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Wednesday 18 November 2015


Matches the half-acre-plus garden
A coffee morning in Hereford (separate from the wine and canapé "do" I have also been invited to) revealed the middle-classes in full force. But how would a foreigner recognise the cast marks?

All are elderly to old to moribund. The men wear long-sleeve pullovers (very much yesterday's garment) with light-plaid shirts open at the neck. The shirts are not casual since the collars are comparatively stiff; in an emergency - say, if the Queen showed up - a tie could be accommodated. Trousers are often corduroy, indicating that the wearer lives in a detached house in the country with at least half an acre of garden.

The trend away from laced shoes is almost complete. The elderly/old/moribund are usually overweight and slip-on footwear reduces the need to bend. Addressed by an official speaker they clap in a way that precludes applause; confirmation that, despite faulty hearing, they have heard what has been said, nothing more.

With the women the news is both good and bad. Hair-dying (even henna) is eschewed and grey is worn proudly and honestly. But, in the presence of cake (an excellent carrot cake was on offer) their eyes gleam and they are seconds away from having to wipe their lips with a table napkin (never a serviette). Cake becomes virtually sacerdotal in old age.

Only a small proportion (both genders) wears spectacles - proof that cataracts have been attended to, probably privately. Once the middle-classes brayed when speaking; nowadays their conversation is more akin to the soughing of oak branches in a high wind.

Mortgages are all paid off, thus faces are not pinched with financial worries. Children are in their fifties and are either comfortably off or (Whoops! Stigma machine blew a gasket here.). Almost no one reads The Guardian.


  1. Not the world I'm accustomed to but I recognise it, and oh how accurate your description! One thing I wasn't aware of: corduroy trousers indicating a detached house and garden?

    In my experience, they're generally seen on impecunious poets, artists or train-spotters.

  2. A good post - just keen observation - no hidden agenda (as far as I can detect), not that hidden agendas necessarily detract.

    Here is part of a post from July 2013 when I was walking the Kennet and Avon Canal. It may have included more of your observations but for me trying to adhere to the spirit of your 300 word advice. I think chinos probably outstrip the corduroys these days, although the latter would be much more expensive.

    “I stopped at The Dundas Arms at midday for a pint of orange and lemonade. There was a whole bevy of well-to-do middle-classers in their smart chinos, well polished brown shoes, and sleeveless shirts, and the ladies with good perfume and summer frocks, all ordering lunch. Looks like a popular spot. I was not in the least embarrassed or feeling inferior, but I felt out of place as I sat there running with sweat and suncream, sporting walking poles and rucksack , and a funny stained, but treasured hat, and mused that most of those guys were younger than me and would hardly be capable of walking to their local pub.”

  3. Phew, I still enjoy the Guardian!

  4. Sacerdotal confuses me, sacramental would not. Some very funny bits here - the clapping, the contrasting sides of the ladies. *applause*

  5. All: I fear I was just a little too fanciful at one point. This post has now been amended.

    Natalie: Kingston-upon-Thames, where I used to live, is 12 miles from the centre of London, yet I used to have a Metrocentric view of Britain. As I recall you live even closer, hence your immediate (and accurate) observation that this is not your world. Nor do brief visits to the provinces ameliorate this tendency.

    Herefordshire has very special problems; a tiny population living in quite a large, mainly rural area (I posted about this on October 12, "Where I hang my hat"; you commented.). The county's income is not enough to service its widespread infrastructure. It is not surprising that there might be wide differences in sartorial tastes between this forgotten county (frequently confused in the south-east with Hertfordshire) and the capital, even though I may be stretching things a bit here. As you may have been with what I see as a tautology: impecunious poets.

    Having said that I am reminded of a wildly hilarious passage in Heller's Catch 22. "Name me a poet who made money," shouts out someone (it may have been: "who's famous"). The consequences reverberate through another 50 pages.

    Sir Hugh: Your lot at the Dundas Arms sound younger than mine. At that age they still tend to bray when formed into groups.

    Blonde Two: I am not trying to convert you; I envy you your love affair with another beautiful and predominantly rural part of Britain. Love is blind and so it should be; no gritty plays about abortion and single mothers are likely to be based in and around Dartmoor. By all means continue to read The Guardian; just don't talk about it down there.

