My interest in the Olympics is limited. Only occasionally can I get myself worked up about one man’s ability to run, jump or throw things faster, higher or further than another man. Nonetheless, there is a spectacular value to these athletic competitions, not least in the sprucing up of the parts of town that visitors or competitors might catch a glimpse of during their stay – and in particular the shops and cafés that they might come across.
The polyglot, polychrome, backlit plastic fascias of the capital’s semi-suburban high streets are something of a London hallmark; a glorious bazaar of merchants offering everything from halal butchery to the unlocking of mobile phones and the lure of goods costing no more than a pound. However, it appears that the powers that be have decided that this idiosyncratic visual banquet is not really the London that visitors want to see. Instead it seems that having received their image of London from the films of Working Title and Richard Curtis, visitors to London expect those parts of the capital not patrolled by Beefeaters and inhabited by members of the Royal Family to look like Notting Hill. And so certain areas appear to have been given a makeover to reflect the cappuccino culture of a world in which all Englishmen are called Hugh (Grant, Bonneville, Laurie etc).
Oddly enough, it puts me in mind of Iran in the Shah’s day, via a tale I was told by Edward Sahakian. Before he opened Davidoff on the corner of Jermyn and St James’s Streets, Sahakian was the proprietor of a sprawling commercial conglomerate in Tehran that encompassed soft drinks, trucking, glassmaking, ice cream, brewing and I don’t know how many other activities. Anyway, suffice it to say that he was a big employer with factories that gave work to many thousands. So many, in fact, that when a dignitary was due to touch down at Tehran airport, he would get a call from the Shah asking him to close one or two of his plants for the day and send the workers to line the roads that would be taken by the visiting statesman, where they would wave flags and otherwise demonstrate their spontaneous pleasure at the arrival of such a distinguished visitor.
As well as being a great cigar merchant and a good friend, Edward is a very easy-going chap, and I am sure that if the mayor’s office asks nicely he could be persuaded to give a few of his staff the day off to swell the crowds welcoming visiting Olympians… Indeed, if I were a visiting sportsman, I could think of nothing nicer than being welcomed by streets lined with cheering cigar smokers, the air blue with the smoke of their Cohibas and Bolivars.