Class conscious

There are those individuals, squeamish about class, who argue that we no longer fall into simple socio-economic and cultural divisions. But to such people I say this: show me one Briton who simultaneously possesses a caravan and a university degree. (No, even Margaret Beckett took the "vocational route" to her present eminence.) I would also ask them to accompany me on my long tramps across Hampstead Heath and show me a single pit bull terrier being walked.

For it is the things you don't see on Hampstead Heath as much as the things you do that betray its status as the quintessential middle-class park. All the elements characteristic of recreational green space elsewhere in Britain - excessive noise, crumpled cans of Tennent's Super and squat dogs resembling the embodiment of evil - are absent.

I'm especially aware of the canine situation because, as I write this, I am sitting on a Heath bench next to a woman who is grooming her elegant saluki while singing snatches of opera. Every so often she walks 50 yards to a bin to scrape out her grooming brush, because where would we be if everyone who groomed a saluki on the Heath just let the hair fall to the ground and blow about like tumbleweed?

The Heath's middle-class dog-owners ladle their dog's mess into polythene bags labelled "English Heritage" with all the care and pride that those words promote. But then this is a park (actually, I only give it that municipal designation to wind up the grandees of NW3 and N6) where "responsible fishing" is encouraged. I'm not sure what this involves, but they run classes in it around here so it must go well beyond throwing back the little ones.

Though I said there was no excessive noise on the Heath, it does have open-air classical music concerts on summer weekends (sponsor, in case you hadn't guessed, Waitrose). These are quite noisy, especially taking into account the Hooray-Henryish fireworks that frequently follow the music. The main local objector to the din has long been the actor Warren Mitchell, erstwhile impersonator of that working-class icon, Alf Garnett. Quite fitting that, I always think.

This article first appeared in the 09 August 1999 issue of the New Statesman, Immortal longings grow again