Sunday bloody Sunday

Londoners on a Sunday have a wealth of local hostelries, houses, hallowed National Trust halls and mind-boggling museums to visit.  But residents, as it has so often been pointed out, do not make half as much use of the urban leisure facilities than the visitors to London do.  We become nonchalant, because we can geographically afford to.  Every morning, we flip our legs out of bed and bang our feet down on the ground of one of the greatest cities the world has ever seen and do nothing about it.  On Sunday the pulse and shape of our world contracts and quietens.  We lull about.  Sometimes we pop into cars, brace the outer ring of the M25 and plough up and beyond, over the Chiltern crest of the M1 for lunch somewhere in the home counties, where accommodating family members furnish us with braces of beef, racks of lamb and we watch teeny nieces and nephews squabbling over hot roast chickens.   But most of the time we buy the Sunday papers, have a quick stroll and set up camp on the sofa.  It is our right on our day of rest, but am I the only one with the niggling feeling that my current London Tourist Attraction Report Card is due to say “Must try harder!”?

Personally, I just sit in the bath.  But who is the maligned sadist who puts those free leaflets for holidays on Kos inside the Observer magazine on a Sunday? You know, the ones that are designed to fall out when you are reading the magazine, midway through your ablutions.  I’d like to tell them a thing or two, you know.  Things like when hard-working people are reclining in the bath on a Sunday morning they don’t want to hear about the beauty of the Sudan sand dunes.  They want to shave their legs and feel smug that the terrifying monolith of Monday Morning has not yet hoved into depressing view. Cretins.  And who is the really poor journalist who has replaced Kathryn Flett on a Sunday?  The one who is submitting sub-Sixth Form wibble and dribble masquerading as original observations.  Sack her, forthwith.  A blow dry and a wry expression do not a writer make.  I should know, I’ve tried.  Whenever I pull a wry expression I end up looking like Queen Victoria on steroids.  Sexy, no?

Altogether, London Sundays can be eerie.  Although we have had Sunday trading in this country for nearly 20 years, Sunday still stands alone, quietly, with fuss, in some hellish weekend torpor.  Torpor is the keyword for Sunday.  Its bloated and hungover, and the fact it shares a border with Monday on the Ordnance Survey Map of the Week increases its sense of hellish awfulness.   When I was a student, Sundays were flatulent, dreary and bagged up.  Sunday was the day you returned from your parents house into the mawkish dread of student lodgings.  I would, most often, be weighed down with fruitcake wrapped in tin foil and slices of chicken.   A parent had wedged £50 somewhere about my person, which I would never spend on vegetables, at the launderette, hot meals etc, but which I would rather spend on on cheese sandwiches, crisps, Silk Cut cigarettes and bottles of Hooch.  And I looked thin.  And terrific.

Of course, students don’t have much of an excuse for not utilizing the splendid cultural experiences the city has to offer.  Many of our museums are free (next week’s bloggery will be about the newly-vamped, entirely free and apparently splendid reopened Museum of London in London Wall).  The British Museum is 3.5 acres of free-ness that beggars belief in its variance and may well be the most important museum in the world.  All I seem to know about it is it has a nice cafe.  Must Try Harder.  The Royal Academy of Arts I am more familiar with, but not familiar enough.  Must Try Harder.  The Tate I can never seem to find from Pimlico tube station.  The remarkable London Walks (a snip at £7 for two hours of walking entertainment) are fascinating and led by our best Blue Badge holders.  I have only ever been on three, however.  There are at least thirty more.  The weirdest of the lot is, of course, the Jack The Ripper walk.  It’s astonishing that so many people are obsessed with a series of heinous, depressing crimes carried out on some of London’s most tragic Victorian prostitutes, but that’s Ripperology for you.  People just can’t get enough of the killing and the blood, and that stuff about him actually being Queen Victoria’s mother who was a Freemason, or something.  It meets every night at Tower Hill and is full of bemused Americans who find it hard to envisage Mary Kelly’s one room prostitute hovel, as it is now a smart branch of Jones the Bootmaker in trendy-tastic Whitechapel.  This walk is full every night.  I used to quite like the evening London Walks, as it used to be one of the few theatrical entertainments which you could participate in whilst smoking.

