How To Be Superior
Having been asked numerous times to offer tips on how to be superior, I feel that I must finally accede to these requests, so here are some remarks which I hope may be useful to those who need help in the matter of social climbing. Let me say at the outset that I am not seeking to rival the work of the great Stephen Potter, whose School of Lifemanship at Yeovil gave so much to so many. The eminent founder and principal of that wonderful institution had a wider remit than mine, in that he taught his pupils how to be ‘one up’ on other people in a variety of situations.
I must point out that my observations are aimed at men only. The ladies have their own etiquette in these matters and their procedures are a closed book to me. The advice given below is mainly for those who wish to move in loftier social circles than the ones to which they are accustomed. One could write a book about this, but there is no need for anybody to do so because the whole thing is much simpler than is commonly thought. A fellow can get by very nicely by bearing in mind only a small number of simple rules.
The would-be upstart must first consider his name. An unusual one is a huge advantage, and if you do not have one, you would do well to consider a change. In my case that was not necessary, for it would be hard to improve on Theseus Naseby-Goatwrangler. The male forenames in my family have long been taken from Greek mythology, my two uncles being Ajax and Achilles, while my late father was Agamemnon. Dad was known to his intimates as Aga until alcohol completed his mental decline, when the prefix ‘G’ was added to his sobriquet. If you do decide to take a new name, be imaginative. For Heaven’s sake don’t go from Smith to Smythe. That is simply too transparent.
To jump ahead for a moment, once you have joined your chosen group, you will find that other aspiring parvenus try to ingratiate themselves with you. They can be importunate, so you will have to demonstrate that you are a cut above them, without overtly insulting them. Your best course is to refer to all of them as John, even if you know their real names. This is a clear indication that you are somehow so distant from them that their true identities are of no interest to you. I have said that these comments are aimed at men. However, in this matter of address, you will need to deal with women at times. Refer to all of them as Jane. This is a nice name, faintly upmarket and perhaps slightly redolent of the ‘county’ types, so you will not cause offence. That is all on the subject of names.
Apparel is very important, but you will doubtless be pleased to learn that it is far less problematical than you might imagine. You must have a Harris Tweed jacket and it needs to be quite shapeless. I have two, purchased forty-odd years ago. They were totally amorphous when I got them and are exactly the same now. Do not take one that has a discernible form or design. I suggest a light base colour, vaguely beige/fawn/taupe or similar, with an unidentifiable reddish/brown pattern. On no account should you have leather elbow patches or cuff trims. They may be all very well for academics, but not for you. A tweed flat cap is also essential, and for goodness sake, don’t get one with a button on the top. For foul weather get a hip-length waxed mid-green coat.
You have some latitude in the matter of trousers. Thick, tough ones are best and here again I recommend a light colour. You can’t really improve on cavalry twill. Do not even think of corduroy – quirkiness can be taken too far. Your shirt should also be light – ivory is good – with a criss-cross motif of thin black, brown or dark-grey lines, to make roughly quarter-inch squares.
You should have a tie with a regimental look. It need not be the real thing, for nobody in your circle will be so uncouth as to ask you about it. Should some boorish intruder do so, your response will be to allude vaguely and dismissively to a military background, conveying the impression that you have moved on and don’t wish to wallow in the past. This presupposes that you are of sufficiently mature years. If you aren’t, just invent an excuse to leave your interlocutor and try to ensure that the two of you don’t meet again. That won’t be difficult, as the lout concerned is not likely to get a further chance to mix with those around you.
Now to footwear. A pair of stout brogues is essential. They should be light tan and must be treated with saddle soap rather than wax polish. Your aim is a dullish sheen, not a high shine. Opt for something from a top maker. These shoes are uncompromising beasts, usually referred to as bench-made, and for quite a while you will get the impression that the bench is still attached to them, or that you are lifting concrete blocks. Wearing the things is excruciating because they will make no effort to fit you, so you will have to fit them. However, the experience, painful though it may be, is necessary.
There is nothing more to be said about dress, and I will explain why. You can get by in almost any circumstances with the kind of outfit described above. For example, if you are required to appear at a tie and tails affair, by all means turn up in your casual attire. On such occasions you should rush in late and explain that you were detained on the moors, strangling a recalcitrant gillie, or beating beaters who didn’t come up to scratch. Your sartorial incongruity may lead to your being regarded as mildly eccentric, but you will not be ostracised because most of the others present are likely to have had similar experiences and will understand.
I must touch upon the subjects of alcohol and tobacco. The former is easy. Try to avoid beer. You may give as your excuse the fact that the volumes involved give you digestive problems, even though your innards may be able to cope with barbed wire and bleach. You can do the same with respect to most spirits, but you really should take brandy because at many gatherings, the men will insist on a post-prandial session with that beverage and smokes, and you must join them. By all means indulge in wine, but don’t get too involved in discussions about it, as this area can be a minefield.
The noxious weed is a delicate matter nowadays. You should eschew cigarettes, which are widely frowned upon. A pipe is permissible, if you can get one that stays alight for more than two minutes at a time. However, the right choice is cigars, and here I can give you some useful guidance. You are sure to find that a number of your companions favour top Havanas, and if you are not yet initiated here, prepare yourself for a shock. Naturally, you wish to be considered ‘one of the chaps’, and you will discover that the best that Cuba has to offer costs about a pound per minute of burning time.
Now here is a vital pointer. You will notice that some of your chums will leave their cigar bands in or around ashtrays. Find a reason to stay behind after the others have gone, then pick up the discarded bands, take them home and put them on much cheaper cigars. This will help you to create an impression of affluence. A chap in one of my clubs got away with that for a long time, using Cuban bands on cheap smokes, which were all he could afford. But be warned. His behaviour was noticed. He was an insensitive man, his pachydermic hide seemingly impervious to the thickening atmosphere of opprobrium that built up around him. In the end, a quiet word from the club secretary persuaded him to resign.
A further point you should bear in mind is that intellectual pretensions are not welcome in the social stratum you have selected. Each of those around you will have had an education and some of them may even remember bits of theirs. If you have some special knowledge or talent, don’t labour it, or you will soon be deafened by snores.
The subject of music is likely to arise in your get-togethers. You may be asked for your views on, say, Shustakovsky’s forty-ninth symphony, often referred to as ‘The Interminable’ because no orchestra can, with any decency, get through it in less than two hours. If you have an opinion, by all means give it, but should you be out of your depth, say that a childhood accident rendered you tone-deaf, so you cannot comment.
I could go on, but Madazine’s editor, Will Rider-Hawes, who is an old friend of mine, has limited the length of my observations. “Don’t give me a wordfest,” he said. Still, with the above counsel as your lodestone, you will not find it difficult to navigate your way into the company you wish to keep. Good luck.
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