My copy of the Times on Tuesday this week kindly provided me with a list of things to do in order that I might ‘live life to the full’. I am not at all sure that I wish to live life to the full, having met many people for whom this is their guiding philosophy and having wanted very much to punch them.
The rather banal list of impulsive stuff to do — try different kinds of food, ‘snog’ a stranger, buy some nice clothes, shoot a cat with a crossbow, take lots of holidays* — was appended to an interview with one of the country’s most famous scientists, that man from the telly, Baron Winston. The lugubrious-looking Labour peer confessed that he tended to appoint to his laboratory applicants who did not possess first-class degrees; indeed, he avoided these people, preferring those with second-rate qualifications who had ‘lived life to the full’.
I suppose one can have that sort of cavalier disdain for hard work when, like Winston, you have glided comfortably from a top public school to national fame, but that is beside the point. What I was interested in was the injunction, on the list, to ‘treat each day as if it were your last’.
When people urge you to do this, and idiots quite often do urge you to do this, they do not mean to wire yourself up to a drip in a hospice and transfer your savings into your wife’s name, which is what surely awaits us all on our last day. They mean for you, instead, to be self-indulgent on an epic level. If I were treating each day as if it were my last, this column would commit so many hate crimes that the magazine would be closed down and its staff arrested. And if everyone did so then the country in general would resemble Mogadishu — where the vibrant local population really do treat each day as if it were their last, and with good -reason.
Society works only because we fear we might not die for a while and are therefore liable to be punished by other people for our transgressions. Nor does religious faith necessarily act as a restraint on our behaviour when we believe we have reached the end, of course. Quite the reverse.
Street drummers, I suspect, think they are ‘living life to the full’ and probably treating each day as if it were their last. If only it were, if only it were. Our most gilded actress, Helen Mirren, aroused some controversy last weekend when she told a bunch of these exhibitionists to ‘fuck off’. Ms Mirren who, helpfully in this instance, was dressed as Her Majesty the Queen, had been distracted from her performance in the play The Audience by the dismal, moronic beating of hundreds of drums passing by. Apoplectic, she stormed into the throng and made her annoyance very plain indeed, and was cheered for so doing by the people for whom she was performing. However, later she was forced to partially recant, to say the politically correct thing. ‘The irony is,’ she wittered apologetically, ‘I absolutely love drummers.’
This is the thing. We are all expected to love and value street drummers, even though they are possessed of no talent whatsoever and simply make a repetitive tuneless din, redolent of savagery and stupidity. In such a way, I suppose they are the epitome of a solipsistic, dumbed-down culture, in which every performer has a right to be heard, regardless of whether or not anyone really wants to hear them. But their message to their audience is as monotone and dumb as their alleged music: it says nothing more than ‘look at me, look at me, look at me’.
If I were Roger Scruton, I think I would use street drummers as the perfect example of the final crushing triumph of witless popular music since the 1950s, of music gradually denuded of everything which makes it valuable — denuded, in the end, even of music itself. The appearance of the street drummers was the one moment I turned down the sound on Danny Boyle’s otherwise delightful Olympic opening ceremony; I already knew they’d have to be there somewhere, looking pleased as punch with themselves as they hammered away without even the most primitive sense of rhythm.
The street drummers who so discombobulated Ms Mirren were, I believe, homosexualists who wished to alert bystanders firstly to this particular point, i.e. that they were homosexualists, and also to advertise a forthcoming festival or ‘pride march’ of their brethren. Could they not have sung selections from musicals, such as ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You’, from Mamma Mia, or ‘Maybe This Time’ from Cabaret? And I wonder if someone latterly told Helen that the drummers were all gay and it was this that made her address the television cameras with her caveats and qualifiers.
Bad enough to be a street drummer-denier, worse still to be a street drummer- denying homophobe. It’s almost a perfect storm of hate crime. My only worry is that if this day really were my last, I wouldn’t have enough time to get round to the street drummers with my hastily acquired biological weapons.
*One of these was not in the Times’s list. Just thought I should make that clear.