Welcome to Londongrad
We promise to respect Her Majesty’s life tenancy of Buckingham Palace
This article is taken from the December/January 2022 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issue for just £10.
The late, late show
Now that London is roughly back to its dog eared self, an old problem resurfaces. Even we votaries of the muses need our downtime; the question has ever been where to disport oneself following the evening’s official entertainment — the more so since one is usually in sore need of relief of one kind or another after the show.
While this was never exactly the city that never sleeps, now even the sainted Joe Allen — haven of post show depressives and dipsos for as long as anyone can remember — takes last booze orders at 11.20pm, thanks to the councillors of Westminster, rivals of the Mongol horde in their hatred of culture and entertainment (is there no pro Genghis pressure group complaining about insults like these?).
Obviously the best way to counter this awful slump is to assiduously copy everything Britain does
Inspired by the ferociously disapproving Hogarth exhibition at the Tate, we have been working to revive the speakeasy culture that abounded in Covent Garden before it was full of imbeciles pretending to be statues. William Hickey writes approvingly of Wetherby’s in Little Russell Street, where he catches his first topless ladies’ cage fight before heading across the road at 3am to Murphy’s to continue in company with the accommodating Blasted Bet Wilkinson and Pris Vincent, whose party trick was to hitch up her petticoats and manipulate her “tu quoque” so as to “squirt her wine” across a table into the neck of a bottle held on the other side. We have been trying to train more promising members of local chorus lines, but is this just one of those lost arts?
Still, don’t those ladies who solaced everyone’s existence so much deserve better monuments than those prim joints (last orders 10pm, for God’s sake) named for their starry sisters, Kitty Fisher and Cora Pearl? Kitty was well known to Hogarth, but her great moment is surely the Joshua Reynolds portrait as Cleopatra at Kenwood, where she dangles a pearl over her chalice of vinegar.
Like one of those Renaissance pictures in which martyrs display their attributes — gridirons, flayed skin, all that — Kitty’s finger and thumb elegantly form the shape of her tu quoque in a pithy advertorial.
Kitty was no singer, but Cora, in Second Empire Paris, did take part in the revival of Jacques Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld in 1867, playing the role of Cupid and wearing a costume “qui commence bien au dessus du genou pour se terminer bien au dessous de la poitrine et se prête dans l’intervalle aux explorations les plus audacieuses …”
One of the striking features of Cora’s costume was that the soles of her boots were completely encrusted with diamonds. The performance appears to have been beneath contempt, but at least her breasts were described as “beyond reproach”.
Latest vexed discussions among my colleagues in the Russian embassy revolve around the question of how to address the beloved Rodina’s catastrophic decline, so astutely detailed by the latest MI6 C creature Richard Moore earlier this year, noting that Russia is an “objectively declining power” and “an extremely challenged place”.
As we nibble at zakuski of Baikal sturgeon, Siberian tiger’s eye soup (the rest of the beast is inedible and fed to the embassy wolves), bear black pudding and snow leopard pirozhki, ministered to by lovely “secretaries” in exiguous costumes made of that creature’s fur, sipping wines chilled in Caucasus snow, lighting our exquisite jade Turkestan opium pipes with thousand petrorouble notes, we ask ourselves where, oh where did it all go so wrong?
Obviously the best way to counter this awful slump is to assiduously copy everything Britain does, so brilliantly successful ever since George Osborne’s days as Chancellor. We try to patch Vovik in on the hologrammatic plasma reifaction interface (coincidentally also known as “vovik”), our primitive version of your fabulous Zoom, but it turns out he’s indisposed, having one of his regular blood swaps with a 16 year old Belorussian virgin.
Cabinet of curiosities
Why did we not see all this earlier? Fools! We move to the subterranean banya, hotter than hell, where the secretaries mercilessly chastise us with birch veniki. Of course! — we should have sold our entire infrastructure to foreign serf states as George did, outsourced the education system to Taliban and Boko Haram, banged out the whole of Londongrad’s choicest real estate cheap to — oh, ha ha ha! (Nonetheless, we do promise to respect Her Majesty’s life tenancy of Buckingham Palace).
And SIS has certainly got the jump on us, with Moore hanging in his office a portrait of — but no, let us spare his blushes: “a foreigner who chose for moral reasons to turn against his own country and spy for Britain”. We discuss how to reciprocate this lovely if misguided (the chap was ours all along, ça va sans dire) gesture.
Who has undermined Britain to our greatest advantage? We go through the list. In the end we decide on a picture of the entire UK Cabinet, fixing beneath it that marvellous quote from the boss of MI5: a heartfelt citation for “Deliberate, targeted, malign activity intended to undermine free, open and democratic societies”.
One joy for the epicure student of English sport is found in locating the precise moment the lack of two brain cells becomes apparent, with diverting consequences. Latest paragons are London club Wasps, who thought to gain an unfair advantage over upcoming rivals Exeter by denouncing the West Country club’s supporters to the
Race Hate Unit for their fans’ amusing habit of wearing Red Indian headdresses.
Imagine the scene, as some lunk named Ollie came up with the ruse at a strategy meeting involving charging repeatedly into a brick wall. Picture the ribaldry and merriment! Alas — within minutes a furious storm arose among actual wasps, complaining bitterly about this appropriation of their identity by these lumbering oaves in hooped shirts. “More like fat bastard bumblebees, if you ask me,” said one irate vespid.
I wonder how it will end? It seems very unwise to make enemies of these pungent guided missiles. Incidentally, Exeter’s braves whupped Wasps’ stripy arses with their rather fetching embroidered moccasins.
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