These honking young toffs are so depressing

There is something unusually depressing about the young toff: its smirking face, its ingrained snobbery, its utter lack of interest in the outside world
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The Independent Online

In this vintage summer of British stupidity, not too much attention will probably be paid to the reports emanating from Rock, the Cornish village where the upper-middle class traditionally send their teenage children to surf, drink and lose their virginity. The local MP Paul Tyler has complained of "rich, spoilt brats with more money than sense". There have been stories of rowdiness, drug-taking, under-age drinking and wild beach parties.

In this vintage summer of British stupidity, not too much attention will probably be paid to the reports emanating from Rock, the Cornish village where the upper-middle class traditionally send their teenage children to surf, drink and lose their virginity. The local MP Paul Tyler has complained of "rich, spoilt brats with more money than sense". There have been stories of rowdiness, drug-taking, under-age drinking and wild beach parties.

None of that will surprise or worry the parents of the rich, spoilt brats too much. A summer in Rock has become a sort of contemporary finishing school where the finer points of etiquette required in a shag-and-booze society are learnt among people of one's own class. "The background of the types that come to Rock is that of public school, and they are not violent," a local publican is reported as saying. "I would rather have my customers than those in the pubs in Newquay."

But, of course: one glance at the photographs reveals that the teenagers in Rock belong to a different species from the pot-bellied holidaymakers to be found stuffing their faces with fish and chips in the more downmarket seaside resorts. With their glowing tans, lean limbs, their locks of heavy, lustrous hair, they would be incomparably less intimidating than, say, a chair-wielding lout in Charleroi or a shell-suited mum from Portsmouth stimulated into an ecstasy of outrage by a tabloid newspaper.

Yet, in their way, these primped, braying hoorays convey a more depressing truth about the world in which we live than their fellow hooligans. Behind many of the yobs whom we saw in action in Belgium and Holland will lie a history of parental indifference, under-equipped schools, exhausted teachers and defeated social workers. Similarly, the bewildered childrencarrying "Hang the paedophile" banners in Paulsgrove seem unlikely to grow up free of bigotry, having, from an early age, been taught lessons in morality and justice by the News of the World .

The stupidity of the jeunesse dorée of Rock is of a different order. From the moment they drew their first breath, they have been privileged. Coached by private tutors since the age of four, they have attended prep schools and then public schools where, thanks to the apartheid of our educational system, they have had access to facilities, space and a quality of teaching denied to the other 93 per cent of the population.

What emerges at the end of it all is, more often than not, a sort of willed isolation from the rest of the world, a sense of sneering entitlement of which the high jinks reported in this week's newspapers are the first sign. A small number of them may be bright or brave enough to escape from the gilded straitjacket of class snobbery, but most will become as ossified and arrogant in their attitudes as their parents.

There is something unusually depressing about the young toff: its smirking face, its dead eyes, its ingrained snobbery, its utter lack of interest in the outside world, its complete set of bigoted, supremacist views, handed down from generation to generation like a precious family heirloom. There is nothing new here, as anyone who has attended a debs' dance or charity ball in the past will know, but somehow one had thought that the social shake-up of the Eighties, followed by the empathy-obsessed Nineties, would bring us a few steps closer to John Major's mythical "classless society".

Obviously, this was naïve. Among the revellers of Rock are sometimes to be found the princes Harry and William. If the sainted role models of the country's Royal Family are encouraged to be at ease in their isolated, class-based privilege, why should the goofy, honking progeny of other families be any different?

terblacker@aol.com

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