Many moons ago, a young Bob Dylan crowed “…the times they are a-changing…” Which is fine, except that change does not always follow an anticipated trajectory. The cruel sands of time can take one from the fore of an irresistible movement of youth, to suddenly feeling like the last Quagga. It’s enough to bring many a good man down, however, like those fabled violinists on the deck of the Titanic, others will just keep on partying. Jeremy Clarke, writer of the London Spectator’s ‘Low Life’ column, is just such a man. The Spectator, a hi-brow weekly focused on politics and culture, is the oldest continuously published magazine in the English language. But if the magazine largely stirs the heart and mind, the ‘Low Life’ column aims further south – and importantly, it does so without any shame, apology or recourse to irony:
“…unusually for me, I pulled, I think. By the time she comes out of school this afternoon Tory will probably have forgotten about the tearful promises we made to each other last night in the heat of the moment, but if she hasn’t, and she still wants her sugar daddy to buy her an iPhone, I have a new girlfriend…”
In the words of Taki Theodoracopulos from the foreword (and writer of the counterweight ‘High Life’ column), “…in a world that has turned topsy-turvy with transgenders and transvestites hogging the headlines, good old-fashioned skirt-chasers like Jeremy are the proverbial breath of fresh air.”
This collection of Clarke’s columns is indeed a celebration however they offer more. For the strictly old-school, those of a certain age who remain unreconstructed, these pieces can certainly be enjoyed at the ‘beers and birds’ level. However like the best art, these street dispatches – vignettes – are multi-layered, with surprising depth to, for example, recounting snorting cocaine in a pub toilet. There is texture behind a seemingly flat veneer. Clarke’s writing sings:
“Silence. She stared resignedly ahead. If hitch-hikers prefer not to speak, it’s fine … But this woman’s indifferent, fatalistic air impressed me. I strongly sensed a woman hemmed in by bullshit and poverty; a woman expecting nothing from life but more of the same; a woman without a single life-enhancing delusion.”
“As far as I am concerned, I cannot think of anything in this world that I would rather do at this moment than drive for half an hour across the veld, under midnight stars, to a bar choc-full of Afrikaner farm boys and girls, all smashed out of their minds … and waltzing as their forefathers used to. I rise to my feet. Take us to Murky Water’s most self-consciously Boer bar on this your National Cleavage Day, I say to the general manager, and our lives will be complete.”
One wonders if today’s older Bob Dylan ever looks upon our changing times more wistfully. My guess is that Clarke would too, if he were not too busy simply enjoying himself. But it would be a mistake to dismiss him as just another reveller – he is an immensely skilled writer.
Any Cop?: Exceptionalism, by definition, is hard to achieve. But by simply living the life he has, and writing about it, Clarke has achieved just that.