I gratify my malice through quiet neutrality

I have just returned to London from a short visit in Los Angeles where it is entirely possible to make a hobby out of spotting the rich and famous. The only catch is that one must be fully engaged in popular culture to partake of this type of safari, and I am not.

Flying out of Los Angeles is particularly amusing as the rich and famous are paraded in front of you as they pre-board in first class. Before entering the limbo of missing time that is transcontinental air travel, I watched the privileged show their passports as proof out of monkey class. Some were obviously British– in Saville Row suits and semi-ironic haircuts, some were strategically unkempt but inoffensive– obviously from some Coldplay clone band I know nothing of. And there was one who boarded after them made who eye contact with me, sliding his sunglasses down his nose as if to say, “I know you know who I am,” and offering me a half-smile, like a crumb to a duck. Except I didn’t know who he was beyond his shiny ginger shag and suede blazer which screamed rich Topanga hippie.

As I peruse the dry array of businessmen boarding, someone bumbles up to the front of the line looking disoriented. He pulls up his dirty track pants which were riding low, and shifts his weight in plastic clogs. He coughs up a lung cookie before he can state his business to the staff. I thought, dear god please don’t let this crazy man be seated next to me please. As the staff examine his documents he smooths his dyed black hair with girlish care. And then the staff wave him through to first class. He was uncannily familiar. Who was he?

My first thought was, he sure looks a lot like Mario the Plumber from Donkey Kong. I forgot about it until we boarded the plane and I heard this guy in back of me call his cousin in India to discuss this. He said, “I do not like to admit how I know this, but I have seen a famous pornography actor. DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME? I have seen Ron Jeremy, the famous actor from pornography films. DO YOU UNDERSTAND?”

I have never understood this impulse to report– though one could argue I am falling prey to it right now. I find the obligatory acknowledgment of the famous a kind of indignity, especially if they have done something I can’t respect, which is usually the case. I rarely see anyone I admire. Though once I did see Stephen Merchant at Shakespeare’s Globe before a performance of The Merchant of Venice. I indulged in a moment of crushed-out glee at the solitude and sheer height of this man who has made me laugh, and then I hated myself both for not saying anything to him and for wanting to.

Ron Jeremy as Shylock. There’s a thought. If you prick us, do we not bleed? Ah, to be back in London, where anonymity and the enormity of history levels all, the famous and obscure. What a relief it is.

Lads on tap

Yesterday I found myself at the Great British Beer Festival. It was “hat day” and most of the drinkers had on some kind of headgear– cardboard new year derbys, giant guinness pints with plush shamrock brims, white caps emblazoned with the Saint George flag and in the case of one gentleman, disco 45s taped together.

Even though one senses CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) is trying to change their “Beard, Belly, Beer” image, it’s not really happening. I found it to be a strange mix of British nationalism (the tee shirts for sale of a British bulldog pissing on the Euro sums it up) and indulgent self-deprication (ie– the “I ate all the pies” teeshirt.) But ultimately, it’s a celebration of liver execration (see Oliver Reed themed shirts on special.)

And it’s a dude kind of affair. Where is a woman’s place in this scene? (“If only these were brains” across the bust of a baby doll tee shirt.) There were women there, don’t get me wrong, but we were like some brave, alien race. (“I have the PUSSY. I make the RULES” tee.) I felt a special allegiance with the women who were not under the arm of a man. Women who had come here because they liked beer, not because they’d been dragged along.

When 4:30 came round and the suits started rolling in, things went in the Lad-derly direction– a wink’s as good as a nod– if you catch my meaning. That kind of direction. But before then I got some drinking in. Not as much as I would have liked, mind you. All my careful planning (light to dark, start with thirds and NO CIDER) failed me.

It was a bit of culture shock. In America, passionate, real beer drinking of the CAMRA type is not directly associated with sloppy machismo or flag-waving. I found it all rather overwhelming. To get oriented I committed what felt like sacrilege, going to the international counter first. It was very small, and mostly featured bottled stuff. I was looking for Rogue but my country was singularly represented by Sierra Nevada. I shuddered and slid down to the German section. Behind me, all of Britain was represented and I held out my glass for kolsh. It was illogical, ridiculous really.

And then I had a dunkel.

I was about to try the Bavarian Andrechs spezial when my friends convinced me to branch out, go native. Wink wink, nudge nudge, say-no-more.

The Hambleton Nightmare Porter was singularly spectacular, and worth the price of admission. I only wished I’d had a whole pint of its malty comfort. I sat with my friends Liza and David on the floor of the utilitarian Earl’s Court Exposition Centre, splitting a plate of buttery Wensleydale cheese and ale chutney with biscuits. It was perfect. For a moment I understood this English pride precisely– the urgent love of the countryside and the bounty of tradition and all that. And I wanted another pint.

My friends were set on cider and I caved– I broke my no cider rule– why? Cider makes me drunk and does my pallet in. I had something that was quite drinkable if not memorable, and it predictably went straight to my head. I felt an achy melancholy creeping up, like what I get when I drink champagne. The choice was either to buy an Oliver Reed tee shirt and keep up the red-cheeked work or go home. Of course the later course won out.

I even thought of going back to the festival today by myself just to undo this grave error. (Does she go? Is she a goer?) Next year I’ll start at the Yorkshire counter and work my way widdershins around the island, map in pocket. (said the actress to the bishop.)