When the moment comes for the year’s Great Britons to be selected, the name of Nora Hardwick must surely be among the nominees. This week, Nora has supported a local charity in the now-traditional way: she took off her clothes and posed for a calendar. Of course, hundreds of women are doing this sort of thing – it has become a favourite activity of the countryside – but few amateur nudies can compete with Nora in one particular area. She is 102.
Has any centenarian great-great grandmother captured the spirit of the age more perfectly? The early years of the 21st century will one day be seen as a golden age for showing off, the time when exhibitionism ceased to be regarded as a weakness and became an indicator of personal and psychological well-being. Today, newscasters cheerfully flash their thighs at the camera on behalf of the starving children of Africa. Televised humiliation, whether in a fake jungle or a brightly-lit studio-prison, is a real career option for both celebrities and civilians.
Doubtless the new fashion for screeching exhibitionism will be yet another charge laid against us by those hordes of middle-class people who have emigrated from this country and are now writing faintly smug letters to the press about how lovely their adopted country is compared to ghastly old Britain. Yet, far from being superior, these people have merely confirmed how out of touch they are.
Nora Hardwick’s refusal to act her age is, commendably, becoming fashionable for other generations. An exclusive in the latest edition of Tatler has revealed that middle-aged Britons are increasingly behaving as if they are in their teens or twenties. These “Gravers” (grooving their way to an early grave, geddit?) are embarrassed, quite rightly, by the music of the late 1970s and 1980s. They prefer to go out clubbing and swing their swelling bottoms to the sounds of the latest groups.
The social analyst Peter York has announced that Gravers are “indulging in groovy loucheness”, warning that that they should beware of descending “the slippery slope of hedonism”. Down that road, he says, “lies the oldest and saddest swinger in town”.
What a drearily prim attitude that is. Behaving inappropriately, many would say, is the only sane response to the very odd times in which we live. Two of the year’s funniest and most readable books, Sebastian Horsley’s Dandy in the Underworld and Rupert Everett’s Red Carpets and Other Banana Skins, are exercises in showy self-exposure written in peacock prose, and the recently published autobiography of Russell Brand seems to belong to the same tradition.
Quite often, beneath the exhibitionism, something interesting is going on. Asked in an interview this weekend about his relentless randiness, Brand defined rather beautifully the romanticism of the sexually restive. “When I sit in a park and see beautiful women walking past, I see an avenue of alternative reality: all those possibilities, all those adventures,” he said. “I wonder what stories she has. I wonder what she will look like cleaning her teeth. I wonder what she will tell me about her father. I wonder how she treats her pets.”
More daringly, he asks the great question of Casanovas the world over. Why is it that longevity is considered a necessary part of falling in love? What is wrong with a great love that lasts half an hour, rather than a decade or a lifetime? Brand is too young to be a Graver but his kind of intriguing, discomfiting inappropriateness suggests that he might be heading that way. He and Nora Hardwick have more in common than they might think.
Lynch’s little local difficulty
There have been few showbiz odd couples quite as odd as David Lynch, the brilliantly perverse film director, and the sweet and gentle singer Donovan. The idea that they would spread the cause of transcendental meditation through a series of colleges in Europe was always hard to grasp. Now the story has a further twist. Opening Lynch’s German school of meditation, the appointed guru Emanuel Schiffgens, wearing his white robe and gold crown, made a speech in which he asked the crowd to chant the words “invincible Germany”, and then appeared to praise Hitler while Lynch looked on in incomprehension. If ever a story needed a new Mel Brooks to do it justice on screen, this is it.
* It is impossible to be reminded too often of one of last year’s great news stories. One evening last December, Tom Butler, the Bishop of Southwark, while in the best of holy spirits after a reception at the Irish embassy, was found in the back of a car in Crucifix Lane, throwing out toys. Asked for an explanation by the owner, he said, “I’m the Bishop of Southwark. It’s what I do.” The bishop subsequently could not recall what happened that evening.
A website called ShipofFools, apparently run by Christian satirists, has announced that 8 December, the anniversary of this event, is to be marked by a pilgrimage from pub to pub following the bishop’s unsteady progress home that night. All proceeds will go to a charity for children in Sudan. The Sermon on the Mount did not actually contain the words “Blessed are the satirists”, but these people are doing a fine job on behalf of an important cause. Naturally, the guest of honour on this great pilgrimage should be the bishop himself.