17 MAY 2003, Page 22


Anthropologists and archaeologists, I believe, are in the habit of naming defunct societies and cultures according to a characteristic artefact that they leave behind them. For example, there was once a Beaker Culture (I seem dimly to recall), though what it did with all those beakers history does not relate — at least to me.

Our society and its attendant culture are not yet defunct, unfortunately, but this should not prevent us from speculating upon what the anthropologists and archaeologists of a future civilisation, if there is one, will call it. I would suggest 'the Baseball Cap Culture', for I have but little doubt that the time is fast approaching when the dying will wish to die not in harness, but in their baseball caps. They will want to be buried in them, too, and thus the archaeologists of the future will find them: skulls with baseball caps, offering inscriptions that give clues as to their way of life, such as Aston Villa and Burger King.

I infer that people will die and be interred with their caps on from the number of young patients who now wear them in hospital beds. I encountered one such last week, a 17-year-old with the had complexion and malevolent porcine regard of the Standard British Moron: that fine human product of a combination of parental neglect (a slut for a mother and a sloven for an absent father) and that vast and hugely expensive conspiracy to keep at least a quarter of the population in preternatural ignorance, commonly known as the British educational system. At last the liberals — in the American sense — have got their way: the environment does make the man.

The SBM had swallowed too many pills, as well as several cans of lager on the street, and, appearing unwell even by the low standards prevailing among such as he, a passer-by called an ambulance. (The availability of ambulances is the only thing that binds British society together.) He was brought to hospital and put to bed in his baseball cap.

The next day, he came into my room, the nylon of his tracksuit trousers making the sound that, round here, has completely superseded the footstep as the auditory sign of human locomotion. He did not remove his baseball cap.

I asked him why he had taken the pills. 'I don't know.' 'Anything to do with a girlfriend?' I asked, for there is one rule in cases such as this: cherchez la slag.

'Could be.'


'She told me she went behind my back.' 'Anything else'?'

She told me the babby wasn't mine.' 'And now'?'

'It's all right, I know she was lying. The babby's mine.'

'How do you know?'

'She told me after I took the pills.'

So all was right with the world. I asked him a few brief questions about his education: for example, was he any good at arithmetic?

'What's that?'


'Yes. Is it some kind of writing?'

I recalled what a Frenchman said, quoted in the pages of Helen Maria Williams's A Narrative of the Events which Have Taken Place in France from the Landing of Napoleon Bonaparte on the 1st March, 1815, till the Restoration of Louis XVIII, With an Account of the Present State of Society and Public Opinion: 'I have a distaste for history, when I reflect that what we do today will one day be history.'