Dom Joly: I'm what's wrong with this bloody country

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The Independent Online

I don't think I'll ever fit in down here in the Cotswolds, thank God. Take the other night: Stacey and I went to our favourite gastropub. As always, the place was fairly packed and we were put in a corner between two other tables.

I have a terrible habit/talent for eavesdropping and Stacey really hates the fact that I can tell her the background story of the surrounding tables from any meal we have together. I admit that this hypersensitive hearing ability is a touch rude and slightly at odds with my inability to hear Stacey when she's shouting stuff at me from another room. Hearing can be such a delicate, selective process sometimes.

Anyway, we're in this pub and I started tuning into the two neighbouring tables. One was full of polo players, fresh from a chukka. At the head of the table sat a gorgeous and athletic Sloaney girl. She was surrounded by handsome Argentinean, Australian and local men - it was like a scene from a Jilly Cooper novel - all hormones and machismo. They were involved in a fierce argument on the relative merits of French and Argentinean polo ponies.

Eventually, I turned my attention away from this table to the couple sitting to our left. They were a sour-faced duo, both about 60 years old, sipping gin and tonics while looking disapprovingly at everyone around them. The copy of the Daily Mail sticking out of her bag spoke volumes.

I fine-tuned my antennae and quickly got them coming in loud and clear. He'd been to some party the previous evening and was filling her in on events. "It was a Conservative function..." he was saying. "Big surprise," I said softly.

"There were a couple of MPs at the meal so I took the opportunity to give them some advice..."

"I bet they enjoyed that," I muttered on.

"I told them that Cameron simply must wear a tie. He was on telly the other night, shirtsleeves and no tie - it's just not on. There's enough bloody dressing down in this country already." He looked around the pub and I ducked behind my slow-cooked Moroccan lamb. His cold eyes settled on the polo players for a moment. Although they were just about the most wholesome youths it would be possible to find in the entire country, he gave them a look that suggested he was observing some debauched Satanic ritual.

Then his stare turned to me and I could feel the withering heat of his disapproval start to melt my harissa. He looked down at my three-quarter-length shorts and moved rapidly upwards to my T-shirt with undisguised disgust.

I have to admit to feeling slightly guilty that, by not coming to the pub wearing a suit and tie, I was somehow letting the whole country down. I worried that I might be disrespecting all those who'd gone before me and fought and died in wars for my right to have a quiet supper in a local gastropub with my wife. All this, and I'd not even bothered to dress up for the occasion. I was ashamed. I was what was wrong with this bloody country. It was like an evening with my own dad, feeling ashamed because I didn't live up to expectations.

Then I looked at the sour-faced old man more closely. He was wearing brown suede slip-on loafers with bright yellow socks, violent red-cord trousers, and a black-and-white checked shirt finished off with a pale-blue cravat. His ruddy red face was pockmarked by years of gin abuse. The idea that the future of the United Kingdom rested on the aesthetic tastes of this colourblind sourpuss was laughable. Back in polo corner, the beautiful people ordered another round of pints and the bushy white eyebrows of my grumpy neighbour lifted themselves even higher in an almost Olympian sign of disapproval.

When we got up to go, I clocked him giving me another disapproving up-and-down inspection. I couldn't resist - as we passed his table and headed for the door, I leant down and whispered in his ear: "The future is ours." And thank God it is.

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