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PUTTIN' ON THE RITZ




"The bar staff are all from mainland Europe and it's a striking surreality that they all hail from far more classless societies than the strictly frigid class perversions they're now imposing. Funny how they've let filthy lucre stick a broom up their collective arses without a whimper of complaint. We are all prostitutes, everyone has their price…and you too will learn to live the lie…"

By George Berger

COPYRIGHT © 2004, 3 A.M. MAGAZINE. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

For some time I've been struggling with a duality, and not quite knowing which side of the fence I fall. Part of me aspires to be classless and feels it possible, whilst another part of me is regularly confronted with the bald (and previously bowler-hatted) realities of the British class system and my part in its lower echelons.

So, I'm sat in a grotty Central London bar with occasional partner-in-crime Suzie, nursing our respective pints of cider, and we're wondering how to entertain ourselves for the evening. We've both had an especially good week -- her romantically, and me financially -- and it's time to do something special.

"Let's drink champagne in the Ritz!" says Suzie with infectiously mischevous glee, and one of the main reasons I like her is because most women would have squealed it, but not Suzie. And…

And why not? I've long entertained a rather wonderful analogical whimsy where the Pistols and the Clash are on a late night Inter-City train. The Pistols have bunked their way into first class and are enjoying getting drunk, whilst The Clash are sitting morose in second class moaning about the class system. And I know which band I'd rather be in given those circumstances, particularly given the over-earnest years of my wasted youth.

So we get the directions to the hotel off a friend in the trade and head off to Green Park tube station. Which is a bit of a first actually -- for 20 years, Green Park tube station has only ever been somewhere I've changed trains at. So I've been there hundreds of times beneath the city streets, but this is the first time I remember going 'over the top', so to speak.

And when I do, I realise that the Ritz is the hotel from Notting Hill (the film, that is) -- where Hugh Grant has a romantic liason with Julia Roberts. I'm going to enjoy this -- I've got a suit on (albeit two-piece with a t-shirt and threadbare if you look up close), and I'm starting to get into the part: I'll be David Niven and Suzie will be Audrey Hepburn and we'll be spies for the evening on how the other half live.

Because, of course, this is to do with the other half, or at least it would be if they numbered anything more than the other four per cent.

We go in, the atmosphere hits you like a matronly blanket, and it's a bit more uptight than I'd expected. Or maybe I just forgot that was part of the deal. A male Mediterranean servant (frankly, 'servant' -- with all its power-deviance implications -- is the only fitting word) escorts us to the bar and from there to a table, like they do in restaurants. Only in restaurants, they ask you if the table is OK. It's hot, so I go to remove my jacket, and the waiter/butler/whateveryoucallhim puts his hand on my shoulder and tells me I've got to keep it on because there is a dress code.

He put his hand on my shoulder. I mean, telling you is one thing, but this bloke decided to back it up with a physical gesture and my gut reaction was to say "get ….your….hand….off….my….fucking…. shoulder…".

But I didn't, cos I'm British and polite. I'm not a weirdo about people touching me but that was definitely imposing a bit of unwelcome authority in a ridiculously unnecessary way.

OK, we'll skip over it. We drink champagne in the Ritz and it's a bit like drinking farcically overpriced sparkling wine in a half-deserted bar in the middle of London. In fact, it's not a bit like that, it is that.

Me and Suzie argue in a friendly way about my little Pistols / Clash train analogy and then I get hit with a bill for £70. Well not worth the money. I start getting visions of Monopoly games in my youth. Green Park didn't even get a square.

Meanwhile, the other inhabitants of the bar are old British Colonels and beautiful American women tourists. The sort of people who somehow find meaning and form in dress codes, and probably enhanced meaning and form in meaningless dress codes. I try not to stare, because I'm getting too old for confrontation, but it's a close run thing.

The bar staff are all from mainland Europe and it's a striking surreality that they all hail from far more classless societies than the strictly frigid class perversions they're now imposing. Funny how they've let filthy lucre stick a broom up their collective arses without a whimper of complaint. We are all prostitutes, everyone has their price…and you too will learn to live the lie…

But meanwhile, here's somewhere nicer to go.




George Berger is a freelance writer, with punk rock dna. He has written for Sounds, Melody Maker and Amnesty International among others. He has also written 3 books, with one published thus far: Dance Before the Storm: the Official Story of The Levellers (Virgin Books 1999). George is a member of Flowers in the Dustbin. He lives where the mood takes him and funds allow.





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