“Do you enjoy these games? In which the player must appear ridiculous?”
“Sir Richard, life is a game in which the player must appear ridiculous”.
There is something fascinating in the way many people take themselves too seriously. They aspire to be something they admire, and feel threatened by anything that would make them appear lesser than that.
I’ve grown up being taught that true nobility doesn’t brag. You do charity in private, don’t buy clothes that flash a brand all over them, never make someone else feel out of place and remember that virtue is not something you gain with money, and it’s not something loss of money will take away from you. You could say that nouveaux riches was one of my first words as a toddler, if you must.
Someone once said I’m like straight out of Brideshead, and maybe it’s true. I long for a different age of chivalry.
I spend a lot of my academic efforts answering the question of what it meant to be noble for the aristocracy of Early Modern England and Scotland. It’s a fascinating insight into the minds and culture of people long gone.
The problem of people who try too hard to prove themselves to be up to a certain standard seems to have followed humanity around for centuries. In fact, all sorts of groups of people have the same dynamics.
I went to celebrate my birthday with a friend, having tea at the Morton Hotel, just off Russell Square.
The Library is a delightful lounge whose design is inspired by Charleston House, the escape in the country of the Bloomsbury group. I love the many different areas which complement each other and melt into a pleasant mix of incoherent styles, and I love to relax away from the hustle and bustle of the university campus with a pot of tea and good conversation. As a teenager and literature student from an artistic family, I have always been fascinated by the Bloomsbury group. I don’t agree with most of their ideas, and even romanced in the BBC’s “Life in Squares” they definitely appear as a self-congratulatory clique of snobs promoting their own brand of high culture (which coincidentally was their own) like a lot of politically-minded groups of today. They appeal to me like an exotic tribe, discovering how different and how similar they are from mine. I’ve never warmed up to the style of Virginia Woolf, but always felt close to her as a woman. It’s like a relative I have nothing in common with, yet feel privileged to have in the family.
There is so much about her in the bar at the Morton that it feels like meeting her at a family reunion.
The choice of teas is just a limited Twining range, but the selection of cakes was delightful. I’ve had afternoon tea there in the past and it was very nice, but nothing like those little bites of loveliness.
That evening, I had a much less fancy dinner at one of the local pubs, the Pratts and Payne (SW16). Unknown to me at the time of booking my table, the pub is named after two staples of Streatham’s culture: the department store Pratts and madam and MP candidate Cynthia Payne. As it’s the case with most of my decisions, I’ve picked it because I liked the retro interiors I spied passing by when running errands. The pub is one of those smart-casual relaxed atmospheres, and while the food selection can probably count as a gastro-pub it had none of the pretences that usually go with it. To accompany it, a selection of ales and ciders from smaller breweries, as well as a friend’s favourite (obsession) Blue Moon, which really makes a difference. What truly made me fall in love with it though was the powder room in the ladies’, a properly retro finishing touch.
I would have loved to know if it was a hat tip to Cynthia Payne, as it seems just the kind of boudoir that would have suit her in her younger days, judging from the photos on the wall behind us at the table.
Streatham isn’t as glamorous as the neighbouring Clapham, or as funky as the neighbouring Brixton, but it makes for a nice night out all the same.
That exchange between the Dowager Countess of Grantham and Sir Richard Carlisle must be one of my favourite moments in six series of Downton Abbey. A certain someone about has been teasing me throughout the Christmas holidays for my succession of semi-formal posh dinners, and I find it endearing, knowing that while I cherish my mother’s crystals and porcelains and hope to steal them when I get married, I’m equally comfortable stealing his gravy at KFC.
Turning 27 means I’m at a stage in my life I should know who I am and be comfortable with it, and confidence and a smile are all you need to change your surroundings, whatever they may be.