Class conscious

A few days ago, I walked into a bar in north London wearing, on an experimental basis, a denim jacket that I hoped made me look a bit like Keith Richards, circa 1972. The comedian Sean Hughes was sitting in a corner and, as I ordered a drink, he began whispering to a friend some remarks about this jacket of mine, and I don't think he was saying how much I looked like Keith Richards in 1972, or even at any time.

Now, I don't mind the ordinary pub loser taking the mickey out of my appearance, but it seemed very unfair that this successful, presumably wealthy, and genuinely - well, quite - amusing bloke should be getting in on the act. It seemed almost a paradigm of injustice.

I feel the same sense of insult added to injury when it comes to car alarms. These are the bane of any middle-class area; the smallest vibration seems to set them off, and I'd say I was woken up on one in three nights by them going off around me in Highgate.

The assumption behind a car alarm is that people fast asleep in their beds will suddenly spring into the street to defend the interests of the extremely wealthy owners of the sorts of big, flash cars that have been deafening, polluting and cutting them up on the roads all day long.

I think it's a reckless assumption, based on the conventional but facile view that the class war has come to an end. Certainly, my own feeling, on hearing a car alarm go off, is 1) irritation at the noise, and 2) a hope that the thief will hurry up and make off with the bloody thing, preferably then "totalling" it and himself somewhere a long way off.

I must admit that I'm feeling very touchy about cars just now. Our own family Skoda, which is not fitted with an alarm - partly because I disagree with them, and partly because I can't afford one - was sitting outside our house recently when a man I know who owns a much bigger car said: "I'm thinking of buying one of those." "Oh really?" I said, and we went into some gratifying man-to-man stuff about the intelligent engineering of the modern Skoda. Then he said: "Yes . . . make a lovely runaround for the wife."

This article first appeared in the 25 June 2001 issue of the New Statesman, The slow death of Tory England