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?