The quest to find Britain’s funniest middle class enclaves has migrated to www.craptownsreturns.com
At last! It’s back.
The quest to find Britain’s funniest middle class enclaves has migrated to www.craptownsreturns.com
At last! It’s back.
I remain dreadfully middle class, you’ll be pleased to hear. Although, like most of my kind, increasingly anxious and possibly on a smaller scale. The recession has made a blog about cheese-fancying and conspicuously expensive consumption seem rather wrong, so this blog has been moth-balled for a while. I have, however, been keeping it in mind as an older project Crap Towns has begun to growl in the background of my life again… It’s feeling like the time has come for that. Now that Britain has got even crapper… If you have a Crap Town idea you’d like to send me, do feel free to post about it here and I’ll hopefully begin gathering them in earnest soon. And if it’s a middle class Crap Town, so much the better.
In the meantime, if you feel like testing your reading and knowledge of short stories, do please take the challenge I’ve set up called You Couldn’t Do This With A Paper Book. It features a story with a pagan festival in it. Doesn’t get more middle class than that!
Just a quick point of information: I posted a link to this site on the chippingnorton.net forum and have had a fantastic response. (Kudos to Chipping Norton for having such an active forum.) In the subsequent comment thread, a poster called Gerry wrote the following:
“You need to know that nobody from Chippy does their shopping at the Daylesford Farm Shop.”
Big Billy Boswer added: “We can’t afford it with the cuts”
So there we are.
Elsewhere, others have claimed that my joke about the Movable Feast chippy has no validity since “moveable” can also be written without an ‘e’. Sadly, they are right and I am wrong. Damn.
And here’s another fantastic Daylesford post from “Newshound”:
It never ceases to amaze me how many column inches in newspapers, magazines and just about anywhere else are given to Daylesford Organics or whatever it’s called. For some reason editors and hacks seem to think it’s the new centre of the universe or at least the Cotswolds and it’s the Cotswolds version of ‘arrods’ if they set their satnavs to Chipping Norton it takes them to Daylesford or Daylesford they get Chippy and think the locals are in awe of celebrities and the rich and famous in their midst.
So Sam this is the secret of Daylesford – Daylesford is a meeting place for the rich and famous, people who want to be famous and people who want to think their famous and want you to think they’re famous by having a cup of coffee alongside the “crowd”. The Hurley’s and the Winset’s who moved into the countryside thinking they are going to be an important member of the community and to show off to anyone their new lover/husband/someone else’s husband and no one’s going to bother them have come to realise that no one gives a rats-arse who they are, so they have to be seen somewhere, add to that the rich who are not famous but like to be seen in the company who are.
As Gerry mentioned nobody actually shops there, why on earth anyone would pay £16 for a breast fed chicken I don’t know, mind you people have been known to spend £50 on a few bits just to say they have rubbed shoulders with Samantha Cameron, which brings me back to Chippy while the “I shop where its posh” set go to Daylesford to rub shoulders with the likes Samantha and et al , in reality Dave joins the queue like everyone else in Chippy and shops in Sainsbury’s where nobody bothers him recognises him or gives a toss, that is the reason for him living here, personally if I want to catch a glimpse of Dave I wouldn’t spend 70 grand on a Range Rover to be “seen” at Daylesford I would wait until Dave’s in Sainsbury’s, plus I can buy a chicken for a fiver.
One other thing Sam, Chippy have had the famous and not so rich in our midst for years, Keith Moon the loon from the Who once owned the Crown & Cushion Hotel who after his hangers-on had gone was actually normal, on one occasion upon his arrival in town in his pink Rolls Royce parked in the car park full of birds with the music cranked up loud was told by a friend I was with ‘you can turn that f****** row down’ which he did, plus there are many others around from stage and screen who I can’t be bothered to mention.
Welcome to Chipping Norton Sam.
This splendid post was written by Helen Pockett in response to my last piece about Chipping Norton:
As the person who nominated Chipping Norton as a candidate for most middle class place in Britain, I can’t help but feel responsible for Sam and Elly’s disappointing trip. I now concede that Chipping Norton is not a middle class town (ahem… see the photo of the cricket team). However, Sam has asked me to defend my choice and, despite the fact that I thought I hated the place, I’ve kind of found myself wanting to. So here are some insights:
1. The locals, once you get to know them – which granted could take anywhere up to twelve years – are some of the nicest and most welcoming people you will ever meet. They may appear aloof, but I’m convinced it’s because CN’s residents are well-practised at pretending they didn’t just see the prime minister squeezing a melon, Alex James buying a roll of sellotape or Captain Jean-Luc Picard trying to manoeuvre a super-wide vintage Jaguar into a parking space no wider than a motorbike.
2. Like you said, it’s a fairly clique-y place. But that does mean that making friends with one person is like making friends with twenty.
3. It’s the highest point in the Cotswolds (on a par with the Ural mountains in Russia) so the views are spectacular. But it’s fricking freezing in winter and walking about town for any length of time will murder your shins.
