The best thing about London, the finest town in the world, is that nothing ever changes. All around us —everywhere —is flux, shock and sensation, horror, new outrage and eye-popping headlines. London is consoling balm for the soul, a shot of Valium for the ulcer of the mind—simply because it is always the same. You go away for 10 years or two, it doesn’t matter. It is constant, an oasis of consistency in a world gone mad.
In late January there is a slight nip in the air and a pleasant blue sky.
There is also Cynthia.
Cynthia is this week’s star of the tabloids, even making it—in an ever-sodiscreet (i.e. a meticulously detailed) account—into The Times and The Guardian. She is 53, is Cynthia Payne, owner of a five-bedroom house in South London where Insp. Colin White led a raid, somewhat like assaulting the cliffs of Normandy, in finding couples—accompanied by whips and studded belts—disporting themselves in the manner that only British readers could appreciate. “They were all friends of mine, and they were just having fun,” Cynthia told the court. No one could deny that. Even more indignant in the next court was author Richard Adams, famous for his worldwide best-seller Watership Down, a sort of Disneyland version of Lord of the Flies. As ace witness, he produces in court his collie, one Tetter. The tender author testifies that he has suffered nightmares for 15 months since the head gamekeeper on an estate in Hampshire (where hurricanes hardly happen) swore at him and fired his gun, while missing, at tender Tetter. “You wrote that poxy book about effing rabbits!” the rude gamekeeper had shouted at the 66year-old author, while standing on his foot, accusing the collie of disturbing his pheasants. Tetter, produced as a witness, demonstrated his obedience in the courtroom by sitting twice—
Allan Fotheringham is a columnist for Southam News.
alertly—to commands. The Brits place great importance on animals.
There is the front-page sensation in The Times about the disgraceful rebellion at Oxford. The most famous sporting occasion in the land, the Boat Race between Oxford and Cambridge on the Thames through London in March, is threatened because the five beefy Yanks on the Oxford crew are rebelling against the 31-year-old president of the Oxford Boat Club (a rather mature student) who picked himself for a spot in the boat and dropped a Yank. The crisis has come after Ox-
ford, hoping to extend its domination over Cambridge, has been “importing” huge American graduate students who just happen to be experienced rowers. As he sow, so shall he reap.
There is Sir Ralph Halpern, the highest-paid businessman in Britain, who gets $2 million a year as head of a clothing chain, but who needed security guards to get him into his shareholder’s annual meeting, fending off, among other things, a man dressed as a banana. This follows the revelations that the Tight Little Island’s highestpaid man had an affair with a teenage topless model involving games in the kitchen with bananas and other droll aids.
There is the shocking scandal about the plastic pitches. What is laughingly called progress has invaded soccer. The Brits have discovered artificial turf. Fed up with match cancellations because of frozen or waterlogged fields, four clubs installed the fake grass before rebellion broke out. The
country’s football chairman banned any further “synthetic surfaces” because football matches played on them are “alien.” With the plastic fought off, the vacuum cleaner seems unlikely to replace the lawn mower in the groundsman’s shed. It was a close call.
There is the scandal at Guinness, once the epitomy of all that was stable and solid and secure about British life. (“A baby in every bottle” was the old slogan.) Emulating the detested Americans in the merger and takeover madness, the Guinness board-
room had been caught in financial hanky-panky. High executives have had to resign, and it is revealed that $4 million had been paid to one consultant, a peer, for advice and $6 million to another stockbroker for kind help.
There is the day-by-day pursuit of the paparazzi of Princess Di’s ever-rising hemlines and the ever-receding poundage of the previously porky Fergie, Duchess of York, who has taken to leather skirts—greatly increasing tabloid circulation. At Bath, nostalgic Brits at a fund-raising Forties Dinner wore gas masks and
ate war rations. And the really serious stuff involves Police Chief James Anderton, chief constable of Manchester, who is Born-Again everything and says that God may be using him for a prophet. We’ve heard of the good cop. Now we’ve got the God cop.
The defence secretary has set up an inquiry into the leaking of a letter from Prince Philip to the commandant-general of the Royal Marines about Prince Eddie’s resignation. The wine-colored Rolls-Royces parked on the sidewalk, their chauffeurs asleep under their stiff caps, await at 3:30 in the afternoon emergence of the toffs from their lunches in the West End, where cashmere topcoats have been knocked down to only $400 in a burst of post-Christmas largesse. The vicars are still running off to Spain with the game mistresses from the proper schools. Another starlet is busted for cocaine at Heathrow Airport. Nothing changes in London, a sea of unchanged calm in a world gone bonkers.
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