    MikeM: Woo-ee. For at least two decades I've got away with misusing sacerdotal; now I am caught out in flagrante and this practice must cease forthwith. Why did I do it? Why did some people like Joe Namath?

  6. Loved it and grinned out loud, RR.
    A different slant (sub-urban rather than metro) on Betjeman's "Send for the fish knives Norman"

  7. PS. I note your comment on my post "Bloggers of the world unite". Glad to be an intermediary. I have replied to it on the lines that, as a lover of good writing, you should take a peek at:
    and his latest post "An hour upon the stage"

    Pete is part philosopher, part diarist, part naturalist (travel and mountaineering)

  8. Yes, Joe sounded good, looked good, and often delivered...a charismatic combination....oh, and the bit about the Queen arriving cracked me up too.

  9. The corduroys must have been in their possession for a while; no fabric is quite so subject to the vicissitudes of fashion, I believe, and you would have difficulty finding it even in a small town gents' outfitters, if such outlets still exist (and if they do surely Herefs would be the place to find them). My contacts among the youf, few as they are, seemed not even to know of the material's existence when I asked for news of it. Though I have spotted one or two examples of very fine quilted needlecord in shops selling essential oil burners, Balinese soapstone carvings and appliqué garments from Nepal.

    I chuckled a lot at this, liked the soughing of oak branches which was rather endearing, but I'm afraid the bit that made me laugh most was the bit I now see you have deleted, which I flatter myself must indicate I have a more transgressive sense of humour than I thought.

    Incidentally, if you think South Devon is a Guardian Verboten zone, you clearly know nothing of Dartington, Totnes, Buckfastleigh, South Brent, Hatherleigh... I could surely go on. Though I guess they're probably more likely to be reading Kindred Spirit or Aromatherapy Weekly.

  10. Avus: I could of course go on and on. No one seems to have noticed, or perhaps everyone's too kind to point it out: whether I like it or not I too have become a member of the class I describe. Reading The Guardian doesn't set me apart, nor does the way I vote.

    I wrote an exploratory comment to Pete in NZ but he practices comment-moderation and this has not yet appeared. Perhaps I've overdone it. It wouldn't be the first time.

    Mike: Where are you now, Earl Morrall?

    Lucy: Corduroys - oh no. You are not allowing for the time-slip between Hfds and the counties south of a line drawn between The Wash and the Severn estuary. Discouraged by the grim jackets on offer at M&S I put myself in the hands of just such an establishment you mention: "a small town gents' outfitters". Cords there were in abundance and I have to say the prices (remember: VR is paying) seemed to match what I remember of London.

    On Monday I will be picking up my modified new trousers (braces buttons added) and I intend to post a pic which will allow you to judge (a) whether the ensemble meets the criteria for DRESS Smart casual, and (b) Whether a largish sum of money was well spent.

    Even though I know what "transgression" means I had to look up "transgressive". No complaints, I play that game myself. Alas, I was visited by a guilty feeling at 3 am which is often the case; not only had I been just a little too risqué but there was an interlocking aspect to what I'd said and that too needed deleting. Anyway, it proves you're on the ball re. Tone Deaf.

    I know nothing of those towns but surely they are prime territory for The Daily Mail.

  11. Well P'Pete has asked you to return so I guess you didn't "overdo it"!

  12. I wore corduroy in the mid-fifties and liked it.
    The elderly middle class, in this here small town of 2,700 souls in all, enjoys life to its fullest, grows white on their heads, overdresses in Young, compares medical problems, arranges dates for gambling outings and all if not most never see dental bills unless their denture brakes.

  13. Earl Morrall....I don't have to Google that!....He was backup to Johnny U. wasn't he? Or at least played for the Colts...The only professional FB game I ever saw was an exhibition match in Ithaca....Cornell campus, Schoellkopf Field. The Giants vs the Bears, with both Y.A. Tittle and Dick Butkus on display.

  14. Ellena: Well I'm glad you liked corduroy. I've worn it myself, conscious that trousers made from the stuff, when new, feel like cardboard that had been left out in the rain and then allowed to dry. Corduroy didn't encourage movement. Also in summer corduroy trousers were too hot and in winter never as warm as you expected.