But my favourite, favourite museum has to be The London Transport Museum.  It has the best shop with a fantastic range of tube art on posters and prints from the 1920s and 1930s, and who could resist the splendour of a London Underground map apron?  It also has ancient double decker buses that you are able to walk up and get on and pretend it’s 1931.  There is a Georgian sedan chair, which I actually think would be my favourite mode of transport.  There is a model of Shillibeer’s first bus service from 1829 and horse drawn trams.  But it’s a perfect evocation of London’s transport system because it is entirely naff, no attempt at atmostphere has been made and it all looks as if it was done a bit on the cheap.  The waxwork Londoners are peculiarly awful;  the family of four travelling on the world’s first electric underground railway in 1890 look like the experience has been so shocking that it has given them a collective facial stroke.  Over on the 1960s buses, ex-Madame Tussaud’s waxworks which look as if their hair is made out of bog brushes and who really should be melted down forthwith, sit on the lower deck, in 1964 Beatles-esque collarless grey jackets.  An anaemic looking “Kings Road” wax girl sits slumped opposite them, as if she has passed out (the waxer forgot to put her spine in, I think).  The 1930s Metropolitan Line train stinks of mothballs, because someone has dressed two 1930s housewives in cast-off hats that have clearly come from a mouldy provincial theatre’s costume department.   The late 1970s Bakerloo tube is kitted out with waxworks of people who look as if they’re mashed off their faces, hanging on to those old springy, metal straps that used to hang from the tube ceiling with bulbous metal handles on the bottom of them, which used to scald West Londoners in the hot weather.  Perfect for those mid-1970s heatwaves.  Elsewhere in the carriage, on brown and orange patterned seats, nervous bell-bottomed commuters cast a wary eyes at the druggies, and then return to the gleaming screens of their new “pocket sized”, three foot wide Casio calculators.  It’s like being in a scene in Life on Mars.

However, the worst thing about The Transport Museum is finding your way out.  It’s impossible, because no one at TFL considered the logistics of having a museum full of signs that say” Way Out” and “Ladies Carriage” and “Exit Only”.  The problem is there are hundreds of “Exit” signs and “Mind the Doors” all over the place.  My first three attempts at getting out involved me firstly opening a  small”Exit” door in red.  “This is odd,” I thought.  “although maybe just in keeping with the experience of old transport, what fun!”.  Wrong.  After climbing an ancient staircase I opened a trapdoor of some kind.  Next thing, I’m twelve feet up on a 1880s hackney carriage roof where I stood above a plastic horse, whilst children on an outing laughed and pointed.  I tried another “Exit” door next to a bus platform, where I was suddenly nose-to-nose against a brutish looking waxwork ticket inspector from 1973 and thirdly, most disastrously, muggins here walked through an “Exit” door next to a vintage fire engine that set off a fire alarm, alerted the museum to a suspected terrorist attack and got me into lots of trouble, because it was turned out to be an emergency exit, to be used only in the event of Al Qaeda explosions or Martian landings.   Eventually, I just kept desperately pressing my Oyster card against a series of plastic walls whilst I wept, in a bid to break for freedom.

When I found the way out of the Museum, it was to an appalling dining area called The Upper Deck, featuring 1980s tube seats and angry tourists eating chicken nuggets.  Like all aspects of modern transport with TFL, it was self-service.   It’s menu has things on it like “London Pea Souper” or the “Tipsy Trainspotter” cocktail, in which something unthinkable happens involving vodka and passion fruit.   “Underground Smoothies” sounds like group of paedophiles, but are actually fruit-based juices named for four of the tube lines, each one featuring fruits whose colours correspond to the tube line.   The “District Line Smoothie” is a vastly disgusting sounding, bright green “apple, kiwi, grape and lime” concoction which may just as well be rebranded “The Bowel Loosener”.  And the mind boggles at the suggestion at the bottom of the menu that we investigate a “unique take on suburban cuisine” with the Suburban Specials.  God knows what that is.  Kensal Rise Kedgeree probably, or an Ongar Omelette.

