Amidst the Chaos, the Occasional Needed Treat for the Soul
Electoral mayhem and towering infernos cause our Mayfair chronicler to ponder the human desire to – just occasionally – forget the trials of life and spoil oneself
Column by Guy Shepherd
Life in London at the moment is like being on the craziest rollercoaster ride ever created. One morning we’re woken up by the latest terrorist atrocity on a bridge in the name of peaceful Islam, another we were given our electoral chance to solidify a government heralding in a new era but just ended up increasing confusion in a new error and, last night, just a few streets away, amidst the wail of sirens and pulse of helicopters, our dreams were haunted as we were woken to the horrors of a blazing inferno. Those poor souls. Our town feels like a prelude to the Apocalypse right now. So, as I walked to work this morning, amidst the gridlocked traffic trying to let our emergency services do their heroic deeds, I gawped at the rapidity of the smoke rising from the blackened tomb of so many innocents, I began to cry.
It felt good. It released the hatred and anger that had been building in my bones for a long time now. The repetitive feeling of helplessness as others suffer and yet we continue the day to day humdrum that we have to believe is significant. I analysed how innocent we are in a world of greed and malice and tried to think of funnier things within those self-same ten days of upheaval and waste. I studied my life in that time – warts and all. Coincidentally, my son has been suffering from verrucas since last summer and, having invested a great deal of time and a little bit of money on over the counter treatments, I consider myself a bit of an expert. There is a host of information online and in the medicinal instructions. The body naturally rejects the virus in time but this can take a long time in children whose immune systems are not so developed so we treat them. I remember, way back when, that the doctors used to freeze them off. Anyway, the rigmarole of plastic swimming socks was beginning to jar and further action was decided upon.
My ex set up an appointment near her flat in a lovely little cobbled Kensington Mews. Diary clashes meant that I ended up taking our boy to the knife wielder myself. She gave me half the 60 pound removal fee and off I pottered, reassuring him that it would not hurt too much. After a short wait signing responsibilities away, we sat in the consultancy, me on a chair, the patient on a medical chaise longue and chatted about the verruca. The doctor carefully explained about the ulcer. He drew helpful pictures on the disposable tissue bed cover. He wheeled over an enormous magnifying glass. He scraped the top off the spot. He announced that my son had a verruca. Plus three smaller satellite ones. He asked if we were insured. After his diagnosis, he advised a couple of pharmacy treatments but that, in time, they would disappear of their own accord anyway. I explained that we knew all of that before we arrived and had been doing the treatment for a year already. He confirmed that we were doing the correct thing and asked for 80 pounds (a special price for the discovery of four, not just one, verrucas). I said that we had come to remove the wart and he reiterated that this was unadvisable but, if, in the future, this was required, it would cost 375 pounds. I paid him the mere consultancy fee and left. As I shuffled down the corridor to the street, I imagined that I felt the same sensation a gentleman of a homosexual persuasion might feel on the blesséd sacrifice of his anal virginity. My son was clearly shaken by my diminished pallor. In a similar way to hair turning white at shock news, his verrucas seemed to disappear overnight.
So that particular shopping experience turned out to be a disappointing one. It was even more heart-breaking for this shopkeeper who prides himself on being beyond fair to his jewellery clients, fuelled by a desire to provide the perfect product, impeccable service and a thoroughly enjoyable experience. GUY&MAX fans continue to assure me that this is so. Thus, when I go shopping, it is usually out of necessity and it is a fast, no nonsense, experience. Shopping list, calculated timings and a sprint, usually to the most local purveyor or to the group hit, in my particular vicinity is Westfield. I don’t enjoy the hustle and bustle which is why my own salon is an island of secret calm and infinite beauty. But anybody that knows me understands why there is Beatnik in my Mayfair.
Apart from the occasional batch of shirts and annual trousers I am gifted by my sympathetic family, all of my clothes are either old or hand me downs. I have a tweed jacket from around when I was seventeen years young, a horsehide leather biker jacket from around the same époque and, almost unbelievably, an airtex blue short sleeve shirt from my prep school days, circa 1980. I am lucky enough to be exactly the same shape as my father and have been subsequently moulded in his image with a raft of donated blazers, dinner jackets, tweed suits, conservative ties, natty pocket squares, patterned brogues and sensible belts or braces. Basically, I have to do an M&S run every couple of years for pants and socks. Which is just as well given my need to finance a mortgage, divorce payments, school fees and a rigorous appetite for Bohemia.
But like all humans, I am weak. I love to be spoilt. So, every now and then, I treat myself to something special. On a simple level, I go for a haircut. I have my hair shorn in a variety of places. They all share a similar physical result. However, once in a blue moon, it is worth spending a little bit more for something infinitely more memorable in service and experience. I potter from Shepherd Market across Curzon Street to Geo. F. Trumper. From the moment I step inside and am greeted by a wall of shaving utensils and bottles of sweet scented balms, I am submerged in haircut heaven. The staff are fabulously polite, their cutting techniques are magical and the hot head massage, post scalping, is positively orgasmic. I waft fragrantly back onto the mean streets of Mayfair with a lopsided grin and matching gait.
