I am invited to the Oxford Union to speak in the last debate of the term. I had originally been invited to speak on the death of feminism earlier in the year, but as I couldn’t go they kindly invited me back. The motion is less onerous – ‘Life is too short to drink cheap wine’ – and I am speaking for, along with Peter Stringfellow, among others. I have been preparing for weeks, soliciting everyone I meet for jokes and anecdotes, and obsessively honing my speech. Two days before I’m due to speak I make the mistake of running the final draft past three of my friends at dinner. They think it’s so bad that they tell me they’re going to send a hearse down to Oxford to pick me up afterwards. In the event, the evening goes well, and we win the motion, although the highlight for me is seeing the president of the union drink seven tumblers of extremely cheap wine in the space of 20 minutes, and then witnessing a slightly wayward priest trying to wrestle a mobile-phone number out of Peter Stringfellow. I think he wants to visit one of his clubs (at least, I hope he does).
The Enoteca Pinchiorri in Florence is not only recognised as the best restaurant in Italy; it is also the place that encouraged Alain Ducasse to take up cooking. I’m there to meet Gela Nash-Taylor, who owns Juicy Couture, the hip American clothing company. She is married to John Taylor, the bass player in Duran Duran, and I end up having lunch with the entire band (it turns out to be John’s 43rd birthday). The meal is so extraordinary, and there is so much of it – bocconcini di rombo, branzino alla plancia, ravioli farciti con cipolle brasate, petto d’anatra con mela al timo, etc. – that Simon LeBon goes down to the kitchen to thank the staff on our behalf. There is one particular wine – a Recioto della Valpolicella – that none of us has ever drunk before, a wine that tastes a little like red Sauternes. It is quite the most astonishing thing. John Taylor, who unfortunately doesn’t taste the wine as he doesn’t drink any more, tells me that his 11-year-old daughter is just off to a rock’n’roll summer camp, where the kids spend a week rehearsing a song before performing it at a concert. How long before Simon Cowell turns this into a TV show?
The heat in Milan is 40 degrees and rising, causing all of us at the spring/summer 2004 menswear shows to get a little hot under our three-button French-cotton spread collars. By day two, we are judging fashion shows on their air-conditioning, not their trousers. This season a lot of these trousers seem to be three-quarter length, which – like gold lamé thongs – might go down well on the catwalks of New York, Paris and Milan, but look rather different on the high streets of Solihull or Deptford. One of the highlights of the week was the Versace show, not just because of the clothes –which were typically fabulous and extravagant – but for the earth-shatteringly sexy girls on display. It’s always a pleasure to see women on the catwalk during menswear, especially tall, thin, tanned girls with nutcracker thighs and stiletto heels. Yum, yum.
To Yorkshire, to stay with friends (our four-year-old daughter is intrigued that our host is an earl: ‘Does this mean his house has a flag?’). I pay £275 for two first-class tickets (the kids go free, although they can’t be guaranteed a seat), but when we get to King’s Cross the station is in chaos as there are no trains going north. It is the second time this has happened to me in a week (the last time was at Paddington) and I start to believe that it signals the breakdown of the British rail system. The Strategic Rail Authority may have dumped Connex, but who will ever get rid of Network Rail, a quango that can’t possibly make a decision owing to the fact that 57 people sit on its board? In the end we decide to drive, a journey that takes more than six hours because there are roadworks every step of the way. If you were Spanish, French or Swiss, and you were unlucky or stupid enough to come to London and then try to venture into the countryside, you could be forgiven for thinking that Britain had, for whatever perverse reason, decided to return to the 19th century. Forget the acres of newsprint devoted to discussing the pros and cons of embracing the euro; frankly, I sometimes think we don’t deserve to be European at all.
As an editor, you can sometimes feel like a glorified travel agent, sending the likes of A.A. Gill off to Rio (and last week to the Glastonbury festival), Martin Deeson off to Angola, and Will Self off to walk round Oxford with Radiohead’s Thom Yorke (I once even attempted to send the editor of this magazine off to test-drive a tank). Some things, though, you occasionally want to do yourself. And what curious, red-blooded, gym-going chap (her videos seem to be on constant rotation in the one I use) between the ages of 15 and 50 wouldn’t want to go to New York to meet Britney Spears? She turns out to be delightful: fantastically sexy (sexier than I thought possible), funny, and smart. Pop princesses are obviously not meant to be like this, and several of my lady friends were mortified when I told them what she was like. But there you are: Britney is a libidinous deity, and there’s nothing any of you can do about it.
Dylan Jones is editor of GQ magazine.