Now, TFL, I don’t mean to be bitchy, but it would be nice if the shop wasn’t actually better than the Museum.  I cannot recommend the shop highly enough.  (I almost always use it’s postcards, and I’m a sucker for pencils and erasers and pens with those fluffy bits on the end, but STILL) . I will report next week after my trip to The Museum of London, which unlike the London Transport Museum is free, where I hope not to be sucked into a space time continuum in the Victorian street mock-up, complete with urinals (yes, that’s apparently true) and where I hope the museum will be far better than the shop.    The Museum displays have to contain the artefacts, but there is no point in the cafes making a mockery of them.    So, next Sunday, with the extra Bank Holiday Monday as pay off, get thee to a museum, thee Londoners.   I shall report back from The Museum of London, where, I hope not to find Tudor themed ciabattas and Georgian lattes served by Edwardian suffragettes.    After that, I’ll be off to the Cabinet War Rooms, for the following week’s instalment.  That’s nice.  First of all I get to see the rich cultural and historical variety of this grand city that took 2,000 years to build and evolve and then I get to go to the Museum to tell me how the Germans tried to blow it all up.  What fun!  I’m off, notebook in hand, sensible museum shoes on, to delve through 2,000 years of history…..darling readers, do come back next week and see how it went.

Please return to The London Bluebird if you enjoyed this.  This blog is updated every Thursday.

Hampstead meanderings

I have always loved Hampstead, which – unlike “liking” it – is a thing of the heart and doesn’t correspond to common sense.  When I was a teenager, rotting in the outer perimeter of the Metropolitan Line, I couldn’t think of a place lovelier than Hampstead.  Also, at the time, the comic Rob Newman (last seen dressed like a North Sea trawlerman and preaching about eco-systems) lived somewhere up near Parliament Hill, so I thought if I hung out there a lot I’d catch his eye at Maxwell’s and then, well, pretty soon move in with him.  Or something.   Hampstead was fairyland compared to the rest of North London.     When I was five years old, the first couple I ever knew to get divorced lived in Hampstead, which seemed very exciting at the time.  One minute friends of my parents were living quite happily in Keats Grove, and the next she was weeping in a Belsize Park flat which had scary life-sized statues of children in it which used to terrify me, and he had soberly decamped to a bachelor pad in Tanza Road.  I also member a scary woman dress designer, whose Siamese cats were far better bred than her husbands (all of whom appeared to be called Mario).  She ran a business selling outlandish, Pan’s People-esque clothes from a huge, white stucco house somewhere off Downshire Hill.  My mother bought her dresses for about four years, only to return for a fitting one day to find she’d done a runner, moggies and all.    She didn’t even leave behind any jumpsuits.  Despite this – or maybe because of this –  Hampstead began a florid ascendancy in my imagination, and somehow got wired in my flighty brain that this was where grown-ups lived.   It had romantic gothic turrets that clung to the North London skyline as you trudged up to the Heath, in a journey unchanged in three hundred years.  Something of mittel Europe hung on to it’s edges, and I always hankered after something nameless that it seemed to promise.  It has always been a wee bit special.

The trouble was, even thirty years ago when the most threatening sight on Hampstead High Street was a drunken Peter Cook dribbling outside The Coffee Cup, you needed an awful lot of the green stuff to rock on up to NW3, peruse a selection of houses, and snatch up one of the fruitiest.   In my teenage years, I attended parties in the area, one of which was in a privately-hired gothic cottage on Hampstead’s frilly, frisky outskirts.  An hour before the party my brother asked to borrow £750 to pay for it.  £750? I asked.  Not likely.  After all, in the event, the evening featured a good friend of mine being sexually pestered by a bass player in the front garden and a fellow sixth former being found passed out, laying half way up the entrance steps.  Why pay £750 for that?  Go to any English High Street at 1.35am on a Friday night and you can see all that for free.  I also attended a party upstairs at “The Dome” on Hampstead High Street (now Cafe Rouge) where I had a romantic clinch with a trainee turf accountant.  I do not know why this was, unless he was giving me tips for the Gold Cup.  I have spent my adult life curiously living in a peculiar Hampstead ring (I think Boy George had a run in with one of those on the Heath one night) – renting flats of variant qualities in West Hampstead, Swiss Cottage, Golders Green, but never having the lolly to invade the central, liberal, Nicole Farhi-esque Hampsteadian heartlands.   The only people I know who live in Hampstead bought their homes forty years ago and are holding on to it by their false teeth.   No one with a degree in the Arts and Humanities can sniff at the place these days.

