IN AT THE SHALLOW END
London is hands-down the greatest city in the world. But it kills me. Firstly, the positives. London is steeped in culture, history, diversity and creativity. It’s difficult to go anywhere without seeing something or someone interesting. ‘Go for a walk’ is the best advice I could give any creative person working in this great city who finds themselves in need of inspiration. Unto them, I say: go for a bloody walk and look around you. It works for me.
But London does kill me. For two reasons: one is the very fact that it is so stimulating. If you work in one of the creative industries – but especially marketing and advertising – you are surrounded by your work all day long. It’s a permanent ‘busman’s holiday’ – either looking for neat ideas and brilliant work, or, like me, taking perverse delight in how hamfisted and clumsy a lot of marketing and advertising is. When you combine your physical surroundings with the infinite playground that is the digital space, you’re stuffing your brain with brainfood all the time and there’s very little escape.
The second reason London kills me was brought home to me last night. I tried out a brand new restaurant near me in my cosseted and spoilt little corner of north London. We were dining al fresco dahling and before long I’d fallen into conversation with some people on neighbouring tables.
They seemed nice enough. And would you believe it? We all had jobs in advertising, luxury retail, theatre, PR, brand consultancy and fashion. Of course we did. So, we chatted and drank for over an hour and a half. Not one of them managed to say anything remotely interesting. Or ask anyone else an interesting question.
There was lots of chat about how the beaches in Sardinia are ‘amaaaayzing’, how the food was ‘incredible’ and the beaches in Turkey are ‘amaaaayzing’ and ‘oh my God, didn’t she look fabulous’ and ‘Isn’t he brilliant?’. Then there were the tedious wedding stories or the ‘we were a bit drunk at the time’ stories. It was a triumph of the superficial, the banal and smug: “Aren’t we all fabulous?”.
Anyone from outside the London media bubble would have found it hilarious. It would have sounded like a sketch called ‘Middle Class London Twats’. Okay, yes – I was present but I wasn’t saying much. Why? Because no-one was that interested in ideas and certainly not anyone else’s ideas. When a well known British female actress made a brief appearance to drop off some friends at the restaurant, the Middle Class London Twats went straight into paroxysms of celeb worship: “Didn’t she look amaaaayzing?”
These were supposedly clever, switched on people but they weren’t interested in discourse or ideas or analysis. Even on a very basic level. I didn’t necessarily want them to quote Goethe or Sartre every few minutes or tell me about their thesis on Structuralism but something beyond the pages of Grazia or Facebook might have been a start.
Of course the worlds of fashion, design, theatre, PR, brand and advertising attract those who are interested in appearances. However, in my experience, the best people in these fields – or in any field for that matter – aren’t shallow narcissists who only got into their profession for the supposed ‘glamour’. The best people take an interest in intellectual matters and their personalities are all the better for it.