A woman looks at Piet Mondrian's 1927 piece Composition with Red, Blue and Grey, on display ahead of sale at Sotheby's June 18. Photo: Getty
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Cheering on Italy, dressing as a Mondrian and Dave’s date at Chiltern Firehouse

The PM sat down for supper with his wife and two friends. With EU negotiations at fever pitch, Iraq crumbling and snappers outside, a politician with taste might have cried off that night.

Back in March, shortly after it opened, I asked Chiltern Firehouse for a reservation. The suddenly hip Marylebone joint came back with an offer: “We can fit you in on 6 July.” A three-and-a-half-month wait? Even the ability to pronounce the surname of its New York owner, André Balazs (it rhymes with Farage), matters not to the receptionist. It is social connections that get you into this restaurant.

A-listers tripped easily through its doors: Gwyneth Paltrow, Kylie Minogue, Lily Allen; the list is so jaw-dropping, it’s a wonder that any food gets masticated on the premises. (Perhaps that’s a good thing: when a friend pulled a few strings for a table for me and my team on the Evening Standard diary last month, we didn’t exactly come back raving about the monkfish.)

We teased away at this elitism for months. Then one recent evening the cherry was finally dropped into this absurd cocktail: as Lindsay Lohan pirouetted for the paparazzi outside, David Cameron sat down for supper with his wife and two friends. (My phone buzzed immediately with a disbelieving text message from a fellow diner.) With EU negotiations at fever pitch, Iraq crumbling and snappers outside, a politician with taste might have cried off that night. I’m told that even the PR maestro Matthew Freud, sitting at another table, looked surprised to see him there.

 

Drop dead glamorous

“Turn right for the lobster,” said Kate Reardon, editor of Tatler magazine, at the “Art Ball” the magazine hosted with Christie’s auction house on 12 June. We had all been asked to dress as works of art. I had come as a Mondrian; others had come as Tretchikoff’s blue woman and Michelangelo’s David. In the next room, to which Reardon was directing me, was a table laid out like a Dutch still life, overflowing with beef, fruit, hams and the aforementioned lobster. What was missing was the bitter peeled lemon, the rotting fruit: the symbols in the Dutch paintings that remind us such earthly delights are passing vanities. But there was one memento mori in the room: a skull. A guest wore a balaclava encrusted with fake diamonds, after Damien Hirst. Even mortality is glamorous these days.

 

Home from home

Last Saturday night, on the side street in Soho where I live, the waiters sneaking ciggies and lovers kissing were disturbed as 11 men in England shirts came through chanting: “Where the f*** are we, where the f*** are we?” Lost souls. The Aussies living opposite and the Koreans and Americans beside me all leaned out of windows to watch them.

This was not a usual sight in the melting pot of Soho. Three blocks further east and these lads would find themselves in a sea of blue shirts on Frith Street where Bar Italia was screening the big match (and where I was going to watch). My footballing loyalties were forged in 1982, staying up for the final with my Italian father. Paolo Rossi’s name was spoken like a saint’s. I remember Maurice Glasman, the Blue Labour peer, telling me how confused he was watching the 1966 World Cup final with German-Jewish relatives. He was primed to cheer for England but when Germany scored they whooped; despite all the history, it was still home.

London, a city of immigrants, has many teams to cheer for and countries left behind.

 

Guilty consciences

Flicking through Hard Choices, I was struck by how warmly Hillary Clinton wrote about our Cathy Ashton in her memoirs. The outgoing EU foreign affairs commissioner’s successes have been largely ignored in this country. Brokering reconciliation between Serbia and Kosovo can’t have been easy and she has been chipping away at the nuclear impasse with Iran with some rewards.

Ashton comes across as a good listener, perhaps more appreciated by those across the table than by her own side. She is not bothered about personal PR, nor photo opportunities with Angelina Jolie.

Who will No 10 nominate to replace her? Political tribalism means it will be a Tory. As for qualifications, they may be less relevant than guilty consciences in Downing Street. Leon Brittan and Peter Mandelson both went to Brussels because they had been unfairly sacked from cabinet. So Andrew Mitchell for an aid – or bicycling – portfolio, or Andrew Lansley, Cameron’s old boss at Conservative Central Office, perhaps. After the delicate touch Lansley displayed in handling NHS reform, what could go wrong?

 

Dionne and dusted

Several different PRs call to ask if I would like to go to see Dionne Warwick sing a late gig at the Dover Street Arts Club, revamped a few years ago and now more a home to Euro and Asian bling than struggling artists. As a sweetener they all promise that Kate Moss will be at the gig. They can’t see my shrug down the phone line: it’s Dionne Warwick I want to see.

When I arrive, Topshop owner Philip Green is pacing around the street outside, pestering his mobile phone. I presume he is ringing his dear friend Kate to find out where she has got to. In the velvet-lined basement downstairs Warwick is tetchy, chiding the audience for filming her on their mobile phones and not applauding her backing band’s solos. Last year, she was declared bankrupt, down to a couple of fur coats, a pair of diamond earrings and $1,000 in cash. Burt Bacharach’s muse still has a voice like honey but clearly also pride like peanut brittle. Can you blame her, out touring again aged 73, to such an entitled crowd?

