travel & outdoors: Still a small matter of class

Serena Mackesy on the all-year whirl of our society leaders
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The Independent Travel
You don't have to be unemployed to be affected by seasonal adjustments. According to the Handbook to the Season, which accompanies this month's Tatler magazine, the social whirl now runs from the Grand National on 3 April to the Boxing Day dyspepsia of the King George VI Chase at Kempton Park.

Actually, according to Gerri Gallagher, the enthusiastic American who edits this tome, it doesn't stop there. "Really," she says, "it's all year round these days".

Veuve Cliquot print a little pocket-sized calendar that starts in February and goes on to December. "That's not to say that there aren't things going on in January; it's just that we haven't made the decision to do a 12- month calendar yet". Tatler seem to have applied broad rules to what constitutes a Seasonal event: if entry requires a significant outlay of dosh on tickets, clothes and related equipment, then it's in. Thus next month's schedule includes the Benson and Hedges International Open Golf, the Monaco Grand Prix, the FA Cup Final and the Nations Cup showjumping.

Showjumping? The dowager duchess will be turning in her grave. Although horsey pursuits have always had an important place in the social scheme, showjumping was not part of it. The Princess Royal evented. Harvey Smith showjumped. The traditional British squeamishness about money was such that no sport was conscionable for a gentleman if it was possible to make a living from it. We hunt, darling. We don't follow soccer.

Gerri is adamant that this has changed. "I think this is just a reflection of the the real push away from this social class thing that everyone's so anxious to achieve in England," she says. "I think it's just an excuse for everybody to go out and enjoy all the things that are on offer. And there's a lot of corporate sponsorship now, which allows the events to have dignity and prestige because they've got the backing".

Certainly, Corporate Sponsorship, Corporate Entertainment and the like have rescued many a doldrum-afflicted event and opened up the prospect of attendance to the successful members of car companies' sales teams, but, let's face it, we may pretend to be breaking down the class system, but in reality we remain a nation of cliques.

There are, as there always have been, two seasons. The one that gets the coverage is the one where milliners' mothers clash elbows in search of photo opportunities.

Then there's the real one, which no amount of money can buy you into. Once upon a time you got to be a deb by bobbing to the queen. Now you tug your forelock to Tatler's Peter Townend, the man who does The List. You can go to every event in the calendar, but you still won't have done a Season.

The numbers involved in the Real Season are tiny - an elevated social commentator estimates that there are only 150 real debs every year - and, though these lambs are no longer under pressure to catch a spouse before they're 19, the intent is still deadly serious. There is but one aim in mind: a big black book of suitables. My commentator called it "networking with other girls".

If you network with other girls, you get to meet their brothers, and their brothers' friends.

"Virtually no-one marries someone from their season any more," says Social Commentator.

A tad disingenuous. Most debs do currently go on to higher education and a job on the administrative side of the creative professions. But the bottom line remains: our upper classes may pay lip service to their daughters mixing with a variety of people, and look fondly on their sons' enthusiasm for Chelsea FC, but woe betide the offspring who brings home a cutie with a regional accent.

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