21st Century Blues. August 2017.

Dear Rowley,

As the Wicked Witch croaked as she was melting, ‘What a world! What a world!’ I ask you, how did we get from the tattooed lady that Victorians would pay a shilling to gawp at in a circus tent to the inked, exposed wildebeast stampeding down Oxford Street on a daily basis exposing tattoos so hideous they’d make dogs yowl and babies cry?

I swear if you half-shut your eyes on Oxford Circus you’d think you were in a remake of Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome so heinous are the tribal tatts and caveman clothing. What to make of obese great biffas in jeans so shredded there’s more flesh than denim? The fashion reminds me of Tudor slashed sleeves but with satin replaced by mottled cellulite.

The sun’s been out this Bank Holiday weekend which is red rag to a bull to ladies and gents who will never make the Slimcea Girl lose sleep to don hot pants and flip flops that your average galley slave in Roman times would think underdressed. It is bad enough when men go topless in London but the other day I saw a woman on Primrose Hill nipples to the wind and it wasn’t a pretty sight.

Rather in the spirit of the circus tattooed lady, it is a mystery to me  how steroid and protein shake culture has gripped London’s men. In the summertime you see veins on biceps as pronounced as a tube map and calves that never see daylight. it seems everyone wants to be a porn star nowadays. Hell, what am I saying? Thanks to social media, everyone is a porn star nowadays…

Negotiating the pavement in London is bad enough but trying to cross the road you have to cross yourself and finger a rosary hoping that those pernicious wasps on wheels don’t mow you down. The hatred for car drivers and contempt for pedestrians emanating from London cyclists is palpable. These freedom fighters in sweat-drenched lycra menace us all.

There’s a lot of criticism about the veil in London but how about the cyclists with their Darth Vader masks and eyes like knives? It does worry me that the streets of London are so much more unpleasant today because other people are so damned selfish. I am of the generation that opens doors and steps aside when a tourist is blundering around my city like a lost lamb. Pearls before swine, dear.

Mind you, it isn’t just the tourists who are turning London into an assault course even though there is a circle in hell for Chinese visitors with no spacial awareness. I swear, one got so close to me in a queue for the British Museum gift shop I had to tap her on the cleavage with my Barclay card.

When my grandmother paid one of her not infrequent visits to London, she would arrive armed with beaded cocktail dresses, fur stoles, astrakhan turbans and all of her best jewellery. Nowadays they lumber into Kings Cross as packs of hen parties with boobs to their knees wearing ‘Team Cheryl’ T-shirts and leggings. And why does any woman of any age think pale pink, blue, green or yellow streaked hair is appropriate for anything other than a Girl’s World?

The license to wear whatever you want wherever you want has made London’s streets a cavalcade of ugliness. I wonder where self-expression ends and self-loathing begins. In the olden days, branding and piercing of flesh was the most extreme punishment. Why put yourself through it? Stretching ear lobes with bloody great hoops, driving spikes through your tongue, inking skulls and flames on your thighs? Welcome to 2017.

One of the reasons that jewellery so interests me at the moment is because it is a time-honoured way of adorning the human body that can be removed at the end of the day. I have never regretted not having a tattoo if only because one’s mind and one’s life changes. How can you decide what you’d want to ink on your flesh for the rest of your life? With jewellery, you can consign a ring to a box when a relationship dies. But ‘Barry’ will forever be tattooed on your left breast.

What else is new on the Rialto? Well, when not sinking to my knees and ululating for the decline in standards of dress I am furiously working on the layouts for Jewellery for Gentlemen and preparing for my first meeting with a business mentor at Virgin Startup to launch my customised antique jewellery business.

Much as I love producing books, I do have that British ‘shopkeeper’ mentality pushing me to be a little more entrepreneurial. London is a hard taskmaster and constant reinvention is necessary to keep head above water and heart and soul together. Everyone is selling something in London. I think the trick is to sell something you genuinely believe in be that a piece of jewellery or yourself.

There is some consolation in the dumbing-down of dress in London. When I walk through Piccadilly, Mayfair and St James’s suited, booted and sporting a ruby stick pin in my lapel people look twice. Compare that to some topless tattooed cyber punk with green hair and a bone through his nose who will pass unnoticed in a crowd. Gypsy Sherwood predicts that conservatism is now the ultimate rebellion.

Having just left my letter to buy a Telegraph, I walked out just now to find Bloomsbury Square surrounded by police tape. It seems there was a party last night in the Bloomsbury Ballroom that ended with a triple stabbing on my doorstep. A day after H and I shared the Square and a bottle of Prosecco in the sun, blood has been spilt. These are dangerous times in London.