Class conscious

I was told about the assault on New York by a security guard at the British Library whose job is to check the belongings of readers in case they've lifted a book. Normally, this task is done politely but with a certain understandable boredom. Now, though, the guard had the upper hand, the power of the anchorman, and he appropriated some of the pomposity that goes with it: ". . . I should be getting more details in a moment," he concluded.

I then walked across London to a meeting with a friend. We had arranged to go and see a private view at a gallery in St James's, but when I turned up my friend said: "I don't see how we can go to a private view considering what's going on in the world." He then suggested that we go to a Cafe Rouge, which he somehow thought would be more respectful, and where he had a voucher for a free bottle of wine.

As we rode in a cab through St James's everyone in London was apparently heading into an art gallery to drink champagne, or maybe that was just the perspective that guilt had given me.

The restaurant was quiet, but when we moved on to a pub that is well known for selling cheap beer, there was a lot of melodramatic shouting, albeit of a reverent sort: "And I'll tell you what," roared the bloke at the bar next to me, "tomorrow the sun will be black!" This sounds poetic, but he was talking about the newspaper, which was not black the next day. Not that I bought it. In times of crisis, I gravitate to the gravitas of the Financial Times, which referred to the number one suspect as "Mr bin Laden". (Later, at a drinks party in Oxfordshire, a man in a good suit reminded me that Hitler had been "Mr Hitler" right up to the Anschluss.)

My grotesquely social week ended with a lunch at Brown's restaurant in Oxford, which seemed just as animated as usual, but then a waitress dropped a pile of plates and the whole place froze. The man at the next table pulled a face of mock horror at the woman he was with and whispered: "Bin Laden!"

But the clatter and chatter of lunching soon resumed.

This article first appeared in the 24 September 2001 issue of the New Statesman, The war that Bush cannot win