The chap - a species on the verge of extinction

All about, our institutions are tumbling. And now even the MCC is going native
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The Independent Culture
IT'S NOT in one's nature to whinge. The wicket may be a bit iffy, the hunter you've been lent may be going short in front, the chap in the red corner may have secreted a knuckleduster into his boxing-glove, but it's all part of the game. "Semper fidelis, mutare sperno", we used to sing at school. Which means, put into plain English, "When in doubt, hack on".

But bloody hell. There comes a time when one has to stand firm like the thin blue whatsit at the battle of wherever, and say, "Now hold hard, old chum. This far, and no further."

Because, frankly, the chaps have had enough. Week by week, the great tide of the unwashed, the publicly educated, the female and the plain ordinary rises around one's ankles. All about, our institutions are tumbling. And now even the MCC is going native.

Save the pound, they say. Save the planet. Surely to goodness, it's time someone spoke up on behalf one of Britain's greatest cultural assets. Save the chap.

Not that one wants to be in charge. Clearly the days have gone when the country was run by nice old boys in plus-fours who worked out their sums for the Budget with the help of a box of matches.

Some might say that we could do with the quiet dignity of a Sir Alec Douglas-Home rather than the grinning twit of 10 Downing Street, the robust stupidity of a Henry Brooke rather than the bespectacled swot now at the Home Office, but not me. Let them have their mobile phones and electronic calculators, their "kids" and pints of "lager".

On the other hand, without a single chap in the Cabinet, a certain quiet authority seems to have vanished from our public life. Even when the plump sailor with the tortured vowels was in charge, there were a few gents to be found in government, usually in charge of something marginal, like agriculture or education.

Pym, Hogg, Whitelaw, Hurd, Carrington, Nott. Chaps who had been brought up to understand that in this life being too clever by half impresses the ordinary man a good deal less than a decent accent. When things turned tricky and the natives were getting restless in some God-forsaken part of the world - Aden, Rhodesia, the Falklands, the Balkans, Belfast - it was a chap who would step out of the pavilion, with his air of natural authority and slightly dull integrity, to play with a straight bat on behalf of his country.

Where are the chaps of yesteryear? Those who have bigger houses have been obliged to open them to the public, allowing hordes of Darrens and Sharons with their nans and their Rottweilers to traipse across the croquet lawn in shell-suits and trainers or to watch, from behind a silken rope, as a real live chap has breakfast with his family. Others, in a doomed attempt to be normal, have grown beards or taken to running restaurants.

Bloodlines are getting thinner, you see. Once, the fact that most chaps weren't too bright when it came to earning a living was regarded as a sign of character. Now it counts against them. They've sold their pictures, their libraries, their ornamental cannons. They've married Americans. Soon they're not even going to be allowed to collect a bit of pocket-money by snoozing through a debate in the House of Lords.

Where once they might have shuffled down to the Garrick or to Lord's for a snifter and a zizz over a copy of The Times, they will now found they have been invaded, too. Unisex. Dear God.

It's not that chaps have got anything against women per se. Nothing could be more agreeable than the twitter of female company over a dinner table. But when the cigars and brandy come out, surely it's not too much to ask for the ladies to fall out, and go somewhere else to talk about their infernal recipes and relationships.

However well behaved they are - and one gathers that many of the ladies who wish to join the MCC can be quite useful in the deep field - their presence will change Lord's for ever. A sort of perfumed otherness will hang in the air, an ever-present reminder of the domestic, the trivial. What next? Bring-and-buy sales at the Beefsteak? Tupperware parties at White's?

One longs to raise one's voice, to resist in some way, but one's enslaved to one's breeding. Making a fuss is simply not on.

But surely the chap is as worthy of preservation as any old and precious building or medieval hedgerow? After all, he's part of one's heritage. D'you see?

Miles Kington is on holiday

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