    But as Ophelia almost said: no doubt you wore your corduroy with a difference; stylishly; secretly enjoying the fact that you are a natural-born writer.

    The post above is about class structure in the UK, the way the population is divided up into layers of privilege and/or deprivation, and the signs that mark these layers. People (in the US) were always telling me they belonged to a classless society and then - often in the next sentence - proving they didn't. But that's another post.

    MikeM: Yes, you clearly know the trivia but not the single, truly big event. One year, I forget which, the Colts led the NFL (with Morrall as QB), winning all their games and playing imperturbably, master of the pass rush (led by Big Bubba). They looked absolutely unbeatable and went into the Superbowl odds on to win. There they met the Jets (QB: Joe Namath) who'd only just scraped through the AFL.

    In a series of interviews Namath, known for wearing a fur coat on the sidelines and for being a playboy, enraged both the Colts and the population at large by saying the Jets would win. And win he did, by inviting the pass rush and then throwing a series of short over-the-head passes for smallish but continuous gains. Gradually the Colts went haywire; Morall, something of a journeyman, did all he could but knew it wasn't his game when he had a receiver unmarked in the end zone, threw a short, seemingly accurate pass and it bounced off the shoulder pad of the receiver to be intercepted.

    In my feverish experience, and that of a lot of equally nerdish sports nuts, it was the greatest unexpected win in the history of the game.

    I was reminded of Hemingway's Death In the Afternoon when he mentioned that following great bullfights streets would get re-named after successful matadors. As to a less successful matador, called Chavez, whom EH disparaged, it wouldn't be streets but something else, eg, El Urinario Chavez. That seemed to be Morrall's fate.

  15. I do remember that Jets win well, though I had forgotten Morrall led the Colts. He DID lead them to Super victory 2 years later, and accumulated 3 total SB championship rings. That I remember his name at all is some testament to him...that was a long time ago and I remember only a few, Tittle's receiver Del Shofner being one, Bart Starr another. I fear I misremember the Giants/Bears game I mentioned, though. Tittle's career seems to have ended a year before Butkus' began. 50 years ago.

  16. MikeM: OK let me test your memory still further. During the lead-up to that SB the Jets were struggling as they had throughout the season. In one game they were behind and it was less than 2 minutes to go; Namath began his charge and... what happened?

    In fact the network, having spent millions on a reworking of the children's classic, Heidi, cut Joe off before he scored the necessary touchdown and played Heidi. The nation was split down its parental centre: mothers delighted to discover that there was an alternative to wall-to-wall football, fathers... well, you can guess.

    These were my absorbent times. Tittle had just retired and I forget the Giants' QB who replaced him. But Tarkenton was QB for the Vikings, Brodie for SF, Roman Gabriel for the Rams. Jim Brown was still playing, frequently running up against the Chiefs' Sam Hough. OJ, the top draft pick, went from USC to Buffalo. Mighty Bubba Smith to Baltimore. The AFL - who cared? Their role at the SB was to get beaten, although Namath reversed the trend.

    This was also the period of the greatest football game ever: the NFL semi between Dallas (QB: Dandy Don Meredith) and Green Bay at Lambeau Field, the temperature -17 deg F. GB won and linesman Jerry Kramer threw the winning block, letting Bart Starr in on a QB sneak. Meredith in tears at the post-game interview. A notable outcome was Jerry Kramer's autobiographical account of the season called Instant Replay. The best first-hand account ever by a footballer.

    But memory fails me on one detail and I am reluctant to Google. During this time the Packers's middle-linebacker (described to his chagrin by one sportscaster as "an animal") was almost more famous than Starr. His name escapes me and it shouldn't.

  17. You remember more than I do, but not by much. I too would have to Google the name of the MLB during Ice Bowl times.....do I remember him having snaggly teeth? Now Googled...Nitschke of course. Ray. http://api.ning.com/files/gAsFFoHsRFzPi6x14Q2e7637--0HrlOCXsBFtEnqwEFgm4MuH2aSykq2tN3u7hUmeMQbnTTmm4IlG3VFpokSbFaNJAeBFftl/ray.jpg