Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita – more specifically, on the evening of my 35th birthday, last week – I saw Tom Cruise. He was sitting at the next table in a restaurant, accompanied by his equally small and perfectly formed wife Nicole Kidman and eight buddies. I suppose the world’s two most famous Scientologists, apart of course from John Travolta and the late L. Ron himself, were in town for the premières of their respective new movies. Or perhaps this was just another symptom of the reinvention of London as the hippest, most happening, furthest-molecule-forward-on-the-cutting-edge city since Periclean Athens. (Actually, the alacrity with which the locals have fallen on Newsweek’s emetic paean to ‘Cool Britannia’ and Vanity Fair’s ditto to ‘Swinging London’ is a medium-sized symptom of decline in itself – but I digress.) Cruise was giving the dinner, it turned out, and he did a certain amount of pantomime with the wine, swirling and sniffing and sipping, before nodding with great formality and permitting it to be poured; after which everyone else swirled and sniffed and sipped and nodded with great formality, too. It wasn’t hard to work out who was the Alpha Male.
[*] Eat Fat by Richard Klein (Picador, 247 pp., £15.99, 24 January, 0330 34293 2).
Vol. 19 No. 8 · 24 April 1997
From Paul Taylor
John Lanchester (LRB, 20 March) suggests that doctors believe we drink twice as much as we let on. The evidence supports the doctors: according to an article published in the journal Addiction in 1995, no counterfeit production or illegal importation of alcohol exists on the island of Spitzbergen, so a comparison of figures for the sale of alcohol with the islanders’ self-reported consumption allows an assessment of the accuracy of their reports. The authors found that the admitted drinking accounted for only 40 per cent of sales. Of course any general conclusion about alcohol consumption based entirely on a study of a remote Norwegian island is open to challenge.
Since your correspondents affirm the importance of browsing library catalogues in what might be mistaken for idleness, here are some other findings I came across while dawdling on the superhighway. Research has shown that alcohol consumption is inversely correlated to breakfast eating in both males and females; there is a slightly higher frequency of left-handedness among children exposed to alcohol in foetal life, but the findings are not statistically significant; alcohol does not seem to be a major aetiological factor in skiing-related injuries; and Norwegian adolescents who said of their most recent experience of intercourse, ‘it just turned out that way,’ were more likely than others to have had sex under the influence of alcohol.
From Richard Cummings
It is not an accident that Americans (except for the rich) are not only the fattest but also the most drug-addicted. Both conditions are engendered by despair. The rest of the world thinks of America as the only superpower. Americans think of themselves as losers.
John Marshall Law School
Vol. 19 No. 9 · 8 May 1997
From Robin Lucas
John Lanchester (LRB, 20 March) seems to be unaware of the fact that Nicole Kidman is an Australian with a background that suggests a thorough education in wine appreciation; hence the choice of the expensive Penfolds Bin 707. Much as I would like the reason for her husband Tom Cruise’s choice of wine to be that the Hollywoodites, Scientologists and their hangers-on were ignorantly choosing the most expensive wine on the menu, I’m afraid it is more likely that Nicole chose the wine, and that she knew what she was about.
Vol. 20 No. 9 · 7 May 1998
From Brian Middleton
I would like to add a belated factual clarification to John Lanchester’s Diary (LRB, 20 March 1997). He referred to Chancellor Kohl as having been spotted eating ‘steak and chips’ at Le Pont de la Tour after an ‘insufficiently nourishing state banquet’ in 1995. However, further newspaper reports have revealed that on the relevant occasion the Chancellor in fact consumed an entire three-course meal at the Conran-owned eatery. This was in the aftermath of a five-course feast celebrating the anniversary of VE Day. The Chancellor’s spin-doctors rebuff all enquiries about his weight on the grounds that it is a ‘state secret’.