Chapter 50: How To Be Superior
Having been asked numerous times to offer tips on how to be superior, I feel that I must finally accede to these requests, so here are some remarks which I hope may be useful to those who need help in the matter of social climbing. Let me say at the outset that I am not seeking to rival the work of the great Stephen Potter, whose School of Lifemanship at Yeovil gave so much to so many. The eminent founder and principal of that wonderful institution had a wider remit than mine, in that he taught his pupils how to be ‘one up’ on other people in a variety of situations.
I must point out that my observations are aimed at men only. The ladies have their own etiquette in these matters and their procedures are a closed book to me. The advice given below is mainly for those who wish to move in loftier social circles than the ones to which they are accustomed. One could write a book about this, but there is no need for anybody to do so because the whole thing is much simpler than is commonly thought. A fellow can get by very nicely by bearing in mind only a small number of simple rules.
The would-be upstart must first consider his name. An unusual one is a huge advantage, and if you do not have one, you would do well to consider a change. In my case that was not necessary, for it would be hard to improve on Theseus Naseby-Goatwrangler. The male forenames in my family have long been taken from Greek mythology, my two uncles being Ajax and Achilles, while my late father was Agamemnon. Dad was known to his intimates as Aga until alcohol completed his mental decline, when the prefix ‘G’ was added to his sobriquet. If you do decide to take a new name, be imaginative. For Heaven’s sake don’t go from Smith to Smythe. That is simply too transparent.
To jump ahead for a moment, once you have joined your chosen group, you will find that other aspiring parvenus try to ingratiate themselves with you. They can be importunate, so you will have to demonstrate that you are a cut above them, without overtly insulting them. Your best course is to refer to all of them as John, even if you know their real names. This is a clear indication that you are somehow so distant from them that their true identities are of no interest to you. I have said that these comments are aimed at men. However, in this matter of address, you will need to deal with women at times. Refer to all of them as Jane. This is a nice name, faintly upmarket and perhaps slightly redolent of the ‘county’ types, so you will not cause offence. That is all on the subject of names.
Apparel is very important, but you will doubtless be pleased to learn that it is far less problematical than you might imagine. You must have a Harris Tweed jacket and it needs to be quite shapeless. I have two, purchased forty-odd years ago. They were totally amorphous when I got them and are exactly the same now. Do not take one that has a discernible form or design. I suggest a light base colour, vaguely beige/fawn/taupe or similar, with an unidentifiable reddish/brown pattern. On no account should you have leather elbow patches or cuff trims. They may be all very well for academics, but not for you. A tweed flat cap is also essential, and for goodness sake, don’t get one with a button on the top. For foul weather get a hip-length waxed mid-green coat.
You have some latitude in the matter of trousers. Thick, tough ones are best and here again I recommend a light colour. You can’t really improve on cavalry twill. Do not even think of corduroy – quirkiness can be taken too far. Your shirt should also be light – ivory is good – with a criss-cross motif of thin black, brown or dark-grey lines, to make roughly quarter-inch squares.
You should have a tie with a regimental look. It need not be the real thing, for nobody in your circle will be so uncouth as to ask you about it. Should some boorish intruder do so, your response will be to allude vaguely and dismissively to a military background, conveying the impression that you have moved on and don’t wish to wallow in the past. This presupposes that you are of sufficiently mature years. If you aren’t, just invent an excuse to leave your interlocutor and try to ensure that the two of you don’t meet again. That won’t be difficult, as the lout concerned is not likely to get a further chance to mix with those around you.
Now to footwear. A pair of stout brogues is essential. They should be light tan and must be treated with saddle soap rather than wax polish. Your aim is a dullish sheen, not a high shine. Opt for something from a top maker. These shoes are uncompromising beasts, usually referred to as bench-made, and for quite a while you will get the impression that the bench is still attached to them, or that you are lifting concrete blocks. Wearing the things is excruciating because they will make no effort to fit you, so you will have to fit them. However, the experience, painful though it may be, is necessary.