This is the first Christmas in recent years that I haven't spent in traction or immobilised by glandular fever. You may imagine that I spend my days drawing and whistling in a carefree manner, but there are tears behind the laughter. Two Christmases ago I was invited to the Erotic Review party in a club in London's Soho. I had worked for the magazine doing dodgy drawings at fifty quid a pop, so they owed me a drink. Besides, I was eager to meet the Erotic staff who, I felt sure, writhed around all day on their laptops sans knickers and headaches. I found the club, walked in and was unable to see anything except a bar, far off in the distance, full of decadent, half-naked women and helpless men being used as sex objects. I leered towards them but found myself in midair, having missed the staircase. Then I landed on the dance floor and broke my feet. Not very sexy. I lay there in the dark, thud-thud music banging away in the background. I was panic-stricken. How was I going to get up the missed staircase and out into the street again?
Isuppose everyone thought I was drunk. I was not. A girl came over: was I all right? `No, I've broken my feet. Get me some vodka.' After downing two large, anaesthetising vodkas. I stood up and walked out. This was the worst thing I could have done and I spent the rest of the evening in the casualty dept of UCHL. Eight months later. I could walk without crutches. My football-playing days are over, but that's OK as I've never played football.
Ihave put up a tragic, one-man fight against blockbuster movies. Quite apart from the environment they have to be watched in — people eating mountains of popcorn, walking about, talking on the phone — I find the amount of money spent on hyping these beefburger films unbelievably depressing. I first put my foot down in a serious way by refusing to see Titanic, and have also managed to stay away from Gladiator and Star Wars one, two and three with all that dopey John Williams music. The millions who go to see this gunk couldn't be dragged into Cocteau's La Belle et la bete, Stanley Kubrick's The Killing or Love Me Tonight by Mamoulian, so why should I bother seeing their blockbusters? You'll think I'm an appalling film auteur, but I'd rather watch five seconds of Orphee than Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, I don't care how amazing the elves are. The same goes for Bond bores: You should have seen it! He's, like, being chased in this atomic car across the ice and this guy with metal hands is going to eat him... We're all bores about something: I'm a jazz bore. I like all jazz music but am particularly obsessed with bebop, which came out of New York in the late Forties and early Fifties. Thelonious Monk I regard as a truly great composer and the world's most original piano player. I can empty a room in seconds enthusing about Bud
Powell and Charlie Parker. Their originality and refusal to compromise eventually killed these wonderful men — money didn't much come into it. I haven't indulged my jazz bore for about 20 years — it's now a vice I practise in the dark with headphones — but if you want to hear Monk, get Criss Cross on Proper Records (pvcd114). It will change your life. Oh all right, don't bother, at least I tried. I still keep a relentless ear open for up-and-coming Theloniouses, Powells and Parkers. There's Esbjorn Svensson and Brad Mehldau: they come on stage with bottled water and shaven heads, talk about their kids and write sad songs called 'Fjord', which they play very, very slowly. They also hammer about on the piano keys, but it's not jazz, it's chamber music. If you can forget about Bud and Malodious Thunk (as his wife called him), it's OK.
I'm now so happy to have my feet back that I walk everywhere. One reason for living is the walk into The Spectator through
Regent's Park. (How things change: once my idea of heaven was being shouted at by Ian Board in the Colony Room.) Anyway, the one thing missing from my morning walk is sparrows. There are no sparrows in the park any more. Some say that it's the noise of the traffic or 24-hour lit-up London. Nobody knows the truth apart from me: the cheerful cockney sparrow has done a bunk because of the mobile-phone bores walking and cycling to work: 'Hi, it's me, John, I'm on my way in. I wonder, could you look on my desk? You'll see a brown folder. . .. Hello?! Hello?!! You're breaking up... . ' That's why the sparrows have all taught themselves French and flown off to the beautiful Luxembourg Gardens, Paris, France. I suppose if Wordsworth were around now, he'd be talking into his mobile, saying, 'I'm wandering lonely as a cloud. . '
Now that traffic is gridlocked all over London, I've given up taking taxis. A recurring feature of good old black-and-white British films was Sidney Tafler coming out of his club/flat in a Mayfair mews/gaff in Limehouse, shouting 'Taxi!' and being taken to Scotland Yard in minutes. 'Keep the change.—Thank you, guy!' Now standard practice is to hail a cab, sit in it for ten minutes, listen to the driver telling you what a prat Ken Livingstone is, realise it's not going anywhere, get out, give the cabbie a fiver and take the Underground. I rather like the Underground. As long as you know your way around and have mastered the useful phrase, 'You speaker-deEnglish?' you're probably going to be all right.
At the outbreak of WW2 I was wearing a Mickey Mouse gas mask. This left no after-effects except a morbid fear of Mickey Mouse, claustrophobia and nausea brought on by the smell of rubber. I didn't see the headlines in the newspapers then, but I bet they weren't as frightening as the ones they concoct today: 'Shoppers Face Panic!' 'Smallpox!' We're All Going to Die! Millions of Us! There's Nothing We Can Do! Run!'
Amazing Christmas scenes in Trafalgar Square: to get rid of the pigeons (the only things that move quickly in London) a tractor and two men with megaphones are chasing the poor thingsaround in circles with loud recordings of harrier hawks or whatever bird it is that eats pigeons. This is supposed to disperse them; it does not. What they should do is have Ken Livingstone talk to them about congestion charges. That would kill them.