So, the last bank holiday brought me to Hampstead, to one of those arse-clenching, calf-killing steep steps to the left of Heath Street which climbs up to Holly Mount.   Hampstead was looking her best because she was in her best delightful half-light (early summer, high turquoise skies, evening, sun setting over Haverstock Hill etc)  Half of the world accepted that we were basically on a 11 day beano for most of the second half of April, and half of the world didn’t.  Some businesses expected employees to turn up, some weren’t arsed.  Some shops were open, some were closed.  We didn’t know what was what at all.  And then there was all that Easter nonsense to contend with (eggs, chocolate, Waitrose being closed for two days just because of all the crucifying stuff and then someone rises from the dead (or something) and then Waitrose opens again). The trouble was – with this wealth of public holidays – no one changed the pub laws.  That meant on both Sunday nights (which were really like Saturday nights to us) the pubs shunted everyone out at 10.30pm.  We were most confused.   On the second Sunday of the glorious bank hols – the one for the rising-up-from-the-dead thing, not the one for the Wedding of Prince Baldie thing – Mr Bluebird and I went to the Holly Bush in Hampstead with some friends.

The Holly Bush is one of Hampstead’s oldest pubs.  It isn’t close to the Heath, it is infinitely better placed, on Holly Mount, close to the transport facilities of Heath Street.  It was built by the portrait painter George Romney at some point in the 1790s.   At some point in the hour before we turned up though, it was being patronised by one enormous bustling table of well-to-do local youths, who had been sat there since lunchtime, and who were drinking for England.  Despite this pub being taken over by the Watford brewery, Benskins, in the 1920s, there is nothing of Watford about it, my friends.  Ted Baker-ed Hampsteadians bray and belch on dainty bar stools that, frankly, weren’t built to accommodate third-generation-public-school rugby buttocks.   Snappy, quiet girls with sleek hair smirk and smoke outside the door and George Romney would roll in his grave if he could see how much the cheeseburgers cost.   Small, 18th century alcoves reveal confused Japanese tourists.  One of them clutched a tourist guide from about 1991 and seemed perplexed that she had found more Vietnamese cafes than Viennese cafes in Hampstead these days and she hadn’t seen hide nor hair of Margaret Drabble either.  Where was this mittel European intelligentsia she had heard about?  Most of the tourists were looking – terrified – at the large crowd of GAP year-ites who were downing shots and screaming throughout the small, oak-wooded Georgian rooms.  A table (also of tourists) bore the hysterical drunks quite well, showed no irritation and nobly didn’t move away.  Later, we discovered they were in fact deaf.

The Holly Bush is an anachronism.  It is so chronologically displaced as to be quite a distressing experience.  It is a very pretty pub, perfect for when Hampstead was a country town back in the 1790s (Ah! I remember it well!  Those crazy Napoleonic Wars!  And that night with Nelson on Hampstead Heath…oh, those were the days..)  It was a popular destination for tuberculosis-ridden, pox-coated Londoners to take the air and hump incessantly in the ponds.  Now, Hampstead is a bloated old battle-axe of an inner London suburb, which appears to have had most of its individualism sucked away by the garish fluttering of money that clogs up its arteries like fat, and basically stops anything interesting happening there.  It’s become a bit vapid.  The intellectual penury that drained out of it from the late 1990s onwards into more cheaper salubrious districts like Stoke Newington or Stroud Green has been mirrored by a true, financial penury; small shops are wrung dry for rents in Hampstead.  Many local shops are now empty and for let.  All the restaurants in South End Green have changed.  The book traders in Flask Walk have survived, although I wonder for how much longer.

Yes, as the commerce infrastructure of the area fragments, the residential quarter flourishes.  Very small, brutal-looking housewives drive very large cars up and down Haverstock Hill, although it seems odd splashing out on a vehicle suitable for roaring through Wiltshire quicksand or lashings of Norfolk mud when all they do is pop to Belsize Park and back.   The owner of a very large car never quite gets it’s moneyworth out of the vehicle if they don’t use it for the reason it was designed.  There are drivers out there so thick that they can’t calculate that if you drive a ostentatiously large, wide car down an 18th century side street you are going to get stuck.   Most amusing.  Plus, no one can see them waving “AW! Help! I am stuck down Ye Olde Hollie Mounte in Ye Olde Hampsteade!” because they had the windows of their car tinted, under the misapprehension that they were fascinating enough to encourage constant gawping from the rest of us. They aren’t.

