22 APRIL 2000, Page 50


100 years on


In Competition No. 2132 you were invited to imagine that Oscar Wilde's Lady Bracknell walks down Oxford Street today and writes a letter describing the experi- ence to one of her circle in the other world.

`Scarcely anybody wears a hat. Can it all be the effects of sunstroke?' Democracy has emigrated to England and opened a shop. Indeed, shopping has become the fashion- able substitute for Belief.' After some yards I was addressed by an unkempt person who had, apparently, magazines but no home.'

The prizewinners, printed below, take £25 each, and the Macallan Single Malt Highland Scotch whisky is D. A. Prince's.

Dear Lady Dumbleton, it is inconceivable that any person of breeding should claim acquain- tance with Oxford Street, To acknowledge its existence is geographically necessary; to be unable to cut it socially is reminiscent of the more extreme sufferings of some Old Testament prophets. That so many young persons should be in full mourning black, indicating private grief, is a tragedy; to parade this loudly on the public street with undue levity is closer to farce. An encounter with one burst of discordant cacopho- ny may be a misfortune, but continuing with a whole street's worth is self-determined lunacy. My nephew, at whose insistence I undertook to visit a purveyor of handbags, has little sense of civilised order, and less of propriety; a lady should never be seen with a rucksack, even in the country. That such a street should be named after an esteemed university town is an outrage to polite education. (D.A. Prince) Dear Evadne, human vulgarity has, as anticipat- ed, increased enormously since my demise. Horseless carriages clog Oxford Street, causing one to ponder why progress elected to abolish the horse rather than the carriage. Jungle 'music' beats out from every gaudy shopfront, demon- strating that savagery has proved more attractive to the civilised than civilisation to the savage. The populace — surely too mixed a bag of nationali- ties and creeds for any but the most depraved palate — lacks manners, preferring to shout monosyllabically at trilling instruments clamped to the sides of their faces than speak to one another at the volume God intended. Children are not only permitted to be seen and heard but are actually indulged nowadays. Fashion favours apparel which simultaneously leaves everything to be desired and nothing to the imagination. Only the poor remain unchanged, as beneath my notice now as they were when I was alive. (Adrian Fry) One finds so little conversation, and that pur- sued with such vulgar familiarity, that one sus- pects London is suffering in the acute stages of democracy. The fashions are of a design neither pleasing to the eye nor improving to the charac- ter, and contrive to commit fresh outrage at every turn. One is approached for alms as if one were a public charity, in either a foreign lan- guage, which is indecent, or in English, which is worse. There are businesses of trade conducted with deplorable indiscretion, officers of the police who seem to have suspended their public duty to the peace, and a species of traffic which is permitted, one must suppose, as a civic pun- ishment. It is interesting to visit only for the pur- pose of zoological scholarship. Quite where soci- ety is now conducted, I am unable to discover. London seems entirely to do without it. (Gregory Whitehead) Disembodiment is not for everyone — it would not suit Lord Bracknell —but it has advantages in this degenerate age. An umbrella, though invis- ible, inflicts considerable pain and clears a path along a crowded street by means of a sharp tap on the head or a swift twist round the unmentionable section of a female leg. If Gwendolen's lower limbs had ever been thus indecently uncovered, her father would not have recognised her. Fast young women and fast food apparently dominate Oxford Street There seems no time to sit, so the populace eats and drinks as it walks, a social mis- demeanour that can be castigated by a well-aimed handbag. A tendency to retaliate on the nearest body — not on the visiting spirit — invariably engenders further satisfying violence. Furthering my research, I have examined several bookshops. There is much over-stimulating illustration and a dearth of serious three-volume novels.

(G. McIlraith) The first question one asks oneself is 'where have all the horses gone?' Only the promiscuous of our day might welcome their disappearance. there being, apropos of Mrs Patrick Campbell, nothing left for them to frighten! The pungent earthiness of equine droppings has been replaced by the even more pungent automobile fumes. The traffic is quite horrendous. Attempts to control it by means of lights are dominated by the colour red. Indeed, one might be forgiven for thinking one had wandered into a district peopled by harlots. As of yore, the pavements are alive with shoppers, but the accoutrements worn by many are positively grotesque. Can you imagine Canon Chasuble sporting earrings and beads, or Miss Prism with nose studs? A better class of beggar now operates, however. Most importune fluently in foreign tongues, albeit with an untoward enthusiasm approaching mol- estation. They have clearly benefited from a wider education. (Chas F. Garvey) Oxford Street at night is perfectly intoxicating, or perhaps I should say intoxicated. The young are quite splendid, wearing next to nothing and freely using narcotics as they explore the brightly lit stores. This is widely reported as the New Barbarism, but I prefer to call it the New Hellenism. Such a welcome change from the frivolous gospel of hard work and responsibility, and its most charming aspect is that often one is hard put to tell the boys from the girls, for all wear a military coiffure. In general, however, they decline to carry weapons; bare-knuckle fisticuffs is the rule when the evening becomes sporty. I confess I am quite stimulated, though I rather miss the horses. There is something rather reassuring about a horse, don't you think? One can hardly admire the fetlock of a motor bus. But that is the price one pays for Progress.

(Basil Ransome-Davies)