Everyone knows everything in London
Metropolitan ennui obviously has an upside. Alex Renton, formerly arts editor, features editor and chief feature writer for the London Evening Standard (you don’t get more metro than that) tells me that he doesn’t know “what to think about anything anymore.” Alex now works for Oxfam in southeast Asia, a morally invigorating job. But being ripped from the womb of cultural London seems to have had some disquieting side effects. What do you think about crisis at the ICA, Monsters Inc, or Philip Pullman’s Whitbread triumph, if you don’t know what “everyone is saying,” or-indeed-if “everyone” happens to be Cambodian? Alex is not sure if he’s meant to like Philip Pullman or not (dear, oh dear). Obviously, he isn’t that worried about the crisis in British conceptual art, because he didn’t know that Ivan Massow had been sacked as ICA chairman for calling it “craftless tat.” But if he had heard Jonathan Miller on Radio Four declaring haughtily that none of the yBAs had come within a mile of “anything I would recognise as a concept,” Alex would have been his old, assured self, dismissing a) Jonathan Miller or b) Ivan Massow or c) people who took either them or the art world too seriously. There’s a lesson about London here. You don’t need to know very much to know everything (as long as you’re actually there). The city makes cultural tourists of us all; and even the specialist critics who tell us what to think become tourists as soon as they stray off their patches. It’s pretty depressing to imagine that Alex, as he rides between Bangkok and Hanoi, misses this third-hand experience of the bright lights. So, I raise a pint of drizzly after-show bitter to the old smoke (and, by the way, Monsters Inc is just slightly overrated).
Waiting for the great castration novel
Thinking of expats and the Evening Standard, my good mate, Pete, rings up from Sicily to say that he is very unhappy with a book review I wrote for the Standard’s book pages. I don’t dare imagine what cultural sadness has sucked Pete away from his Latin life to read it on the ThisIsLondon website. He is writing his second novel, getting a screenplay developed into a film, and living with a beautiful Sicilian woman who manages luxury villas on the island. Can it be that this…