COLUMN

Canadians on the beat in London

Allan Fotheringham February 16 1987
COLUMN

Canadians on the beat in London

Allan Fotheringham February 16 1987

Canadians on the beat in London

COLUMN

Allan Fotheringham

The man who is tired of London, said the good Dr. Johnson so accurately, is tired of life. The best town in the world does not assault you but just sits there like a large lump, absorbing the wandering pilgrims. The problem is that exhaustion is brought on by the energy of the colonials who have adopted the place and move at a pace slightly above that of the locals. As usual, a drifting mob of refugees from the Great White Waste of Time (as Fleet Street refers to the land ruled by Ennui-onthe-Rideau) speckles the place and pecks away at its impervious underbelly.

John Fraser, balletomane, sinologist, coffeehouse teller of tall tales, correspondent of a littleknown Toronto morning newspaper, darts about the streets like a water bug with a mission. He is the owner of a new dark hat, brim turned down all around, that makes him in his greatcoat resemble the second lead in The Phantom of the Opera.

His dark eyebrows rising in horror and shock behind his librarian glasses, he is chockablock full of delicious gossip about the high-and-mighty. The low do not interest him. He is a proud member of the Reform Club on Pall Mall (“Pell Mell” in the local argot), a chilblained pile of stone where the stuffed remnants of British Liberalism—some of them still breathing in the slow-motion manner reminiscent of the Victoria Conservative Club—gather at lunch for warm gin and slow waiters.

Canada, in fact, was invented in this place, Lord Durham writing his celebrated report here. He is recorded on the walls with a large portrait, right next to that of Lord Grey, who donated a cup of some football fame in the colony across the pond. Fraser, who loves intrigue, was highly involved in the defection of Mikhail Baryshnikov. He is currently writing a book on it and eyes New Delhi as his next foreign spot. With his tongue, augmented by his felicitous pen, he will go far in life.

Allan Fotheringham is a columnist for Southam News.

The soggy English, who lost their seed in two wars, are susceptible to raiders from across the sea. Rupert Murdoch, the Dirty Digger, has conquered Fleet Street, as Fredericton’s Beaverbrook did once before. Now Conrad Black, the cold-eyed Toronto wordsmith, has purchased a London house, as befits an owner of the Daily Telegraph on his way to the House of Lords (Lord Dominion?).

The sinuous and sloe-eyed Barbara Amiel, the Ayn Rand of our times, now writes a weekly column for The Times, slightly boggling the Brits with her fa-

miliar themes of bashing feminists, civil libertarians and those who oppose abortion, or vice versa. She is the only Canadian to the right of Conrad Black, delighting in her Belgravian redoubt in the land of her birth. The best revenge is to return to a better section of town.

War does strange things to people. The tall and stately Jimmy Munson, previously known for his pugnacious pushing matches with Pierre Trudeau in the dignified scrums that enhance Ottawa parliamentary reporting, is just back from watching shells burst all around in the Iran-Iraq war and ponders his new, young son and wonders whether being the CTV pretty face before the London cameras really included this in his job description.

There is another brand of TV. Encountered, on the way to a Swiss mountaintop for contemplation, is Linda MacLennan, the Canada AM host who has just signed up with a Chicago network station for an alleged

$280,000. Only 30, effervescent, she makes the chaps in the war zone weep. She’s prettier, guys. We don’t choose our genes, only our jeans. Them’s the breaks.

London, for all its charms, has not improved Roy McMurtry’s baggy suits, haircut or half-mast eyes. The Canadian high commissioner, in his retreat on Grosvenor Square marked by two tiny trees, is in his usual benign humor-needed when one greets a Bourassa one day, a Vander Zalm the next, a Joe Clark sandwiched in between. It is a movable cafeteria.

Richard Gwyn, columnist for a little-known Toronto afternoon newspaper, husband of the fine writer Sandra, a former student at the Sandhurst military college, is greatly enjoying himself on his return to his homeland, emulating the late Mark Gayn as a global pundit. When Joe Clark, who loves to play around with the language, tells certain puzzled reporters that he is not worried about the “peregrinations” of certain politicians, Gwyn explains to them that he is referring to Peregrine I Worsthorne, the aptly g named editor of Black’s “ Daily Telegraph, who is the only person in Britain to the right of Barbara Amiel.

A visit to Buck House reveals that Vic Chapman, the former graduate of Britannia high school in Vancouver and B.C. Lions punter and baggagesmasher for P. Trudeau and now the front man for Bat-Ears and Lady Di, is out of the residence on duty and therefore unable to provide champers.

There is a most unusual tone to the town. It is blue sky and sun, heretofore invisible at this time of year, a daytime so clear and bright as to almost match the Technicolor hues of the punk-coiffed louts of all three sexes who slouch through the streets, displaying their angst and advertising with their sharp elbows their contempt for Maggie Thatcher, the Iron Lady of 10 Downing.

The class warfare that divides Britain as no other nation continues unabated. The colonial invaders, not understanding class, gallop through, unimpeded.