Thursday, 16 August 2007

CLASS WELFARE

None of us is middle class. That ended when the peasants took over the universities. Until then the essential qualifications were public school and university, an income of a thousand a year which enabled you to keep a maid, lunch in the middle of the day, tennis on your own court, preferring animals and referring to “one” rather than “I”.


I am an authority on class. My ancestors include St David and the Welsh Princes, a Norman knight, two Tudor courtiers, an ambassador to Paris and according to a Welsh genealogy Jesus’ auntie. My name is the Welsh form of Scudamore ,my ancestors owned most of Herefordshire and starred in the most celebrated divorce case in the 18th century.

My father was a police constable and the descendant of three hundred years of ever diminishing landowners who became both bottle blowers and even more enthusiastic emptiers.

I have spent my life clawing my way back upmarket by consistently marrying above myself. There have been humiliations. My first wife was a rich Jewess to whose mother I was “ council house scum”. Despite her wealth she was not middle class. She pronounced cognac with a hard g.

I was once publicly derided in the Kingston Rowing Club for pronouncing bath with a short “a”. An otherwise delightful chum, a general’s son, was horrified by the way I held my knife.

I discovered the middle class when I was briefly an officer cadet and found I got on much better with the aristocracy. They had nothing to gain by erecting barriers, I had nothing to lose and they shared my obsession with girls

There were limits, as a cavalry officer once explained;
“One would go to one’s troopers’ weddings, but not necessarily invite them to one's”

Now that I have married into the Upper Middle class, things are much easier. I know not to wear a matching tie and silk handkerchief, indeed not to wear a silk handkerchief at all with a business suit. At dinner parties I talk to the partner on my left side during the first course, turn to the partner on my right during the second course and only talk across the table after pudding has been served. My wife puts out napkins even when we eat “a deux” in the kitchen. Probably does when she is on her own. Baths a lot and is always recognised by her own kind. I come as a surprise, but they don’t show it

It was unnerving at first when she trooped me round her family like a tattered colour. At the Bath manor house of a knighted uncle my place at luncheon was decorated with so much table silver it looked like Mappin and Webb's window. Fortunately I knew the rules –work from the outside in.

One occurrence during that hair raising lunch no book of etiquette warned about.

Uncle Sydney’s pet pigeon had the freedom of the house, which it exercised by sitting on my head and crapping down my neck as I raised a fork –always work from the outside in.
“Must be alright if the bird likes you,” he said and we were close friends until his death.
That night as I prepared for bed he pulled me on one side.
"You know how in Wodehouse books the guest always hunts in vain for a drink in the night?
Well in this house its kept in that cupboard under the stairs"

I have just taken part in a family genetic “trace” and discovered I am entitled to a crest; “ a unicorn’s head erased sable plate “ and a blazon of arms “Gules, three stirrups, leathers and buckles or”.

I wonder what my late mother in law and the Kingston Rowing Club would make of that. But I do know it would have looked great on the door of my Lada. I am almost sorry I no longer drive

Ends

1 comment:

Asha Stephen said...

You are lovely!!! I love your thoughts... you write beautifullly. :-). I especially liked your post of the August the 9th. I feel like that too... like I live in the 19th century. I once told a friend that I thought I was born a century and a half too late, that I was too old to live today. He told me that had I lived a century and a half ago, I still might have felt outdated. Do you ever feel that? I'm terribly sorry to go on and on so... But you do write so beautifully!