Hampstead manifested itself in the nation’s consciousness as some kind of intellectual, artistic zone in the first thirty years of the last century, when it offered sanctuary to those fleeing from the middle and east of Europe, and seemed to harness the more middle class of European immigrants on the immigration spectrum.  For reasons that can only be consciously bourgeois, the middle class, educated Jewish Europeans that arrived in this country and situated themselves in literature and the performing arts are referred to as emigres.  The poorer, uneducated Jewish Europeans in the East End are simply “immigrants”. (I think you get a French sounding name for your immigrant status if you’ve written a ballet, or were friends with Powell & Pressburger).  Either way, right up until 1970s NW3 bustled with a remarkable surfeit of intellectuals, writers, actors and artists, albeit successful, well-off ones.  A brief glance at this list gives you an example of the freak scale of notable brainboxes per square foot once you step north of the Finchley Road from the 1910s onwards : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Hampstead_residents

These days, even the successful ones are unlikely to afford to live there anymore.   The flip side of the coin of economic gain granted by a property boom is the civic cost.  The property boom of the last ten years has cost Hampstead itself, because it’s raison d’etre isn’t there any more.  It’s just a wealthy suburb.  Hampstead has eaten itself , regurgitated everything and spat it back out.  No one wants to shop in the shops anymore, the Hampstead Bazaar is no more bizarre than a Starbucks latte, and the vague and the delightful and the interesting and the artistic are no longer required.   There are, however, some lovely big cars.  Alas, it’s a sobering moment when you realise there is more intellect in a radish than Hampstead these days.  Don’t get me wrong; I don’t dislike Hampstead, in fact I love Hampstead.  That’s why it upsets me that it seems to have become just another pretty borough – only more shrill and distasteful than it used to be.   Is any essence of itself still there?  I would like to think so.   Perhaps Hampstead’s own energy and verve will reignite itself in some new form, but the writing has been on the wall for almost a decade – see this article from The Telegraph  seven years ago : http://www.telegraph.co.uk/property/propertyadvice/propertymarket/3324574/Whatever-happened-to-Hampstead-Man.html

Hampstead’s identity in the last hundred years was a peculiar alchemy that birthed an sophisticated bohemianism unrivalled by other London boroughs and which was inevitably too dependent on fortuitive economic criteria to survive.  But, it still has it’s magic.   The feather in its cap is it’s variable architectural styles; 18th century cottages nestle amongst late-Victorian gothic weirdo houses, looping round lanes and twisting and turning into surprising avenues.   It’s charm is built in.  Nothing could be more splendid than living on Parliament Hill, tidy and quiet, close to the bustling city yet seemingly miles away in a small cluster of roads that open out to the astonishing views from the top of the Hill.  It will always have it’s poetic magnificence, if compromised slightly by the harsh aggression of the millionaire-homes marketing, and the endless chavtastic chug of dinosaur cars that crawl up and down the High Street.  There have always been the Hampstead sneerers.  Up until 1980, these were vaguely leftie-disapproving, liberal bashing jealous anti-semites.  Now they are vaguely banker-disapproving, townie-bashing, jealous anti-semites.  They think their nastiness is acceptable.  Fuck ’em.  It’s charmless and egotistical and usually belies resentment that they haven’t got a view from their bathroom of the Heath.   Rage against the non-Hampsteadians, my friends, and wend your way, lovingly, to NW3.

Please return to The London Bluebird if you enjoyed this.  This blog is updated every Thursday.

Come on baby, Light My Bus Pass

Certain things should be got out of the way swiftly in life : measles, chickenpox, using hair mousse, first love, experimenting with eyeliner, learning how to drive,  working out what the washing machine is for and how not to boil silk knickers at 90 degrees etc.   I didn’t do any of this (with the exception of the eyeliner).  In fact, when it came to the motor car I was practically retarded and wasn’t licensed to drive one without adult supervision until I was 32.  I learnt nothing about the common sense stuff until I was 30.  Carpet shampooing, grown up clothes shopping , where to buy good tights and the importance of the three week wax (I am not talking about the car this time) was all a mystery to me until I hit my thirties.  This is because when I was a charming yet supercilious adolescent I was too busy listening to The Doors LPs and plotting about how I was going to get on an aeroplane and marry Val Kilmer. 

