November 21, 2008

The life of an English Gentleman

(or: keeping your car dirty and your shoes clean)

THE IDEAL English gentleman has no more than two suits in his closet. He also has one wife and at least one dog. The dog usually sleeps in the same room as the gentleman and his wife.
He has been raised to believe that money is somewhat vulgar, and that a suitable profession would be chicken farming.
These and other morsels were revealed to me on my last trip.
The lecture was well received by all that listened. Everyone seems to be cataloging endangered species these days, and a favorite seems to be the elite Anglo-Saxon Homo sapiens.
Our lecturer’s views, himself a staunch member of this vanishing race, were appropriately witty and ironic. He was on a short foray from his family seat in Perthshire, Scotland.
His further claims – English gentleman do not live in London, and that they concern themselves almost exclusively with hunting and shooting. Life begins on August 12th, he was referring to Scotland’s main summer event-the opening of the grouse season.
In true gentlemanly style, he and his wife live in an inherited, drafty castle (called Hangover Hall by his friends, one of those big turreted piles designed by a committee of architects-oops sorry I let this slip).
What all gentlemen’s houses have in common are long, dark corridors, windows with inside wooden shutters, and a special arrangement whereby the kitchen is situated as far from the dining room as is architecturally possible.
‘That’s the way we live, of course,” he told me rather archly not enjoying my quips.
Women get short shrift from the gents, especially when married to one.
‘Gentlemen simple don’t call their wives sweetheart, or things like that.’
‘No, he refers to me as that gray old bag or whatever, said his wife, Diana, a pleasant, woman with a no-nonsense bearing.
(What is the male equivalent to an old bag?)
Our man is 100 percent Scottish (a fine qualification for an English gentleman).
The aforementioned two suits are: one for formal occasions, the other at the cleaners. His tie was cleverly spotted, and cigar ashes drifted down the lapels.
Suits last many years until they become threadbare, then they should be handed down.
His own models originally came from what he considers London’s finest tailor -Ligour, French & Standbury-not in Saville Row, but on Dover Street. Saville Row has become a habitat for pop stars, he observed.
His shirts come from Turnbull and Asser, on Jermyn Street. His polished shoes (a sparkling neat detail essential to the gentleman) are made by Lobb.
His cologne made popular by Edwards the VIII. ‘Women invariably call it the sexiest they’ve ever come across. So I only wear it when I go on the moors now.’
Flaunting of wealth is something to be avoided at all costs.
The old school tie is de rigueur, of course. But it must be the real thing.
‘You know, I’m not, strictly speaking, a true gentleman. I took up the writing of historical books. Writing is not a gentlemanly profession.’
Earning a living though, is not part of the training of the typical gentleman-a peculiar mixture of nanny-pampered schoolboy and bloodthirsty sportsman.
Gentlemen join wildlife preservations societies, and then devote their lives to keeping down the bird and animal population.
These men also thrive on the occasional war. They stride around in battle as if dressed for a Sunday stroll, convinced that the enemy is a very poor shot indeed.
And dogs do crawl into bed with gentlemen and their wives. This matey approach to dogs can be hazardous to house-watching. Our gentleman had a recent robbery. While his pony-sized Irish wolfhound snoozed peacefully near his master, the master’s lair was relieved of a sizable amount of heirlooms.
But dogs are like nannies, you never put them down.
A permanent nanny is a must. A gent’s wife must put up with the nanny as long as she lasts.
The gentleman’s wife doesn’t usually go shooting, but she is terribly athletic and rides to the hounds. True to form, Diana and I rode for hours, I was exhausted, she, just warmed-up for sundowners.
Furthermore a gentleman belongs to an exclusive club whose purpose is the opposite of sociability.
The car scene is tricky; Rolls-Royces, once acceptable, are now taboo. If the gentleman has inherited one he must make sure that it looks both old and not very clean. Our gentleman drove his into the rhododendron bushes where it sits abandoned. He now drives a suitably spotty and ash-littered Rover.
Gentlemen should be ignorant of things mechanical, except for guns. His, matched Holland and Hollands. The tycoons are buying Purdeys, and there is a 10-year wait.
When I ask about Americans qualifying as gentlemen, he hedges politely. I press on (not very gentlewomanly like). ‘I know several, he said, and they can be very gentlemanly. But the thing about Americans, they’re rather like old Etonians. As individuals, they’re all right; I love them to distraction. But together, they’re unbearable.’
I got news for you, everybody is that way. It’s the herd instinct.
Thanks be to heaven the weather stayed clement, we were not snowed-in. I had avoided the dilemma of trying to figure out how to murder a gentleman in a most gentlewomanly way, of course.


Anonymous said...


Charles said...

you know me too well