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High life

I’d rather live under communism than the tyranny of social media

My advice to my fellow octogenarians? Lay off the cocaine

16 November 2019

9:00 AM

16 November 2019

9:00 AM

At the time it felt like a century, but it was only 12 years. I began this column in 1977 and the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, which meant an end to the anti-communist tracts that my first editor, Alexander Chancellor, described as quasi-fascist efforts to subvert democracy. By 1977 I had been trying to get something published in The Speccie for a couple of years. I only achieved it when I abandoned right-wing politics and wrote about how one could always tell an Englishman abroad. (Brits would use flashlights to check their bill in dark and crowded Parisian nightclubs, making them persona non grata with waiters at Jimmy’s.)

Twelve years seemed a lifetime back then, and when the wall finally came down I gave a ball that was an alliterative triumph: To Celebrate the Collapse of Communism. I took the ballroom of the Savoy, a hotel that has now gone to the dogs, and named each table after a fallen commie dictator. As journalists and the hoity-toity are unreliable guests, I kept one large table, the Fidel Castro, without placements for late arrivals. I think we were about 300 (many had come over from the States).When at around midnight Jay McInerney and I went to the river entrance to do something illegal Joan Collins swept in — she was appearing in Noël Coward’s Private Lives at the time. Like a true star she thought we had been waiting for her since the beginning, and thanked me. I love Joan and love that she thinks as a star should think. (And dresses like one, not like a homeless person.)

Those first 12 years of writing this column seemed to last a lifetime because unusual and somewhat tumultuous events took place over that period: I had two children, wrote two books, and competed in two karate world championships as Greek captain. My closest English friends got married, with a Greek boy as an usher, I was sent to Pentonville for four months, and I lost my beloved father on 14 July 1989. (I quipped that he could not bear living through the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution.)


But if you think this stuff dates me, a recent book review in these pages of Julian Barnes’s latest opus, The Man in the Red Coat, makes me Methuselah. In it, Dr Love, as he calls the great French seducer Pozzi, arrives in London in 1885 accompanied by Prince Edmond de Polignac and Count Robert de Montesquiou. Seventy-three years later, in 1958, a young Taki arrives in Paris and trips the light fantastic with Ghislaine de Polignac and Véronique de Montesquiou in various Parisian haunts (both ladies now gone). According to the review, the three charming Frenchmen captivated London in June 1885. I won’t go as far as to say that I captivated Paris in 1958, but I didn’t do too badly. But enough about the past.

Now we have influencers and an online existence that I understand as much as the previously mentioned trio that visited London in June 1885 would have done. It’s a new world that I refuse to get involved with, and perhaps that’s not a bad thing. There is so much filth and hate floating around, so much fear and loathing online, so much ‘we know best, you know nothing’ stuff, that this superannuated column might be of interest to some normal people.

What amuses me no end is when millennials whine that their complacent elders have bequeathed them a rotten world where they’ll live rotten lives. Unprecedented prosperity and the defeat of communism means little to them. Mind you, it’s a close-run thing, living under the yoke of communism or the tyranny of the digital revolution and its gadgets. I’ll take the former because whereas you could whisper things to people in Red Square, nowadays one cannot be heard. People are too busy looking at screens and their ears are blocked. Yep, I think I’ll stick with communism in preference to the ferocious and ugly world of social media, however crotchety that may sound. There are others who blame the brutality of our culture on funk and hip-hop (the director James Toback among them). They claim that funk and hip-hop loosened up mores linguistically and sexually, with teenagers becoming obsessed and talking like the artists who made the styles popular. I know little about hip-hop and less about funk. What I do know is that society no longer exists — at least in America — but those with the largest followings on social media count the most.

I suppose that’s how many older people feel today, the march of progress leaving us behind and all that. The trouble is that looking back brings only good memories. I had a very happy childhood and a very happy youth. No crime in that, but it sells badly. Now that I’m old I continue to be happy and have fun.

But I read this week that people my age are having a bit too much fun, taking enough cocaine to land them in hospital. As an expert, I advise my fellow octogenarians against coke: our hearts no longer have the required elasticity. Too much up, up, up is no good for the old ticker. That’s what my doctor tells me. But then again: who listens to doctors nowadays?


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