Class conscious - Andrew Martin does his last Class act
As Martha Stewart said: "Not many people know that there are eight types of basil"
Terrorism has not stopped me thinking in terms of class. For instance, I detected a certain satisfaction in the tone of a BBC reporter who announced that a car allegedly belonging to one of last month's bombers had been found in "leafy, suburban north London". But I know that not many people share my world-view. I suppose the virtues I aim for are those attributed to the 19th-century aristocracy: elegance, learning lightly worn; an aversion to the brashness of the working class and the priggishness of the middle. I am still trying not to be like Kipps in Wells's novel, or Mr Pooter in Diary of a Nobody.
It follows that I would like to be able to tie my own tie knot if invited to a black-tie function. I did learn once, but I am invited to black-tie events so infrequently that I forget how to do it in between times, which is why I keep a set of pictorial instructions in my sock drawer reading: "How to Tie the Bow Tie". I'm attached to the definite article in that title, and to the skimpy illustrations. I imagine the artist must have felt very proud of being able to convey all the complicated ins and outs of bow-tie tying with a few simple arrows. Unfortunately the arrows are incomprehensible, but I know there are fewer people every year who might look to see whether I've tied my own knot, much less care about it. And I admit that I regret this.
When I suggested the idea of "Class Conscious" to the previous deputy editor of the New Statesman, I had it in mind to satirise such petty refinements as bow-tie etiquette, but in writing the column I have found myself romantically drawn to them as they are increasingly ignored. This has brought on a loss of bearings, a sense of panic, like those times when I've swum deep down in the sea and forgotten which way is up.
The panic is because I'm supposed to be a socialist (although I haven't been a member of the Labour Party for years, and I have now joined the Greens); also because I feel out of time. I recently walked past a car designed to look like some sort of cross between a giant mobile phone and a small casino. A blue light glimmered from beneath; the glittering wheel spokes spun in reverse even while the car was stationary, which, as an optical illusion, was like watching Michael Jackson do the moonwalk. The car might have been in London N6, but the sound of the bass on its sound system could have had tiles sliding off roofs as far away as N19.
When I got married, my father-in-law gave me one piece of advice: don't buy a car with tinted windows. This particular car had tinted windows, so I couldn't see whether the driver was black, which he might well have been. In writing this column, I've found that bling scrambles all my signals completely. What do you say about it? That it's non-U? Infra dig? Maybe the style itself is a form of satire. I don't know and I don't care.
Another thing that exhausts me is the gentrification associated with the Blair years. About ten years ago I attended a lecture given in London by Martha Stewart. She said, "Not many people know that there are eight types of basil." I wouldn't say that many people know it now, but a lot more do than did back then. Consumerism has replaced class, but class was more fun to write about.
I will keep my bow-tie instructions in my sock drawer, and every so often I'll take them out, together with the black silk tie itself, and stand in front of the mirror, trying to make the knot come out looking right but endearingly off-kilter. I will do this in the privacy of my own bedroom, however, which is another way of saying that this will be my last Class Conscious column. Thank you to all my regular readers.
Andrew Martin will continue to write features for the NS