that the yoof today worship talentless morons who speak dirty, violent and ungrammatical lyrics over a deafening, tuneless beat that assaults the ears like a potty mouthed 747 engine. But I compare such lyricists if you could call them that with the genius wit of Cole Porter and Coward.
No, it is the wholesale acceptance of rap in pop culture that I find disturbing. Can one truly compare Gershwin’s Every Time We Say Goodbye with lyrics like ‘there’s no love song finer, but how strange the change from major to minor’ with Madonna rapping ‘Jesus likes my pussy best’ on her latest offering Rebel Heart? It is the crudity that makes me weep for the young generation who are brought up to consider an artist swearing like a docker acceptable.
I am sorry not sorry to say that I found the world of my grandparents’ generation so much gentler and more elegant than the present age. Granted, it wasn’t all like a Fred and Ginger movie but culture was inspired and in some respects led by the stories told on the silver screen and behaved accordingly with style and grace. Also religion was the new religion then not sex, fashion or technology so people did tend to have some semblance of a moral compass.
There are too many examples in London of how we have regressed not progressed. I think of Josephine Baker bringing her pet leopard Chiquita to the Savoy in 1930 when she was touring her Casino de Paris show. Imagine the glamour! I believe Alice Delysia checked in with a snake but that’s another story. Anyway the chic of Josephine’s leopard or Georgia Sitwell exercising her hounds in Green Park is sublime.
What do we have today to compare? An army of extremely affluent people yomping up and down Hampstead Heath holding plastic bags of dog poo of a morning that they’ve cleaned up after their mutts. Though I rather like the thought of Hedge Funders and magazine editors routinely shovelling shit because society has deemed it socially responsible to do so I can’t really see any elegance in the exercise.
There was a time not long ago when you could walk into The Savoy or the Cafe Royal and ask for what you wanted and – if it was legal – they would oblige. Now we are in the age of ‘sittings’. If afternoon tea is being served God forbid you ask for Eggs Arnold Bennett, a Bloody Mary or a Bull Shot. The day when the customer was served is very long gone. Now the waiter is dictator and you the supplicant.
London has always been multi-cultural because it was a trade centre and welcomed new blood. Now billions are spent by trade bodies to entice Chinese tourists with easy visas and open university places. If you’ve been in the West End this August you’d accept that the mission is accomplished. Chengdu must be deserted darling. Personally I’d slap a preservation order on the few remaining Cockneys left in London.
And the gays my dear! The gays! Once sensitive creatures all languidly aesthetic and overfond of E.M. Foster, now all the boys want bodies like a bag of walnuts and dress as if they are auditioning for a group street dance on the X-Factor. I am bewildered by the tattoos and piercings that seem obligatory inside the M25 these days. There are sights on Oxford Street that would have made a few shillings in a circus tent only a few decades ago.
All the tattoos! All the piercings! And that’s just the lesbians. No, seriously if I hear one more gay man say he’s turned-on by full-body tattoos I will toss in my wig. The only level on which tattoos are sexy is if you have a fantasy to s**** a grease monkey behind a garage off the Edgware Road. Not that I’m judging…
Whatever happened to dinner at eight in white tie and tails before dancing until dawn at Quaggies or the Cafe de Paris? I suppose it went the same way as Knee Tremblers at The Criterion and Dilly Girls around Cupid who sold real flowers in those days rather than crepe paper. I’m not saying for a second that there wasn’t always a dark side in London. Naughtiness has existed in the human condition ever since Eve fancied a Cox’s Pippin.
But sinful behaviour knew its place until relatively recently and blossomed after dark. Now the ugliness and boorish behaviour is unapologetically at large on the streets. Civilised behaviour has gone the way of the hansom cab, tuppenny whores and scarlet fever. Do you think we will ever pull back from the abyss? I do not.
So what joys do we have to look forward to? Drones above the Post Office Tower, asylum seekers camped out in St. James’s Park and Mohamed the most popular boy’s name in Britain. Will I wish to engage much longer? It’s a no from me, Simon. I might have to go into exile in Bruges with a rat and a parrot for company.
Strike that. These are not laughing matters and that, Rowley, is when laughing matters most of all.