The Column of Lasting Insignificance: December 23, 2006
memo from London
IT STARTED WITH A SIMPLE LETTER to the Daily Telegraph from a reader who boasted that he had founded the Society of People Who Have Not Seen The Sound of Music and have no intention of doing so. Only days later the paper ran a letter from a reader who claimed to be a founder member of the Society of Those Who Once Saw the Sound of Music and Deeply regret the waste of time.
Well, the trickle became a flood. Within days there were claimants to be members of societies who wish they had never been to Ikea, to Never Having Watched a James Bond film; Who Have Neither Eaten at McDonalds or KFC; who Have Never Attended a Car Boot Sale; Who Have Never Read Harry Potter, and score of other disclaimers.
By this time the letters had been running for a week, prompting readers who asked if it wouldn’t be preferable to belong to the Don’t Knock Anything Until You Have Tried It Society and even The Society for Those Who Stopped Reading the Telegraph in Disgust.
One of the paper’s regular columnists, Charles Moore, joined in. “What is so surprising about these non-achievements is that we feel so proud of them. People are absolutely bursting to tell the world about their failure to take part in the normal run of human activity, their ineligibility for the struggle of life and their dislike for the tastes of others.”
But the Telegraph knew a good thing when they saw it. They invited more nominations for a “Society of People who have Never” and promised “a Telegraph scroll certificate” for the 100 best entrants.
CLOSING THREE DAYS before Christmas, after mixed reviews is Drunk Enough to Say I Love You, a one-act play in which Jack (as in Union Jack) and Sam (as in Uncle Sam) converse while in each other’s arms in a hammock suspended above the stage. According to critic Nicholas De Jongh the play was “inspired by cartoonists, stand-up comedians, and commentators who have likened Blair’s relationship with Bush to a love affair.”
THE BRITISH PUBLIC were exuberant when the country won the rights to stage the 2012 Olympics but now with the estimated cost more than doubling — second thoughts are setting in. One writer, the Observer’s Andrew Rawnsley referring to “the ruinously expensive folly of this mad five-ring circus” even suggested that Britain sell the whole thing to the French to stage. “The disaster that was the (Millennium) Dome is now being replicated on an even more gargantuan scale,” he wrote. Initially the cost was estimated at three or four billion pounds but this is now considered a risible figure with 15 billion pounds being more likely. Montreal has only just finished paying off the 1976 games they staged and Athens 2000 effort had to be bailed out by the EC. China is believed to be spending 20 billion dollars for the 2008 event.
“Britain has a miserable record of bringing in big infrastructure projects on time and on budget.” Rawnsley writes, “The crucial difference with the Olympics is that they can’t be postponed which means they are even more likely to inflate in cost.”
IN RESPONSE TO A ROCK MUSIC magazine’s list of “the 50 coolest people” (most of whom non-music fans have never heard of) the Independent devoted two pages to the 50 Most Uncool People. Among them were Elton John (“crimes against fashion too numerous to mention”); Paris Hilton (“Paris Travelodge, more like”); David Hasselhoff (“a mystery wet patch around his groin on a recent plane journey”); Sarah Ferguson (“vulgar, vulgar, vulgar”); and Graham Norton (“nowhere near as funny as he thinks he is”).
IT’S BEEN ONE YEAR since authorities allowed pubs to open and close any time they wished in every 24-hour period and the forecasts of increased drunkenness and other trouble have been disproved. By staggering the times at which drunks leave the pubs there have been fewer fights and less trouble. Almost no places have chosen to stay open the full 24 hours, buts says Brighton’s Police Chief Lawrence Hobbs “pubs and clubs are simply closing when customers go home.”
HUNDREDS OF SCHOOLS are helping with the revival of the ukulele, which is reputed to be easier to learn than any other instrument and is “playful, unintimidating, and child-sized.” Gail O’Flaherty, an award-winning teacher in East London, told the Observer: “More than any other instrument taught in my school, the ukulele has had a noticeable impact on children’s social, creative, and learning abilities.”
REALTORS HAVE BEEN TRYING for 18 months to sell what has been called the world’s most expensive residential property — the 58-acre Updown Court in Surrey — a 103-room mansion with five swimming pools and a mosaic floor made of 24-carat gold leaf. None of the world’s 600 billionaires seem interested in forking over the asking price of $150 million although one prospective buyer put down a $170,000 non-refundable deposit, and forfeited it.
It is a statement house and the statement period for Russians has passed “says the Russian specialist agents Strutt and Parker. “The wealthy Russian we sell to now is discreet and comfortable with their money. They wouldn’t want to buy a house that is known worldwide to be the most expensive. They don’t want to be seen by their peers to be buying into vulgarity.”
Uptown Court has tennis and squash courts, gym, helipad, automated bowling lanes, screening room, gold bathroom tiles, a panic room (“in case of terrorist attack”), and Elton John and the Duchess of York as neighbors.
More than half of Britain’s 80,000 millionaires — a 32% increase since last year — live in London.<
HALF A CENTURY AFTER lyrical Welsh poet Dylan Thomas drank himself to death, two separate movies go into production next month about the poet’s life with his wife Caitlin. Reportedly on first setting sight of her in a pub, the poet laid his head in her lap and proposed marriage. The Best Time of Our Lives will star Lindsay Lohan and Keira Knightly as Caitlin at different ages, with Miranda Richardson and former Bond girl Rosamund Pike playing similar roles in Caitlin.
HIRED TO PERFORM in that esoteric venture known as the English pantomime, Henry Winkler told the Daily Telegraph: “I had no idea of the controlled chaos. I’m so lost I can’t begin to tell you. My mind is like a motor without oil that has frozen to a major stop… and I don’t know if I am good enough to adlib.”
THE WILCOCK WEB: Eyebrow transplants are the latest craze among people who want to look like their favorite celebrity says Dr. Richard Rogers who charges about $3,800 for transferring hair from the back of the head to the eyebrows…. Extending the easing of its gambling laws, Britain will allow poker — for limited stakes — in pubs from next fall …. “Carbon offsetting” is the new charge by travel companies added to airline tickets based on what they term “the CO2 emissions of the flight” and the cost of compensating for them…. The fastest growing section of the luxury fashion business is accessories and especially oversized handbags some of which Gucci ($1000) and Chanel ($1700) have been fetching outlandish prices…. Thousands of pounds have been invested by various companies in making commemorative plates for the anticipated (but unannounced) wedding of Prince William and his girlfriend Kate Middleton…. Friendly tax breaks and accessibility are credited with London’s appeal to billionaires according to Forbes which says that of the city’s 23 billionaires, only a dozen are British whom the best known is Sir Richard Branson ($2.8 billion).