A Harrods' rubbish bag - joke or not - must be the apogee of what might be called Club Class Culture. It is the sort of chic accoutrement which accompanies a way of life defined by gold-star status: 'executive club' luggage tags, 'exclusive air-terminal facilities', cars with fake radiator grilles (such as the new Rover 600), big car keys that will not fit comfortably into any pocket, gold credit cards and five-star, country-house hotels.
Club Class people wear insignia that can be read as clearly as masonic handshakes or the pips and 'scrambled egg' denoting military rank. It seems curious that such conceits should still be considered important, or even sensible, during the depths of a particularly dismal recession. German business executives learnt long ago to remove the badges on the bootlids of their Mercedes-Benzes, so that it was impossible for anyone to tell whether their car was at the top of the range or somewhere in the middle. You may be excessively well off, but do not flaunt the fact in times of hardship.
Club Class Culture is a little less crude than the fad for 'designer labels' that infected status-conscious consumers in the Eighties, but it represents a similar sign of insecurity on the part of those who positively want to be taken in by it. The selling of Club Class Culture is a brilliant move by companies who want to add value to perfectly ordinary goods and services, from rubbish bags to air tickets. A 10p black plastic bin-liner does its job perfectly well; so, too, does an Economy ticket on most flights. Who needs those dove-tailed meals 35,000ft above the Atlantic? Who wants matching beige and peach fabrics in their hotel room?
Some people do and, as in any walk of life, one person's idea of status is another's embarrassment. It has long been accepted in Britain that the smartest men's suits carry no label (if there is one, it is tucked inside a pocket in the lining); the same rule applies to the best shoes, shirts and luggage. Nevertheless, there are plenty of people sporting label-less suits who carry briefcases with Club Class tags.
Most of us have fallen prey at some time to Club Class Culture, either out of a sudden need to prove that we have got somewhere in life - at least financially - or because we are sucked in by the sheer brilliance of those who tempt us with such dangerous and usurious goods as gold and platinum credit cards. It is more stylish and far cheaper to use cash, yet once you have got used to the ease of credit card debt, they have you in their grasp.
Club Class Culture can, nevertheless, be elevating - literally. Hire a car and pay with the right card and you will be told you have been 'upgraded'. Instead of a Voxpop Banal GL, your Club Class status has enabled you to drive a Popvox Super GLX. Often the reason for being 'upgraded' is that the car-hire pool has run out of small 'Group One' cars and they need to fob you off with anything they can find, even if it is the biggest they have got. By being told you have been 'upgraded' you feel well done by: status has been conferred on you.
If Club Class Culture is about ersatz status, it can never really add up to much. The best clubs are not impressed by how much you earn or even by the cut of your jib. If they like your face, the way you talk or the set you move in, you are in. Moreover, Club Class, in whatever guise it takes, is no guarantee of quality.
This is certainly true of hotels. Many of Britain's most delightful hotels are starless or, at best (or is it worst?), carry one star. This is because they provide charm, hospitality and unspoilt buildings at the expense of 'facilities'. The more stars, the more likelihood of a business conference taking place on the weekend you choose to go; and a great number of stars mean over-heated, double-glazed rooms, barmen in polyester dicky-bows who call you 'sir' or 'madam' (when their eyes say something less kind), ambitious interior decor, gourmet cuisine and alarm-call telephones.
Such hotels are often 'within easy reach' of an 'international airport'; their guests flew here Club Class, tags attached to their executive luggage. They paid by precious-metal credit card. What a way to waste money; but then, if you can sell green and gold monogrammed rubbish bags at pounds 3.25 for a packet of 10 in the depressed Britain of 1993, you know that Club Class Culture is far from being consigned to the rubbish bin.