Last weekend I visited Romsey, a small market town near Southampton, to do the weekly shop. Normally it's a fairly sleepy place, but from the second I got out of the car I could hear that unmistakable quavering sound on the wind of enthusiastic semi-pro rock bands playing live. It was a very sunny day, and the town was heaving with people -- I had walked straight into the annual Beggars Fair, "a free festival of music, dance and street entertainment, around 70 acts in 20 venues in a day and a half of non-stop entertainment, all around the town of Romsey". Oh, God.
I do my best not be a curmudgeon, but being among the British middle classes en fête brings out the worst in me. It's the men, mainly. Over the last decade, a whole style of conspicuous consumption has evolved, whereby regional account managers and systems analysts are keen to be seen in public doing leisure. This involves elaborate hi-tech sandals, calf-length shorts, an expensive "leisure" shirt, designer sunglasses (which they, without irony, would call "shades"), and quite often an annoying (nay, idiotic) hat. An all-over tan and a close-cropped head to disguise the bald spot are also essential. And drink, lots of drink. Kenton from The Archers is their archetype. This is a style picked up on expensive foreign holidays, in yachting marinas, and on gap year adventures. Clutching pints, knots of these grinning dorks stand around at events like the Romsey Beggars Fair, doing leisure.
The younger generation are even more annoying. The junior regional account managers and their little gangs of drinking buddies clearly spend more time in the gym than is healthy, and want you to know it. Shirts off, gentlemen! Check the abs! (but you can leave your hat on). And they're all so tall and good-looking! I suppose they must throw away the duff ones when they're babies, like Spartans. And, amazingly, the fashion for elaborate upper torso tattoos has spread like a disease from its natural home among the disaffected and subcultural underclasses to, well, the junior regional account managers of Romsey. Astonishing. Ugly. Inappropriate. Intimidating. I could go on.
Such men as these think this world is their world by right, that their fit, rich, shouty, well-appointed masculinity is its own argument and justification. They are, I suppose, the Tory Party at play. But I say these men are The Enemy Within. If I didn't think I'd get my arse kicked all the way back to Southampton, I'd stand on a soapbox, and declaim:
Women of the world: for God's sake stop tolerating and encouraging these fools. Unreconstructed male vanity is a social poison: these preening gumps should not be admired, they should be forcibly made to take on a proper share of family life: cooking, tidying up, collecting kids from school, taking time off from work to arrange inconvenient hospital visits, and missing "must watch" TV -- yea, even The Big Match -- to watch tedious school entertainments. Being the regional account manager is really not that big a deal. And stop buying into this "boys like football, girls like shoes" bullshit: surely we threw out all that nonsense 30 years ago? And if you don't make your bloke put his shirt back on sharpish, act his age, and stop pretending to be David Beckham, it will all end in tears -- for you. Guaranteed.
As for me, I did my shopping and wished I'd brought a camera so I could illustrate this little rant. But I didn't. Next time!