WILL SELF on what the renaissance of US comedy series Friends tells us about Britain today.
I think it behoves me to at least clearly state what I believe ‘culture’ to be, if I wish to style myself ‘Multicultural Man’; and I think it only fair to address you, dear readers, with the intimacy and care of an old friend, should I seek to sway or otherwise influence you. By ‘culture’, therefore, I understand a set of practices, values and tastes that are transmitted through time by artefacts, artworks and ritual enactments; and by ‘friendship’, I mean the disinterested comity of those who enjoy mutual attraction.
In the week that David Cameron’s foam-flecked memoirs were published, I found myself revolving on a daily basis a weird sort of reification of the hateful and philistine s**t we’re all in. I refer, of course, to Friends Fest, which has beamed down in Kennington Park for the second year running. Within the sonic range of the House of Commons’ division bell, it would be just about possible for Messrs Gove and Johnson to attend Friends Fest, and be reminded of all they’ve gained… and lost since the final episode of this uproarious situation comedy was broadcast in May, 2004.
Kennington Park has Friends of its own – Friends who have a lovely notice board, the flyers pinned to it encouraging local residents to go for a crepuscular Bat Walk, or get involved with mosaic making. However, I very much doubt the Friends are responsible for Friends Fest, that’s surely down to the local council; which, in common with so many others, now treats parks and open spaces as assets to be hired out the highest bidder. In fairness, councils probably wouldn’t have had to do this, if it weren’t for the cuts to their budgets introduced by Dave and his pals.
A five-minute stroll from my flat, Kennington Park is particularly lovely at this time of year, when the numerous London plane trees start to shed their leaves, and the verges and thickets that have grown up over the summer, turn tawny and dappled in the low-angling autumnal sun. In common with other local dog walkers, I tend to stop off in the dogs only enclosure first, where the hound makes waste of his natural bodily products, and I discretely bin them. Then we proceed, making a circuit of the park.
In the middle of this urban yet sylvan setting, the Friends Fest encampment looks like a giant modular synthetic turd, dumped down by some mindless alien species: big white baffler fences enclose a plot the size of a couple of football pitches, wherein the friends of Friends disport themselves. What are they doing in there? What strange rites of amity constitute their celebration of this long-since otiose show, which was crap to begin with, and the crapness of which now resounds down the decades in a synaesthetic wave of sh**ty-smelling canned laughter? On the website it says that you’ll be able to explore Monica and Rachel’s apartment, recline in Joey and Chandler’s Laz-Y-Boys, then visit Ross’s place, before a trip to Central Perk for coffee, where you can also “sing your heart out to the ‘smelly cat’ karaoke and more…”.
I’d so like to report to you that Friends Fest – which runs for ten days, and over two full weekends – has been an unmitigated disaster, and that when I’ve paused on my daily revolution to peer between sections of the fencing, I’ve seen a friendless savannah of un-trodden grass stretching out before me. But sadly, the truth is that amplified wails of “Smelly cat, oh, smelly cat!” have stalked me, not only on the weekend, but in the middle of weekday mornings as well – and through those gaps in the fence, I’ve seen many celebrating couch potatoes, festooned with merch’ bags, and either massing before the karaoke stage or queuing to buy OMG! Rare Breed British-Style Hotdogs.
It gets worse, because Friends Fest is indeed completely sold out for every single day – Yes! That’s right: there really are enough friends of Friends to sustain such a grotesque inversion of culture – for what can be said about Friends T-shirts and singing Smelly Cat, save that far from transmitting a set of shared values and tastes through time, such artefacts and ritual enactments represent our abject failure, as a culture, to travel though time at all. Yes, we’re all caught up in an endless rerun of the amusing hissy-fits and bromances that have defined the Conservative and Unionist Party since David Cameron became its leader. One of his predecessors – I forget which – once remarked that there was no such thing as society, then vigorously began to lay waste to all we understood by such a designation. It fell to her successor and his friends to do the same to our culture, leaving behind only a nubbin of a British-Style hotdog… My dog ate one of these then took a s**t.