4. For a tiny town in the middle of nowhere, it’s remarkably well served. You can get pretty much anything you want (as long as you don’t want it after 5pm or on a Sunday).
5. Unless what you want is cocaine, which you can get anywhere, any time…
6. In the summer, it’s crawling with tourists (though this is less the case since Ronnie Barker died), although it’s also not really that far from London so escape is only an hour’s train ride away.
Some other (ridiculous) highlights:
The opening of the refurbished swimming pool – http://bit.ly/hP0fGt
When they found a bomb buried under the golf course – http://bit.ly/mNqf2q
The planned mass evacuation exercise – http://bit.ly/ghrlE9
The Rollright Stones – http://bit.ly/4R3L5
Even people’s dinner parties make the news – http://bit.ly/jspJaG
So there you go. Fans of gnarly local politics might especially enjoy reading the news pages of ChippingNorton.net where there are fantastic stories of apparently poltically motivated beatings, the chairperson of the local Tory party expecting “the police to jump to her tune” and harrass members of other parties and of a bid to open a kebab shop in the town being “skewered”.
I’ve had a very interesting time visiting Slough, Lewes, and Crouch End in my bid to meet as many glocals as possible… I’ve got a few more places in my sights, but would love to receive nominations and ideas for further explorations. Write as much or as little about them as you like if you do nominate… Thanks!
(Just post in the comments if you do have something to suggest – also for any comments on Chippy….They’re a bit hidden. There’s a small button under this post if you’re looking from the main page, scroll down if you’re on the article specific page.)
If you arrive as a stranger in most British towns, you have no real way of getting to know them. You can get some feel for their character from the architecture and the shops, but nothing for the characters that move around them. This is mainly to do with the difficulty of starting a conversation that isn’t about the weather.
The thought of talking to strangers seems to fill British people with horror. A horror that isn’t entirely unreasonable given the quality of conversation that you tend to get from those few eccentrics that do tend to embark on social intercourse with the people they meet on the street… Everything I know about what it’s like to have been one of Millwall football club’s infamous casuals in the 1980s (when they spent most of their time hurling inanimate objects – like Tottenham fans- at members of the constabulary) and everything I know about what bastards the Prots are, I have learned from people I had never met before.
Even should the stranger turn out to be pleasant and entertaining, he or she probably woudn’t be the right kind of person to speak to as far as my mission to take the pulse of British town’s goes. The kind of person likely to speak to you out of the blue isn’t a representative kind of person at all. Especially somewhere like Chipping Norton. From what I could make out in Chippy, people who know each other barely even converse, so outsiders like me don’t stand a hope.
All of which is a long way into explaining why this post is mainly going to consist of observations on shops and architecture.
The first thing you notice driving through Chipping Norton is that it’s really quite pretty:
There’s a lot of honeyed stone, some admirably solid looking Georgian buildings, a red telephone box (always a sign that time hasn’t destroyed too much in a place) and a marked absence of concrete monstrosities.
The next thing you notice is that it’s really quite small, and that you’ve driven through without seeing anything of interest at all. So I doubled back, parked up and decided to stroll around on foot. Elly, meanwhile, decided to stay in the car.
“Don’t you want to look around?” I asked.
“Why would I want to look around Chipping Norton?”
It was a question I couldn’t honestly answer. I went out onto the streets alone, while she did whatever it was that seemed more appealing, like staring at the rain sliding down the front window of the dadmobile. It didn’t take long for me to realise she had made the right choice.
There was nothing actually wrong with the place, there was nothing much to remark on at all, in fact. It is one of those quiet, private English towns where whatever action there is goes on behind closed doors, in private houses. There was no street life. I didn’t even see any pigeons.
And so, the list of shops:
There’s a Boots and a Sainsbury’s and the usual high street banks, but Chipping Norton seems to have largely escaped the bland brand makeover that has wrecked so many British towns. Things here were a bit more individual. There are a lot of antique shops and antiquarian book shops. There’s a flowery looking restaurant called “Wild Thyme”. . There are a great many local estate agents (A two bed terrace costs £200,000.) There’s a pleasingly old fashioned hardware shops. There’s a wedding dress shop. There’s a deli and cheese shop. There was also a good looking butcher’s shop, and a chip shop. Can you guess what they call the chip shop in Chipping Norton?
Nope. Good try though. It was actually:
I’m undecided about this one. Points for the literary reference. Commiserations for failing to spell “moveable”* correctly on a gigantic sign that is likely to be there for years to come…
The local bookshop gave off similarly mixed signals. On the one hand, it was a small independent with a respectable fiction section. On the other, the first book I saw when I walked in was a biography of the former Conservative Prime Minister Anthony Eden. The next was a rightwing book about empire by Niall Ferguson. There’s also a book called “What Darwin Got Wrong”, a surprisingly large Mind, Body And Spirit section and an unsurprisingly large section dedicated to Royal Wedding Books… Not exactly a liberal paradise, but a bustling little shop, nonetheless.