Halcyon days,  kids.  Plotting to marry Val “Jim Morrison on the weekends” Kilmer was basically a full time job because the bastard was married already.  Dammit.  His wife was the florid, fragrant Joanne Whalley, who tagged her new husband’s name on the end of hers just to make everyone sick with jealousy that she’s gone and married him.  Val Kilmer was already firmly ensconced in my heart as the future Mr Bluebird, but then he signed up to be Jim Morrison in Oliver Stone’s The Doors and my cup of Kilmeresque love basically ran over.   Jim Morrison was probably the most delightful thing ever to be on the cover of American Billboard, the prettiest boy sitting on Venice Beach in the late 1960s.  There was some stuff about him marrying a peculiar witch or something, but I still thought he was Mr Hot Stuff.  Unfortunately, he was dead.  (First rule of the Bluebird marriage lottery : pick a live victim).

Val Kilmer as Jim Morrison was the most exciting thing to happen to me in 1991 – with the exception of learning how to smoke.  I was very pleased about the latter, as surely Jim would think it terribly rock on roll to have a fag on the go.  Not that Val had a fag on the go, of course.  He was all man.  He quickly jettisoned the brat pack in terms of my posters of the moment.  Rob Lowe?  Bin him.  Moody fashion shots of early 1990s models in imitation early 60s bouffants from Elle?  Get rid.  Kiefer Sutherland avec quiff?  Shred the fella.  Nothing existed but Val, who, for reasons that weren’t entirely apparent, my father started referring to as Valerie.   Operation Val sped with miraculous speed throughout my adolescent world.  I didn’t even notice the Gulf War had started and ended, so busy was I playing the first album, imaginatively titled The Doors, over and over and over again. 

Dad and the whole “Valerie” thing had started to make sense.  In order to truly understand The Doors  in all these Venice Beach, Gothic, William Blake-esque splendour, I was forced to listen to them at top volume.  This meant for either of my parents to get my attention they had to send a carrier pigeon, bang loudly on the ceiling, shout and scream or suddenly appear in my bedroom doorway hollering: “THERE’S PHONE CALL FOR YA” whilst making urgent “telephone” shapes with their left hands.  It wasn’t Val on the phone of course, that would just be weird.  My parents annoyance wasn’t helped by the fact that my bedroom was built in about 1590, and the walls would shudder with every Morrisonesque wail about wanting to have sex with his own mother.   I think the 12 minute version of The End  did my parents heads in in particular.

When The Doors film was in progress, I seriously considered jumping on a transatlantic plane and putting myself forward for the role of Pamela Courson, Morrison’s snake-hipped, smack-eyed paramour for much of his short adult life, but dammit if that Meg Ryan didn’t get in my way AGAIN by taking the role herself.  The Megster and I have had battle lines drawn since that morning in a cafe when she right put me off my sandwich.  Basically, I was sitting there, happy as Larry, with a brioche, and she then started to…..erugh.  I can’t say it.  DISGUSTING, that’s what it was.   With Pamela’s films shoes filled, the only other role open to an aspiring 15 year old actress from Watford was the freaky white witch type character, and hand-fasting aint how I roll.  Desperately upset, nothing remained but to wait for the film’s release.  The only slightly interesting item on the agenda was an imminent trip to Paris, where I could join the other emotive 15 year olds from around the world mooning tragically over Morrison’s grave. 

Soon, in a bizarre death-over-life hostile takeover, I realised Jim Morrison was inhabiting my imagination more than Val “Cheekbones” Kilmer was.  Val Kilmer seemed to be – dare I say it – a little bit dull?  He was more pottery than poetry.  He had a house without a roof in the desert but apart from that he seemed dreary dreary dreary, so I veered over to his character instead.  Soon, I knew everything about Morrison, from his date and place of birth to his father’s military career, to the details of the Miami trial for obscenity and the somewhat gruesome poetry he seemed to churn out by the hour.  When I won a music prize at school I was told to chose an appropriate book for £10.  I chose “Jim Morrison : Dark Star” by Dylan Jones.  I was asked to meet the Deputy Head, and requested to chose another book as she thought Jim Morrison’s crotch jaggedly sticking out from the front of a glossy book would cause the Board of Governors to have a collective stroke.  I stuck my ground.  I got my book, and meanwhile set a precedent; within a year books on Prince and U2 were being given to Fourth Formers who had gone through decades of having to read dreary rubbish about Grieg’s melodies.  Or something. 

