My republican tendencies clash with my fondness for a party

I was slightly miffed to be left out of the New Statesman’s Jewish issue a couple of weeks ago – as well as a little bit surprised. It would
appear that this magazine is one of the very few bodies around that doesn’t assume I’m Jewish. But, as J R R Tolkien once indignantly wrote
to the Nazi official who’d asked him if he was (the publication in Germany of The Hobbit depended on his answer), I do not have the honour of belonging to that proud and noble race. Still, for some reason – my nose? The Z in my name? My poor dancing skills? My disdain for rough sports? My circumcision? – people think I am. I was once, at school, invited by Andrew Holmes and Paul Castle to repeat after them the words “Jews are the scum of the earth, and up with Adolf Hitler”. My enormous reluctance to do so was taken as further proof of my supposed ethno-cultural background.

Then again, as they were at pains to remind me, I was, with my Jewish grandfather, “good enough for the ovens”. And now that the Jewish issue has been and gone, I’ll never get the chance to tell that story. Tsk!

Street life

But it’s the being left out bit that always gets to me. Whenever I see a house lit up with a party, I feel an irrational surge of outrage that I am not at it, or have not been invited to it. Sometimes, if it looks or sounds promising from the outside, I crash it, with this foolproof technique: I appear at the door with a bottle of wine and claim to be a neighbour who, though perturbed by the noise, has decided to beg for admittance rather than be a spoilsport. As I say, it always works.

But, as you probably know, the nation has just enjoyed, if that is the word, a party along its length and breadth to which we were all invited. (And you thought this column was going to be a jubilee-free refuge, didn’t you? Sorry.) My inclinations towards republicanism are always given a surge at times of mass monarchist fervour, but they clash powerfully with my fondness for a party – especially a street party.

So, after receiving a text from the Beloved saying that she’d been sucked into a street party in her native Clapham (“and it was rubbish”), I thought I had better stick my nose outside the Hovel and take my hacking cough through the freezing drizzle to see what was going on down the road.

A flyer, wittily using the “Keep calm and carry on” design, had been pushed through the letter box, informing readers that there was going to be a celebration outside the local church. (Incidentally, might it not be time to call for a moratorium on all amusing variations on this design? Their appeal is waning.)

Outside, I see a group of about eight people consulting, with manifest confusion, the little map that you get at a Boris Bike docking station. “Can I help?” I offer. “We’re lost,” wails one of the group. (It is only a very lost and hopeless Englishman who will admit aloud to being lost.) His accent suggests a place of origin somewhere in the Midlands. “We’re looking for the river.” Well, I feel like saying: “To quote the Irishman, I wouldn’t start from here if I were you.” We are two and a half miles or so from the nearest stretch of river – apart from the Tyburn, which is running unseen almost right under our feet; but I have a hunch that this is not the river
they seek.

Fairy stories

My heart goes out to these benighted people. Uprooted from their natural habitat, they have come to get rained on and are still about a 45-minute walk from their destination. (I suspect the Tube will further disorient them and they’ll end up in High Barnet, which is not a fate I’d wish on anyone.) Yet they soldier on.

So, still full of admiration for their can-do spirit, I mosey on down to the church. It is too wet to celebrate outside, so the party is being held inside. Despite my partly Jewish roots (see how cleverly I brought that subject up again?), I stick my head over the threshold.

It is appalling. The place is full of children – and I’m not exaggerating, I’m talking absolutely wall-to-wall rammed – having their faces painted. The world’s worst rock band is plodding tunelessly through a song it has rendered unrecognisable. The only adults I can see are tending to the children.

One of my objections to the monarchy has always been that I believe kings and queens and princesses are for fairy stories, not for grown-ups. The Windsors infantilise us – and that’s very much the flavour du jour, hence Her Maj’s popularity. But, for a moment, it looked as though the entire population of Marylebone had literally been turned into children. And children, as I have observed, can be awfully cruel.

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 11 June 2012 issue of the New Statesman, A-Z of Iran