Class conscious

A friend of a friend, the mother of two sons at a public school, complained to the headmaster that they had begun swearing a lot. "Well," the head breezily replied, "they pick it up at home, you know." My friend's friend was not amused, thereby proving herself to be not truly posh. The posh enjoy swearing because they don't care what anyone thinks of them.

Some other people I know were charmed when, on sports day at their children's prep school, they heard the headmaster shout: "Run like bloody hell, boys!"

I myself swear quite a lot, often at my children. I was inspired to do so by a documentary focusing on Kevin Maxwell at the time of his trial on charges arising from the collapse of his father's business empire. Kevin's interestingly sinewy and astringent wife, Pandora, who certainly sounds as if she is straight out of the top drawer, was featured effing and blinding - in a very loving way, you understand - in the presence of her many children. (When a group of heavily built men turned up at her house to arrest Kevin at dawn, it will be remembered, Pandora leant out of her bedroom window and yelled, "Piss off or I'll call the police", only for one of the blokes to mutter dourly, "We are the police, madam".)

So I began to think it was stylish to swear, another way pour epater les bourgeois. I probably lost a few friends by it, but fuck 'em.

Then, however, there came a deeply class-conscious moment when I was commissioning a magazine article from Vanessa Feltz, before she rose to fame. Some minor dispute arose and I joshed at her: "Oh fucking hell, Vanessa!"

There was a long silence down the line. "Don't swear at me," Vanessa eventually said, "you don't know me." I immediately realised that Vanessa - who is an extremely bright person, believe it or not - had detected my swearing for what it was: an aristo-boho pose, mere social bravado.

. . . But then she let me off the hook and allowed me to think that I had merely offended middle-class propriety by adding, in a voice of mock outrage: "My husband is a justice of the peace!" At least, I think it was mock outrage. Maybe I'm reading too much into all of this.