When the film finally came out in the UK then, I was so excited that I could barely sit still, and gleefully counted out the days on the calendar on my wall.  I saw it in a Cannon cinema in the West End.  My mother went to the screen next door to see Thelma & Louise, which she wasn’t at all sure about it afterwards, because she said “it made it look okay to kill people”, which boggled my mind a bit.  Nothing was that exciting in The Doors film.  I suppose it couldn’t be anything but a let down.  It seemed to go on for a bit too long, feature a Jim Morrison who had had a humour bypass and lacked pace.  When the screen said ‘1968’  half way through a montage 90 minutes in, my exasperated friend turned to me and said “What year did he die?  Is it soon?”  Meg Ryan was upstaged by her own wig.  Val Kilmer looked doped up , as Jim Morrison would have been, but actually just ended up looking as if he was bored.  He was very pretty, however.  And sang his own songs like a trooper.  But the script wasn’t poor.

Val uses an open shirt to distract from the fact that after 12 years in the Business known as Show, he still can’t quite work out where the camera is.  To your left, son – your LEFT!  Meanwhile, the original version on the right does it all a whole lot better.  Lovely.

Still, it was two and a half hours of Val strutting about in leather trousers, so what’s not to like?  However, I was upset by the whole fat period with beard, sloppy bits of whisky in his hat and big belly.  But at least it prepared us for the Val of the future.  Imagine my horror, dear friends at pictures of Val in the last two years.  He ate all the pies.  And the cakes.  And the KFC buckets.  Nevermind a shadow of his former self, he is now the widescreen version, with eyes like piss holes in the snow and keeping to an average of seven meals a day.  When the loves of one’s youth turn up aged and grisly, we are always shocked, although we shouldn’t be.  Part of the shock is self-referential – if Val Kilmer is 106, how old does that make me?  I am not suggesting for a moment that Kilmer should have taken a leaf out of Morrison’s book and stayed young, having died in a Parisian bath at 27 (very selfish – did he not spare a thought for the chambermaid?).  But growing old disgracefully doesn’t just let him down, but lets all of us down as well.  The passing years are written on him.  One glance at his podgy chops and eighteen years ago doesn’t feel like yesterday anymore.

I hardly listen to The Doors these days, but I do have the film on DVD and find I enjoy it now more than I did then.  I sing along with the songs more than I did then.  I think of the film more fondly than I should.   Although it is a shock that Val(erie) Kilmer is now 50! – 50! – it’s even more of a shock to see that had Jim Morrison lived he would have been a stately 68 years old, and would basically look like Keith Richard.  Never mind all the drugs, they’d just whizz him off to Geneva and give him a complete blood transfusion every couple of weeks and he’d be totally fine.  There’s no dude like an old dude.  But, my Jim Morrison years are over.com, and these days Val Kilmer is more Old Man than Ice Man.   Thank goodness for celluloid then, where youth springs eternal and – for a moment – so do we.

Please return to The London Bluebird if you enjoyed this.  This blog is updated every Thursday.

Citizens Caned

Being a citizen is hard graft, kids.  This was an excerpt from The Bluebird’s Keystone Cops-esque existence yesterday morning :

“You sir!  Get in the building!  Yes, don’t think I can’t see you!  YOU IN THE BLUE SHIRT.  Get back,  into the building.  And I can STILL see you. Yes!  Stay away from the windows! Yes, I mean YOU!”

If a copper could “Tsk” or “Tut tut” through a loud speaker, this rozzer would have done.    It took me a while to get over the whole fashion suicide short-sleeved blue shirt thing, but when I did it turned out there was some kind of terrorist alert because a plank had left a suspicious looking motorbike parked in Brook Street and so they cordoned off our plentiful and glamourous corner of West 1.  Whatever it was, it turned out not to be an explosive device, as pretty damn soon the cordons came off and the police suddenly weren’t there anymore, as if they had vanished into some sort of strange, municipal dream.   Probably Prince Harry left it there on his way to Mahikis or wherever the ginger and eligible party these days.

Perhaps not.  Perhaps it could have been a super-injunction slayer?  I only say that because Max Clifford works in our street (I’ve seen him, accompanying weeping slatterns who’ve slept with Premier League footballers, walking with them into the kitchen and bunging a Nescafe into their astonished hands, before arranging to give them a career so they can buy their mums bungalows.)   The whole world would fall apart if the contents of Max Clifford’s desk was to shower down over the West End, like publicity confetti.  Not that I approve of making jokes about bombs of course, kids.  I’m only teasing.

