We were reminded of the truth of Hartley’s aphorism yesterday when six of us took a cab into the deep south of Warwickshire to eat in the 1970s. Our destination was a restaurant called The Butcher’s Arms, a quite beautiful building in a small hamlet, which has an iconic reputation amongst a certain class in that part of the county.
It was an illuminating experience, in which we appeared to be playing minor roles in a comedy of town and country manners, a latter-day re-write of She Stoops To Conquer.
This is not intended to be a restaurant review, although for the record I note that the wine was excellent and not unreasonably priced, and that the food was not excellent and not reasonably priced.
What was interesting was the atmosphere, the culture, of the establishment. If we had on the journey engaged in flippant thoughts that we may perhaps épate le bourgeois, it was clear from the moment we entered the bar that we were as much on display as the expensive, sports and vintage cars in the car park.
The only things that are even slightly risqué are the Pirelli calendars which adorn the walls of the lavatories.
Yet it was yesterday and is regularly full, even over-full.
I suspect this is because there is no alternative. No other establishment caters for this clientele. And so, regularly and frequently, the rich but not famous gather together to celebrate themselves and their lives and their way of life. Importantly, they can do it away from the hoi polloi, from those who – like the six of us – do not share their values.
It would be unfair to say that we were unwelcome, but we were not welcomed. We watched the fawning service on the other tables, but did not experience it. Wine was not offered to us to try, but merely deposited on the table. The waiting staff, so ubiquitous for others, failed to make eye contact or acknowledge that, as later arrivals were presented with their main courses, we had yet to order our starters.
It was a salutary experience for all of us. Accustomed to a milieu which is multi-racial, multi-cultural and all-embracing, this exclusiveness was alien to us. We did feel as if we had stepped into a foreign country. We did feel that they do things differently. We did feel excluded.
This was not a class issue. It was not even about some Weberian complication regarding status.
What we had done was stumble into a cult.
We were watching a form of ritual, a kind of Masonic practice which only adepts are able to appreciate.
Today's listening: Rick Gekoski on Radio 4. I intend to review his new book Lost, Stolen or Shredded when I have given it due consideration. Watch this space.