Sunday, 23 September 2007

Broderick's Sunday Special #2: Global and Domestic Capitalism

Or: Cressida, and other middle-class baby names.

Amazingly, I've dredged up an unforeseen amount of follow-through and, rather unexpectedly (to myself, not to my two - if that - readers who'd be expecting it), I'm back with another Sunday column.

My favourite pleasure on Saturdays is 'Writers Rooms,' a column in the Guardian Review. I suppose its aim is to show how different and individual the creative spaces of our most beloved authors are, but in fact, all it's really taught me is that from Ian Rankin to Colm Toibin, serious writing can't be done unless you're sat at a pine desk in the attic studio of your mansion in Highgate.

This week Joshua Ferris' studio, lovingly photographed by Eamonn McCabe and verbally extolled by Ferris himself, was featured. Despite the fact that I cannot name even one of his books, I'm convinced that until I too have a Bloc Rhodia No. 38 pad imported from France upon which to scrawl my prose, I shall never write another word. What I mean to say is that greed, envy and shopping-lust, while fairly natural impulses, are not, at heart, productive ones. Imagine if this lust for beautiful tools of the trade extended to, say, firefighters. I'm not much of a believer in self-interested capitalism; I've read my Naomi Klein, yes, but my reasons are simpler - many people are total dinks and their interests are stupid. Self-interest mainly manifests itself in outdoing others.

As I've mentioned before, I work in North London, in a restaurant. There are some amazing blogs about the restaurant industry (Waiter Rant and Well Done Fillet are my favourites), and I'm not going to try and ape them, since my own experience is markedly different. However, I can write about the poisonous sense of entitlement that permeates a wealthy area, such as the one I work in.

++++

I'm taking an order over the phone from a well-spoken but ridiculously impolite woman: 'THIRTY MINUTES!' she screeches, incredulously, 'but sushi is just raw fish!' (Correct, lady, but it isn't trawled up in the fishermen's nets sliced, deboned, resting on a bed of rice with a ribbon of nori, unfortunately). Finishing with her order, I ask:

'Can I have your name, please?'

'Aphra.'

Aphra Behn, of course, is the important, early and somewhat obscure playwright of The Rover and The Feigned Courtesans. It's an unusual name, lovely and literate, and very characteristic of Hampstead.

'Aphra. A-P-H-R-A?'

'Yes, that's right.'

'Like the playwright.'

'Who?'

Stifling a scream, I bang the mouthpiece of the phone against my forehead.

'What's that noise?' comes Aphra's voice from the other end. 'Who's this playwright Aphra?'

For the next five minutes I explain all I know about Aphra Behn to the oblivious woman, while the chefs make her order of cucumber maki and tempura.

++++

I think this story encapsulates the combination of money and cultural bankruptcy of Hampstead and surrounding areas. Everything's wonderfully tasteful, but at the same time, horribly gauche. Perhaps that's unfair, but I have seen women carrying Anya Hindmarch 'I'm Not A Plastic Bag' shopping bags getting behind the wheel of 4x4s without a trace of irony. I've seen mothers screaming at daughters with eating disorders or problems with food to 'just fucking eat something!' right in front of me, which is vulgar (not to mention unhelpful, if the girl has a real problem). I've seen city boys, with their multi-million pound bonuses, pronounce Miso and Edamame 'My-so' and 'Enda Maim,' with swaggering confidence. I've seen American expats ask what prawns are. You think you know what I've seen? You don't know what I've seen.

There's a family in Hampstead that seems to be naming its chldren after characters from Shakespeare. There's been Cressida, Jessica and Imogen. I'm not a religious man, but I will say 1000 prayers for the day they name a baby girl Lucy - for Lucretia. (Lucretia, of course, being the eponymous heroine of Shakespeare's poem 'The Rape of Lucretia'). Now that's giving your kid a good start in life!

As a consequence, perhaps, of people earning more money than ever, is an openness with which people now discuss money. Since when has it been acceptable to outright ask about wages or rent? When patrons at the restaurant find out I'm a stand-up comedian, the first thing they'll say, after 'Tell me a joke,' (fuck off - 'You ever hear the one about the coked up city-boy douchebag and the sushi waiter who broke up his family?'), is 'How much do you make doing that?' I'd retaliate by asking how much their Christmas bonus was if I wasn't so convinced they'd tell me.

++++

I'm riding my bicycle through Euston, and I pull into a the courtyard of a largish office complex to lock up my bike. A ponytailed guy in a military jacket and stylish shoes walks up to me.

'Excuse me!' he says, 'How much did you pay for your bike?'

I'm taken aback, somewhat.

'Uh...' I say, stalling. Do I lie, and say a lower price, to save face with the frugal types? Or do I go higher to impress with my purchasing power? I tell the truth. '£300.'

'THREE-HUNDRED POUNDS!' he sputters. The conversation takes an awkward turn, and I'm still not certain if he's impressed by my thrift or my extravagance.

'Uh, yeah. But it's middle of the road... they go down to £169 and up to nearly 1000.'

'Yeah, wow. Because my mate's in China, and he says you can get one of these folding bikes for £30 there! He's going to bring me back one.'

Now, my bike is a very reliable Dahon Vitesse, American made, and beautiful to ride. £30 for a bike implies a lot of slave labour and shoddy workmanship, an oversized Transformers toy glued to a wheelchair. With London traffic, I wouldn't really trust anything that might fold up under me on the Marylebone flyover.

'Just a word of advice, you get what you pay for. I wouldn't want to ride around on a 30 quid bike in London. The ride won't be very nice. There're a lot of hills, and the traffic's very heavy. A really cheap bike isn't safe.'

'Ah, don't worry, mate,' he says, 'thanks for the advice, but I'm mostly going to be carrying it around on the Tube. Have a nice day!'

He leaves me to ponder the depressing logic of this statement as he walks away. I stare at the £45 reinforced cable lock in my hands. With any luck the ground would swallow me whole.

3 comments:

Manuel said...

Cheers for the mention. Customers are a non-stop source of blog gold.....and they are dicks too

RO said...

The Joshua Ferris study and cat made me go hunting feverishly for Bloc Rhodia no. 38 pads - writing is too easy. Surely I must make it more difficult by planning in a big way and drawing large A3 style mind maps which will litter my desk when Eammon McCabe comes to photograph MY study? There is something so wonderful - it makes me almost salivate - about the idea of cracking the spine of an A3 Bloc Rhodia no. 38 pad - and yet, I know, once found and put on my desk, I will still be staring at its emptiness and wondering what other wonderful item will bring me nearer to writing something GOOD...

Broderick said...

Thanks for stopping by, to my new readers!