For, to be sure, there is nothing else you can do when the Metropolitan Police tell you to stay in your building (I did not see Max Clifford break this curfew).  You stay in.  Occasionally there were yelps and starts, but mostly ominous silences as the pedestrian traffic on our road was emptied away until the street looked like a film set before a shoot.  A piece of blue and white ribbon went up which would have been nice and festive, if it hadn’t been warning us away from a bomb alert.  Again, PC Truncheon strutted up the end of the Mews, spitting into his loud-speaker and then suddenly disappearing an hour later, when it turned out to be a Domino’s pizza delivery moped – or similar- that had caused the raucous mess in the first place.   In the wake of a possible – no, actually at the time what we thought of as a probable  – terrorist attack, we do what the British always do; have a gossip and make some tea and keep calm and carry on.  I never really understood those silly T-shirts before, but keeping calm and carrying on is all that inhabits that thin line, my friends, between holding on to sanity in the face of uncertain death and just going nuts and screaming and running down the street with no clothes on saying “GAAAH!  Ladies!  Gents!  We’re all going to die!  AHHHHHHHHH!”

At least it was more exciting than doing our constitutional duty this morning and voting on the ever-dreary AV idea.  So lousy, but in order to nip it in the bud altogether, I had to go to the polling station.  In my case, the polling station is an infant school, which smells faintly of child sick and Pledge.  It still had a vastly decorative “Kate & William” celebratory corner for the royal nuptials outside the gym in a serious of jingoistic posters.  It smacked of a bank holiday hangover.  When I went into the polling room, I was swiftly advised against performing an illegal act or something.  Like ticking a box where you should have put a cross.  Needless to say, if that had happened, they would have cordoned me off and announced me to be a terrorist threat, like that unfortunate bike.

But – people – could voting be any more depressing?  If the turnout is due to be low, as expected in London, as we don’t have the local council elections today as per the rest of the UK, thereby denying an incentive to turn up inthe first place, couldn’t they try harder?  Would it be too much, dear House of Commons, to include a bar, and the price of a drink included with presentation of  ballot paper?  A chill-out zone once the constitutional duty has been performed?  It simply isn’t good enough.  I want the parliamentary process to be carried out with brio, stealth and zeal.  I want each party leader personally welcoming me into the polling booth: “Good morning, Mrs Bluebird.  May I say how fetching your hat is?  Please go forth and vote, madam.  Oh no.  NO.  Please don’t put the pencil in your handbag.  See you at the next hockey tournament at Chequers!  That’s if Kenneth Clarke has recovered from the kneecapping you gave him last time!  Ha ha.  Cheerio.”

Alas, it shall not be.  But is it any surprise that how citizens are treated constitutionally is preoccupying my dizzy mind this week?  I have been encouraged to wave a flag like a nutter at a collection of despots and Germanic lunatics at La Wedding Royale, I have been bullied into not being able to go to Pret and get a latte, coz of some terrorist threat which featured a policeman shouting up at the office window (how common) and now I have been dumped into the austere, sober and dull as dishwasher episode of the AV ballot.   I have been harried into three constitutional roles since last Friday.  Not counting the Republican lunch I avoided on the Day of La Wedding Royale, which seemed to shoehorn me into yet another role of angry republican.  I had not a bean of interest in doing this because I was too busy admiring Tara Palmer Tomkinson’s hat.   I have got constitutional schizophrenia.  After all, aren’t there only so many things a citizen can be?   And did those people at Buck House even send me some cake ?  Did they?  No.  Peasants.   I am waiting for David Cameron to send me some cake for thanking me for turning up this morning, but as usual he won’t bother.  He hasn’t been the same since our third date when he met my mother.  Mostly, I blame the Liebfraumilch.

Dear citizens, this week, sod ’em all.   The great advantage of an unwritten constitution is we make it up as we go along anyway.  So, take advantage of that pleasant political loophole : have your own wedding, have your own AV / not to AV party.  Put your flags away.  Get those toothy Prince William celebratory mugs out and put your feet up and have a right good cuppa.    Enjoy your liberal freedom of this ‘ere green and unpleasant land.  I constitutionally decree it.  Oh – and please watch out where you park your motorbike.

Please return to The London Bluebird if you enjoyed this.  This blog is updated every Thursday.