Empire lives on in Wandsworth
Wednesday 22 February 1995
What was once a lunch-time escape from the office has become a painful experience that now affords me about as much pleasure as a trip to the dentist.
It's not open-air yob culture that is driving me out, it's not gangs of marauding youths or reckless speed skaters. No, it is the borough's most upright citizens that I can't cope with. I'm talking about the Alice Band Brigade.
You see, I work in that privatised and contracted-out Arcadia that most of us know as the Borough of Wandsworth. Put down a stretch of grass and a few trees in this part of town, call it a "common", and you can guarantee that it will be overrun by people sporting Alice bands and Barbours faster than you can say "My char is a little treasure".
Tobys and Camillas stride about the park ostentatiously affecting the mien of landed gentry. They come as if to claim and survey, running their dogs and pushing monstrous perambulators before them.
They sail past, whinnying their business abroad, offering commoners like myself a glimpse through the keyhole into their fascinating social world. Nay, their insistence on holding conversations at top volume pushes our common little faces up against the said keyhole whether we like it or not.
It is partly the relentless homogeneity of this breed that I find so dispiriting. I mean, they all look the same: horsey women with little turned-up collars, hair scraped back and stapled firmly into place; horsey men in stout brogues and jumbo cords; babies that look like Winston Churchill.
This is a vision of Englishness preserved in aspic and smeared with Gentlemen's Relish. Hence their continued penchant for the infernal perambulator - sturdy, traditional, ugly. It conjures up a world of nursery custard, strict nannies, and even stricter class divisions. Basically, it is the former British Empire on wheels.
I do have a proposition, however, that would allow me to enjoy the park once more. I suggest that an enclosure be constructed within the boundaries of the common for these people, in which they might continue to exchange roulade recipes without being subjected to dreary common types like myself who don't possess a conservatory and aren't attired in the regulation uniform. Perhaps the National Trust might open a little shop on the side.
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