Magazine article The Spectator

Low Life: Jeremy Clarke

Magazine article The Spectator

Low Life: Jeremy Clarke

Article excerpt

Before dashing out of the door and driving to Nice airport, I gave my eyebrows a quick trim with the electric grooming razor Father Christmas gave me. In my tearing haste, however, I forgot to clip on the length regulator and in two sweeps shaved them right off, leaving two bald white strips.

I was last to board the plane. While everyone else queued in the stifling airbridge while the plane was prepared, I had remained in my comfortable seat in the sunny departure lounge reading Sir Michael Holroyd's hilarious life of Augustus John. Seat 9F was the aisle seat of a row of three, and the pair of chaps already belted in to seats D and E looked utterly devastated by the last-minute occupation of their empty seat by a casually late arrival with no eyebrows. The guy beside me was wearing decidedly vulgar, shiny tracksuit bottoms. His chubby pal had on short shorts and a polo shirt, and his arms and legs were coated with curling orange hairs. Their dashed hopes of some extra space for the duration of the flight had left them touchingly forlorn. My apology was acknowledged through gritted teeth.

All around were young football supporters heading back to Stansted from the Riviera. 'Have you both been down for the football?' I said, hoping to ameliorate my unpopularity by being chatty. They drew themselves up in indignation -- two Frankie Howerds affronted by the preposterousness of the idea. 'No, we have not. We didn't even know it was on,' said the tracksuit-bottomed one. 'But we do now,' chipped in the hairy one, whose voice was exactly that of the Sixties comic Charlie Drake. 'We saw the Northern Ireland fans fighting the police in Nice old town. One of them died, you know,' he said. 'Fell off a lamppost,' he added, respectfully mouthing the shocking words rather than speaking them.

I sensed that I was now forgiven. In fact they were friendly souls, keen to chat, un-ashamed about trying to pinpoint my position on the social scale. Going on whim, they had spent a week exploring Nice, just to see what the place was like. 'Would you go back?' No, they said; they wouldn't. They couldn't find much in Nice to interest them. And the train they caught to Cannes was so crowded because of the strike they had both nearly suffocated. Nearly suffocating on a train had eclipsed everything, even the football fans fighting in the old town. …

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