Is it Posh to Have a lot of Dosh?
Are we losing societally important and distinctly English boundaries as London flings itself ever further into an orgy of instant gratification?
Column by Elizabeth Moore
London is a wonderful place to live. For me there is nowhere that compares, not that I’ve been to every city in the world, but I tend to agree with my sadly departed friend Antonio Carluccio who once explained to me why he lived in leafy Richmond thus,
“The English complain about everything. They criticise the government, the pavements, the weather, their neighbours. They live in the only truly civilised country in the world, and yet unlike the Americans they aren’t jingoistic and inward looking, instead they think Britain’s awful. That’s why I choose to live here when I could live anywhere on the planet. It is the only truly civilised place to set up home.”
High praise from an Italian Epicurean whose ring tone on his mobile was the sound of the cow bells and bird song from his beloved native Benevento. He loved this place and all it had to offer in the same way that so many of us do, but although large pockets of the countryside remain relatively unchanged, London seems to be galloping towards a new identity, one that puts stuff before substance, and more importantly, money before class.
Sitting in a quintessentially English hotel in Knightsbridge just before Christmas, I watched a man about the same age as me approach the door. He was dressed in a wool coat with a velvet collar that looked a little snug, although it was beautiful and had the look of Turnbull and Asser about it. My heart soared, as he held the door open for a woman who was on her way out, then approached the restaurant and confirmed he was there and waiting for a guest, a living illustration that manners maketh man. When he took his coat off it was to reveal what was the uniform of my father’s generation, right down to the waistcoat, bottom button left open, and polished shoes. The suit he was wearing could well have been inherited from his father but the whole was a thing of modest beauty and seemed to fit with the Christmas decorations and season of traditions. This was a gentleman who had dressed for the occasion, and the occasion was a treat, an extravagance, something not of the every day.
I ended up at a table diagonally across from him and his companion, probably his wife, excited to be there and also impeccably dressed and I watched as a party of flashy men of indecipherable origin arrived five minutes later. They didn’t speak much English and were wearing a selection of very tight floral shirts with white cuffs and collars. Block printed, purple and lime and many other colours unsuitable for December, but there you have it and while my suited object of admiration sat unserved, the party in the middle of the restaurant made up for their lack of fluent English with magnificent finger clicking skills. You might say this is and always has been the way of the world, the wallets were on the table, money clips clearly visible through the skintight shirts, but one thing was different about this picture, something unpleasant. The restaurant staff fawned on them, and the couple opposite me sat, waiting politely for the two gin and tonics they had ordered.
Meanwhile, bottles of Ace of Spades Champagne arrived stage centre, possibly the world’s flashiest wine container, gold and shiny. They were closely followed by four sets of twins, female ones, who sat down at the table amongst the flowery shirts and were each poured a glass of fizz which they silently sipped in minimal clothing.
Meanwhile in the other corner, the couple who had come in first were still waiting for their drinks, and I watched while the gloss went off their day, and the pall of poor relations settled on them in the corner.
This scene will be familiar to anyone who lives in Central London and it’s sad. The bottom line has always been a vital consideration in the London restaurant scene, there has always been a special table for regular customers, that’s the way of things. Until recently however there has also been that very British recognition that the chap who has saved up all year to take his wife to a special lunch should be treated as if he is also a regular guest and one of equal value at that.
This veneration of money to the exclusion of everything else has reached fever pitch. Restaurants that used to be just that, dining rooms that you could sit and eat lovely food in, providing a bubble away from the day to day stresses that we are all party to, are now restaurants with private clubs upstairs. Meanwhile private clubs that used to be simply private clubs now have VIP areas – VVIP areas – which is at least a bonus in that you can avoid the more ghastly members as they are all in those bits.
What does this all mean? Does it mean that a girl who travels round town in a fleet of cars with matching number plates and blackened windows has more importance than her contemporary who works in a laboratory or a school? Or does it mean that the echo chamber of 21st century life has left us all searching for a tribe, and everything from eating out to where we shop is now Instagrammed, leaving us defined by our purchases and spending habits alone? It is certainly starting to feel like it in the capital, where a hundred pounds is the new tenner, and consumption has reached improbable proportions.
Strangely though, no one seems any happier, quite the contrary. Are the Rich Kids of Instagram really something to aspire to? Is bad taste the new good taste? Strange times are upon us, when 16 year olds sit in a cordoned off area of Bluebird flashing their cash and getting on and off jets.
Human beings love a boundary, well they have for the whole history of mankind to date, anyway. If in one generation we get rid of all the traditional social conventions, from buying our own homes, saving, working hard, not buying whatever we want whenever we want it, where will we be? Perhaps instant gratification will lead us all to a new kind of life, a new place where we all live for experiences instead of taking out a mortgage, where nothing we do is our fault, where every decision from taking drugs to being raped is kidnapped by a ‘movement’ and sanitised.
I have always loved the quote ‘Don’t give up on what you want for what you want now’ and believe that delaying gratification is the defining characteristic of adulthood. Not any more it isn’t, make no mistake. This generation have a new nirvana, a life of beaches and pretty pictures, which mixes strangely with the highest suicide and depression rates in human history.
Perhaps values, traditions, less is more and kindness will make a comeback; in the meantime, restaurants will empty of customers like the gentleman on the corner table, and I will continue to feel uncomfortable that we are losing something vital to our humanity.