You can always spot a nouveau riche by his henna jar


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t was at that delicious time of day immediately prior to luncheon. Our very select Reading Group sat in the library of The Travellers Club, mulling over the business of the day. We had, as you will soon gather, been greatly enjoying a magisterial new tome on a particularly knotty social problem.

Whither Kosovo? "You can tell by his haircut that Milosevic is a nouveau," quoth I, adding ruminatively, "No gentleman would ever ask his barber for such fancy scissor-work. And do I detect the tell-tale curls of a blow drier at hand? I rest my case."

"But surely one can blow-dry one's hair and yet still remain a gentleman?" asked my young confrere Simon Heffer, no stranger, methinks, to the henna jar.

"The last gentleman to blow-dry his hair was King Edward VIII," I opined, "and look what happened to him."

The others purred agreement. "Vulgar, vulgar, vulgar," said my old friend and quaffing partner Lord Charteris, stirring his coffee employing only his penis, as is correct.

"Pardon me," chimed in Hughie Trevor-Roper, "but King Edward VIII was no gentleman. His father and his grandfather both sported beards. No gentleman has ever sported a beard. I rest my case."

"But did his family not date back to the Normans, Hughie?" asked Roy Strong, a novice in these matters.

"I don't care whether they date back to the Freds, the Sharons or the Kevins, they are still fearfully common," snapped Hughie, dipping the end of his necktie into his coffee and sucking on it in the approved manner. "Look at the Queen Mother! She might have stepped out from behind the bar at The Rover's Return bearing a half-pint of lemonade shandy!"

"The Rover's Return?" quoth young Heffer. "I'm afraid you've quite lost me there, Hughie."

"And what on earth is a lemonade shandy?" quoth I. "A motor-car, is it? Or some sort of household gadget?"

"Gadget, Wallace? Gadget?" spluttered Roy Strong. "I trust you are employing the word with a fair dollop of irony! No gentleman EVER says the word gadget, you know!"

"Vulgar, vulgar, vulgar," chipped in Charteris.

"One's revulsion towards the word dates back to the days of Sir Sidney Gadget, the nouveau riche Victorian entrepreneur," elucidated Roy. "The moment it was discovered that he had invented the toothbrush, society dropped him like a hot brick.

"Just as they had dropped Sir Algernon Brick, less than two hundred years earlier," added Heffer, "Neither he nor his wife, Lady Cynthia, ever recovered."

How very stimulating our Reading Group discussions can prove! We had all, you will have gathered, been inwardly digesting J Mordaunt Crook's magisterial new work, The Rise of the Nouveaux Riches. As you might imagine, it had served only to increase our vigilance against this ongoing social problem.

"Of course, the Bricks were forced to change their name, in the hope that they might one day be accepted back into society," said Hughie. "But they chose badly and their ploy failed miserably."

Roy's ears pricked up. "To what did they change their name?" he asked.

"Sir Algernon and Lady Cynthia Toilet," explained Hughie with an ill- concealed grimace.

At this point, the library doors swung open. A young couple strode in, all over-pressed clothes and eager smiles. "Vulgar, vulgar, vulgar!" muttered Charteris. It was HRH Prince Edward, escorting his fiancee, Miss (Msssss!) Sophie Rhys-Jones on a whistle-stop tour of the club.

"Don't look now," hissed Heffer, puckering his lips. "But I think he's holding her hand!"

"Eeyurgh!" we all groaned in unison.

"No man and woman should ever hold hands," said Trevor-Roper. "Unless, of course, the gentleman is on his death-bed, his will is about to be read, and no qualified doctor is available to take his pulse."

The Royal Couple continued to scurry about the library, blissfully unaware that they were the objects of our social analysis. "I see the Prince wears tassels on his shoes," I whispered.

"Tassels were invented by Rodney Tassel in the late 18th century," hissed Roy Strong. "The family still live at Tassel Castle in Rutland, but they're never invited out."

"No doubt the pair of them will wave after their wedding," said Hughie. "The Windsors are always waving. They don't know any better."

"Vulgar, vulgar, vulgar!" confirmed Charteris, picking his nose with thumb and forefinger, in the approved manner.

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