Class conscious

I spent Christmas being class-conscious in Suffolk. Things came to a head one evening as I sat trying to read The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists in a pub in Leiston dedicated to darts. Behind the bar were darts trophies, and the second most prominent fixture in the pub was a dartboard. The first most prominent feature was a huge TV screen with the volume on maximum. On this TV, a darts tournament was taking place. To one side of me, a man was playing a fruit machine replete with deafening sound effects while shouting about the darts tournament; on the other side, a second man was shouting about the darts tournament into a mobile phone that had a "Bob the Builder" ring tone.

It's a real tribute to the narrative power of Robert Tressell that I managed to get through a few pages of Philanthropists regardless. Nobody in the pub minded that I was reading a book and, given that it had nothing much to do with darts, their magnanimity was doubly impressive. Maybe they knew that my book, being about the lives of Edwardian decorators, was as much part of working-class culture as darts itself.

Or maybe not.

Later, I drove a couple of miles coastwards to Aldeburgh, where I had arranged to meet the wife for dinner. Aldeburgh was made artistically fashionable by Benjamin Britten, with the unfortunate consequence that it is now colonised during holiday periods by people from Crouch End. They - or their cultural equivalents - were all around us as we ate our meal. Now, the reason I hate media people from Crouch End is that I am, more or less, one myself, and I seemed to half-recognise everyone in the damned room, the only exception being a twinkly fellow and his wife. An old Aldeburghian, I thought approvingly . . . definitely a sea salt, with a Suffolk burr.

As I walked out of the restaurant, I held the door open for my wife, at which the sea salt leapt up. "Were ye born in a field?" he cried intemperately, in the accents of . . . well, Mayfair possibly, but certainly not Aldeburgh. Suddenly, weekenders from Crouch End seemed not so bad, "Bob the Builder" ring tones welcome indeed.