But my serious problem is hats. I have a sizeable armoury of hardware headwear, ranging from the battered straw summer to the murderous sporting winter variety. I am very attached to them. Pending a stiff breeze. You may recall my dismay a couple of years ago at the temporary separation of my childhood shooting cap at The Stone Roses concert? A rum business. So you know that I take this hat issue jolly seriously. A few years ago, one of my closest pals introduced me to the joys of martinis at the American Bar then hats in Lock & Co., both situated in St James’s Street, in an attempt to cure me from the hideous disease that is divorce. It worked. I have been semi-inebriated and wearing a brown felt Chelsea ever since. But said headpiece is bloody hot in these short summer months that we English so cherish. And so it was, post terror and election debacle but pre tower block horror, that I pushed open the ancient gnarled door of the world’s greatest milliner, determined to spoil myself rotten. Once again, the impeccable staff, with caring service (they steamed my felt hat) and a vivid attention to my heated complaints regarding my choice of headwear, with consideration of the current rare meteorological elements, massaged me into a spectacular summer Panama amidst the mountains of exquisite hats and corresponding white boxes. Unlike my ulcerous treatment at the doctor for nothing, I gladly handed over my debit card and, on discovering that the straw varieties are significantly less than the felt, I only bloody well went and found a ridiculous tamoshanter style cotton cap as well. Smart or casual, I will cut a dash for many summers to come. Amidst a world of chaos and instability, there will always be a little piece of England that will remember fun and happiness then pause and smile, thanks to hats.
And so I reflected more, albeit dressed impeccably, as I walked home on the same day as the local inferno raged. I noted the erection of massive barriers in Hyde Park and calculated that I had enjoyed approximately three weeks in the last year of the park in its natural state without the garbage that accompanies the summer concerts, winter wonders and resultant re-turfing extravaganza. I arrived to what should have been a celebratory meeting of old college friends, diaspora from London in Hong Kong and Thailand, at a decent pub in Notting Hill. In fairness, we were in fine British spirit, despite the melancholy air of fear all about us, as we raised glasses to dead and old alike. We recalled the Ladbroke Groovers’, our football team, birth at the base of Grenfell Tower many years ago. But even the brave get hungry, so we meandered down the hill to the curry house. I don’t get out much, thanks to financial neuterdom, but, ironically, I had taken my girlfriend to the same restaurant the night before that part of west London disintegrated into furious chaos. Twenty four hours previously, I had sat out on the only pavement table, gazed happily into her green eyes, sipped a glass or three of (iced!) red wine and sampled the spicy delights of her desired veg and fishetarian menu. Now, we boys sat in Durbar’s simple cavernous interior, continued to neck bitter sweet cider (iced!) and gorged on fowl and mutton delicacies. It was still early eve but, after the noisy bedlam of the night before, coupled with Far Eastern typhoon delayed jet lag, we headed home exhausted. Due to a respect for the perishing, or possibly a human longing for the macabre, we took the cross country route back to look at the tower.
Holland Park’s boulevards are leafy at this time of year. We skirted hill crescents, ignored police cordons and failed, despite our advantageous geography, to spot the scene of the disaster due to the foliage. When we eventually saw the tower, everything became clear. As the currently elongated day became night, the evil spectre of death loomed. The blackened building looked like some grotesquely pixelated Mine Craft horror show, its cuboid windows either dark, glowing orange or shooting flames. Yes, even a day later, the concrete carcass burned. Time blurred and when I looked around, I realised my friends had left. I stood, crying once again, next to two Muslim school girls, dressed in black from clad toe to enveloped chin, united without comment by the tears that splashed down our cheeks and the unbelievable edifice that scorched through our collective soul.
When I eventually got outside the taped exclusion zone, the peace of death and the chaos of life had already merged into one world that I totally understood. I walked into the local off-licence, bought a four pack of cider and started for the shop door, intent on scribing this. As I left, two girls from the next door gymnasium returned a couple of loaned screwdrivers to our charitable and kindly Sikh shopkeeper. “Oh. If only we had a handyman about our place to put all these things right”, the muscularly chiselled, blond boob-tubed, hot panted goddess panted. I immediately turned back inside, put on my deepest superhero accent and said, “Hi, girls. Do you need any help?”Thank goodness they laughed at the same time as I. In that moment, whilst the traffic unusually choked the streets at 10 pm as fire engines roared in denial of local decimation, I realised that it is up to all of us to make this mess better. Let’s bypass politics, filter charity and spend our finances wisely but, most of all, let’s sort this out together. A bloody burning tower should become the beacon of our shared quest to rebuild Babylon.
It’s a gettin’ closer,
Goin’ faster than rollercoaster.
Love like yours will surely come my way.”