Monday, 12 October 2009

A tale of two balls

Warning - this post is clean, but contains disturbing traces of snobbery

The more I learn of England, the more I am convinced I am an alien. Either that or everyone else is normal and I'm deeply eccentric. Or that I've had a bizarrely skewed upbringing. Or all three.

What am I on about?

Well, this weekend last Mrs Byard and I had a rare opportunity to go out and socialise, not once but twice. On Friday, we attended a charity ball at a converted stately home set in the rural magnificence of Berkshire (or was it Hampshire? Somewhere near the border, anyway); and on Sunday we turned up to an Indonesian community party in a village hall definitely in Berkshire, and indeed perilously close to Mrs Pouncer.

The charity ball was in part organised by some of Mrs Byard's new work colleagues (she's just started a new job), and she felt it would be a good opportunity to socialise with them and scare them by presenting me. The tickets were quite reasonably priced, and clearly stated that the dress code was black tie. Now one's formative experiences in ball-going were during one's Oxford years, during which - as a friend of mine put it "one learns three important life skills - how to tie one's own bow tie, how to punt, and one has forgotten the other one."

So out came the dinner suit, cummerbund, mirror-polished patent leather pumps, dress shirt, lapis-lazuli cufflinks and hand-tied blue paisley bow-tie to match (because black tie need not be black for a jolly social occasion. Mrs Byard looked radiant in a full-length gown the colour of which I can't quite describe but if pressed would call "grey with a hint of lilac" and a lilac-ish shawl of that flimsy transparent (but pretty) material the name of which I've forgotten. Mrs Pouncer would know. (It's a good job I'm not a celebrity columnist, isn't it? Can you imagine what a butt-clenchingly embarrasing mess I'd make of describing the frocks worn by A-listers on the red carpet?)

Anyway, we had got it about right. For our table. Mrs Byard's colleagues were indeed in decent evening dress, but with bow-ties in various jolly hues to match or compliment their partners' evening gowns. Our fellow guests on other tables, however, seemed to lack the poise and savoir-whatsit that a decent upbringing and/or education delivers. They were, one would guess, rat-faced estate agents and similar riff-raff who had no concept of "black tie" and for whom a grey polyester off-the-peg chain-store suit is the smartest thing they own. But they had read and acted on the words "black tie" by wearing straight, black ties; and consequently looked like rat-faced estate agents attending a funeral. They then descended on the bar to equip themselves with pints of lager in plastic "glasses" and blue vodka concoctions for their loud, over-made up accompanying slappers, after which they descended into looking like pissed rat-faced estate agents attending a funeral. There was also a live band playing ABBA covers after dinner, which effected a gender segregation of which a Saudi Imam would have approved, were it not for the fact that he wouldn't have approved of the pissed slappers threatening the dance-floor with imminent collpase and the rat-faced funereal estate-agents forming a lager-crazed scrum at the bar.

There are times when I horrify myself with my own opinions about the people around me. This was one of them. I stress that it was a worthwhile cause, that anyone willing to turn up and support a major cancer charity is worthy of praise rather than snobbish sarcasm and that Mrs Byard's colleagues are lovely people. But even so...

Anyway, event number 2 - a belated Lebaran (end of Ramadhan) party with the local Indonesian community at the village hall. Entrance price - none (but bring food...)Dress code - none (but batik is always appropriate). Alcohol - none. Band - us, playing gamelan. Games and face-painting for kids, silly party games for grown-ups thrown in for good measure. Money raised - £800 for the Sumatran earthquake appeal, so again a worthy charitable cause benefitted. A fantastic time was had by all. What I particularly like about Indonesian parties is that Indonesians are capable of having uproarious fun without needing a drink first. And they understand their own dress codes. And they don't dance like knob-ends.

Does even thinking such thoughts make me a bad person?

10 comments:

Daphne Wayne-Bough said...

Reading is snob central. Just look - you, Vi Hornblower, Mrs P, my aunty Dolores .... Vera Slapp grew up there and has now got even snobbier and moved to Dorchester on Thames, Wallingford was getting too scuzzy! oh I've come over all nostalgic for Huntley & Palmers. A gay bowtie to match your wife's frock is just as chavvy as the estate agents, Gyppo, and I speak as someone who's had Ambassadors eating Ferrero rochers out of my décolleté.

Gyppo Byard said...

I see your point, but in m'defence it was not my bow-tie that matched my wife's frock. Nor - heaven forfend - did it match my cummerbund or the silk hanky protruding from my breast pocket. At the last ambassadorial do I attended, I wore batik. And Ferrero Rochers are hardly the height of chocolate sophistication, now, are they?

No Good Boyo said...

Some nations/classes are simply more comfortable in their skin, is what I reckon.

One of the marvels of living in Uzbekistan was watching how a group of Uzbek strangers would size one another up and gracefully and graciously arrange themselves around the carpet or table in order or social seniority. One instinctively knows...

Any Brit who has to buy his own clothes or furniture, however, will act like a Dutchman. Not that you'd ever see one of them at a charity event.

Kerrie said...

I am sorry to say that not many men now own a cummerbund, a great loss in my opinion.
I think the fabric you were looking for is chiffon.
I take it there weren't any party dances at this do?. You can't beat a rat faced estate agent doing Wig Wam Bam.

The Jules said...

As a right sofisticated type myself, I enjoy a cummerbund every now and then as it goes well with mash.

Gyppo Byard said...

Boyo - I think you've put your finger on it. And in my case - with my natural social awkwardness, mongreloid ancestry and class-mobile upbringing - I'm more comfortable being an obvious outsider. The Indonesians are generally very welcoming, and suitably impressed by the fact that I play gamelan. Maybe I should just give in and move back there...

Kerrie - a man without tie-able bow-ties, smart cuff-links and at least one cummerbund is but an oik, in my humble opinion. And chiffon is indeed the word I was groping for. Ta! The dancing was just getting into its stride when we left, citing the need to retrieve Guthlac from his babysitter.

Jules - "Cummerbund Sausage"? Rings a vague bell. I think I had it on video when I was a teenager, until my mother found it under my bed and there was A Scene.

inkspot said...

Gyppo, your Oxford education is showing through.

Or should that be paying off?

Gadjo Dilo said...

I don't think it makes you a bad person - give me batik and the gamelaners* any day. And I think you'd be ok describing the "A-listers on the red carpet": "Whatsaname, you know, her off of that film, is wearing, oh, I dunno, looks a bit flimsy, amazing what they can get away with selling in TopShop these days."

* Also the name of an 80s synth-pop band, I believe.

Gyppo Byard said...

Inkspot - indeed. As an Orielense of my acquaintance put it "The most valuable thing about an Oxford education is that it enables you to treat the other chap's opinion with the contempt it deserves."

Gadjo - there's a recurring sketch character in here - "Bloke Celebrity Fashion Journalist": "And here comes someone or other getting out of their 1975 Rolls Royce Phantom VI - that's with the four-speed automatic gearbox used prior to 1979, of course. And whoever it is is wearing a long frock of a sort of bluey-red thingummy.... Waving to the crowd... the Phantom of course with bodywork by Mulliner Park Ward - very smooth ride provided by coil springing in front, but leaf springs in the rear... This star, of course, apparently never takes her top off on camera so the film probably not worth going to see anyway."

Gadjo Dilo said...

Gyppo, it's a Fast Show sketch that practically writes itself! One of us should follow this up.