The main table below the stage was empty, likely reserved for La Moss, who never did show. Still, Philip Green bounded up to Warwick afterwards. “Didn’t we have such fun in Monaco?” crooned the Topshop tycoon. Warwick looked blank. “Who are you?” she asked.

If the comeback tour fails, there’s always the reception desk at the Firehouse.

Joy Lo Dico edits the Londoner’s Diary in the Evening Standard

This article first appeared in the 18 June 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Islam tears itself apart

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The Tinder dating app isn't just about sex – it's about friendship, too. And sex

The lines between sex, love and friendship are blurrier than ever, as I found out quickly while using the app.

The first time I met someone using Tinder, the free dating app that requires users to swipe left for “no” and right for “yes” before enabling new “matches” to chat, it was an unqualified success. I should probably qualify that. I was newly single after five years in a committed relationship and wasn’t looking for anything more than fun, friendship and, well, who knows. A few weeks earlier I had tried to give my number to a girl in a cinema café in Brixton. I wrote it on a postcard I’d been using as a bookmark. She said she had a boyfriend, but wanted to keep the postcard. I had no date and I lost my page.

My Tinder date was a master’s student from Valencia called Anna (her name wasn’t really Anna, of course, I’m not a sociopath). When I arrived at the appointed meeting place, she told me I was far more handsome IRL (“in real life”) than my pictures suggested. I was flattered and full of praise for the directness of continental Europeans but also thought sadly to myself: “If only the same could be said about you.”

Anna and I became friends, at least for a while. The date wasn’t a success in the traditional sense of leading us into a contract based on exclusivity, an accumulating cache of resentments and a mortgage, but it had put me back in the game (an appropriate metaphor – people speak regularly of “playing” with the app).

According to Sean Rad, the co-founder who launched Tinder in late 2012, the service was invented for people like me. “It was really a way to overcome my own problems,” he told the editor of Cosmopolitan at an event in London last month. “It was weird to me, to start a conversation [with a stranger]. Once I had an introduction I was fine, but it’s that first step. It’s difficult for a lot of people.” After just one outing, I’d learned two fundamental lessons about the world of online dating: pretty much everyone has at least one decent picture of themselves, and meeting women using a so-called hook-up app is seldom straightforwardly about sex.

Although sometimes it is. My second Tinder date took place in Vienna. I met Louisa (ditto, name) outside some notable church or other one evening while visiting on holiday (Tinder tourism being, in my view, a far more compelling way to get to know a place than a cumbersome Lonely Planet guide). We drank cocktails by the Danube and rambled across the city before making the romantic decision to stay awake all night, as she had to leave early the next day to go hiking with friends. It was just like the Richard Linklater movie Before Sunrise – something I said out loud more than a few times as the Aperol Spritzes took their toll.

When we met up in London a few months later, Louisa and I decided to skip the second part of Linklater’s beautiful triptych and fast-track our relationship straight to the third, Before Midnight, which takes place 18 years after the protagonists’ first meet in Vienna, and have begun to discover that they hate each others’ guts.

Which is one of the many hazards of the swiping life: unlike with older, web-based platforms such as Match.com or OkCupid, which require a substantial written profile, Tinder users know relatively little about their prospective mates. All that’s necessary is a Facebook account and a single photograph. University, occupation, a short bio and mutual Facebook “likes” are optional (my bio is made up entirely of emojis: the pizza slice, the dancing lady, the stack of books).

Worse still, you will see people you know on Tinder – that includes colleagues, neighbours and exes – and they will see you. Far more people swipe out of boredom or curiosity than are ever likely to want to meet up, in part because swiping is so brain-corrosively addictive.

While the company is cagey about its user data, we know that Tinder has been downloaded over 100 million times and has produced upwards of 11 billion matches – though the number of people who have made contact will be far lower. It may sound like a lot but the Tinder user-base remains stuck at around the 50 million mark: a self-selecting coterie of mainly urban, reasonably affluent, generally white men and women, mostly aged between 18 and 34.

A new generation of apps – such as Hey! Vina and Skout – is seeking to capitalise on Tinder’s reputation as a portal for sleaze, a charge Sean Rad was keen to deny at the London event. Tinder is working on a new iteration, Tinder Social, for groups of friends who want to hang out with other groups on a night out, rather than dating. This makes sense for a relatively fresh business determined to keep on growing: more people are in relationships than out of them, after all.

After two years of using Tinder, off and on, last weekend I deleted the app. I had been visiting a friend in Sweden, and took it pretty badly when a Tinder date invited me to a terrible nightclub, only to take a few looks at me and bolt without even bothering to fabricate an excuse. But on the plane back to London the next day, a strange thing happened. Before takeoff, the woman sitting beside me started crying. I assumed something bad had happened but she explained that she was terrified of flying. Almost as terrified, it turned out, as I am. We wound up holding hands through a horrific patch of mid-air turbulence, exchanged anecdotes to distract ourselves and even, when we were safely in sight of the ground, a kiss.

She’s in my phone, but as a contact on Facebook rather than an avatar on a dating app. I’ll probably never see her again but who knows. People connect in strange new ways all the time. The lines between sex, love and friendship are blurrier than ever, but you can be sure that if you look closely at the lines, you’ll almost certainly notice the pixels.

Philip Maughan is Assistant Editor at the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 26 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit odd squad