Elsewhere Chipping Norton remained silent and grey. It was Sunday, after all. The closest thing to excitement was the horrible renting noise when someone drove past me with – I presume – the handbreak still engaged. The back wheels of the car weren’t moving at all and they made a really astonishing racket. Not that the driver seemed to care. He was smiling rather blissfully. He was, I was surprised to realise, completely off his gourd – in no state to be driving at all, even with the breaks on. He was quite an anomaly on those quiet streets. Had he been partying all night? I couldn’t imagine that nightlife in Chipping Norton was particularly kicking. It looked like no one had had a good time there since at least the 19th century. But then again, there was this place:
Here’s a close up of the sign over the door:
Rocking! Clearly, with all that PUBLIC MUSIC and DANCING there is a lot of fun to be had in Chippy.
At this point – and especially given my opening complaint about how hard it is to meet people in British cities – you might be thinking that the diligent thing for me to do would be to stick around and sample the local nightlife. In a sense, I suppose, you might be right. But there’s only so much suffering you can do for art. Besides I’d actually already gone one better. A number of years ago, I went to a house party near Chipping Norton and met quite a few locals. These were all rich young men and they all used to spend most of their summers locating disused quarries, dragging sound systems to them and getting their friends to dance in them all night long – not unlike the Conservative political blogger Guido Fawkes and his unnamed friend a few years before them.
Like many posh young men, the Chipping Norton crowd were very very keen on reggae. One of them was that night in a state of considerable excitement because he’d just posted his latest homemade roots compilation to the queen, to mark her birthday. He explained to me that in previous years he’d always sent a C90 tape of his current reggae listening to the Queen Mother on her birthday, since he felt sure that she’d love a bit of herb music, but since her sad passing he had focussed attention on the queen instead. He reasoned that even if the queen didn’t appreciate the reggae, Prince Phillip or Prince Harry almost certainly would . “So it won’t be wasted.”
I couldn’t argue with that logic, and anyway, he quickly lost interest in talking to me, preferring to stick to his own friends. Later on though, he did capture the attention of the room by warning the man next to him never to turn into a lady. “I mean, if you did, it would be awful,” he said. “You couldn’t come to the golf club since you’ve got to wear trousers on the green and you certainly couldn’t come to school re-unions.”
“Yah,” said his friend.
It was like listening to a modern day Bertie Wooster – although with a lot more weed and a lot less brains. The thing that especially struck me was how happy their world was. It was a place where the Queen Mother wasn’t a sour old Nazi, where every club is open to you, where the summer is one long party… Like Daylesford, it seemed to me to be a rather happy world to live in. Just one that was far removed from the reality of most people’s lives. One that also seemes very distant from any middle class life that I can recognise. David Cameron may claim to be from the “sharp-elbowed middle”, but on the evidence of Chipping Norton, he actually exists pretty near the plummy nosed top.
*PEDANTRY UPDATE – I have since realised that you can spell “Moveable” without and ‘e’ too. Damn!
Someone on twitter has just alerted me to this wonderful picture of the Chipping Norton pub cricket team. I rest my case.
These must be organic dark chocolate containing at least 97% cocoa solids. They are for you. Easter eggs are not to be fed to children under any circumstances. Children’s eggs are filled with evil sugar, produced by evil brands, and ever so slightly vulgar. As is well known, allowing the kiddies too much fun and chocolate is bad for the moral fibre of your household – not least because it causes you to have to lie when you are discussing your children’s diet with your neighbours. Besides, the little cherubs will prefer the wooden eggs you have painted for them and thoroughly enjoy reflecting on the ills of materialism and the kinds of shiny baubles that so distract other children. Sure they will…
(Chipping Norton Part 2 will be along soon…)
David Cameron’s parents were very rich. He went to Eton. Then he went to Oxford where he joined an exclusive drinking society dedicated to the un-ironic wearing of tail coats and smashing up expensive dining establishments. Then he became the Conservative Prime Minister of England*. Even so, he is very keen to tell us that he is not posh. “Call me Dave,” he says. More importantly for the purposes of this site, he also frequently refers to himself as a member of the “middle classes.” Admittedly, he often uses the term in the sense of “sharp-elbowed middle classes” (since middle class, let’s not forget, is an insult) – and uses it to explain why he is closing down yet another much valued public service**. Even so, I thought I should investigate. That’s why, not very long ago, I took a trip to Cameron country – the affluent Cotswold surrounds of Chipping Norton.
The first place I went was Daylesford Organic. This is a large and successful farm shop selling just the kind of ecological, fair-trade-food-porn produce that appeals to such large swathes of the middle classes. It’s a place where you can even get your dishwasher salts in brown paper bags, to make them look that bit more rustic and earth-friendly. Its windows and doors are painted in the standard heritage green (or “coalshed door green” as Alan Bennett rightly describes this incomprehensibly fashionable colour). They have those chalk boards talking about how “seasonal” everything is, how “organic” it is, and how all baked goods are made by “artisans”. But this is not your average middle class deli. Far from it.
In fact, far from everywhere. Although it aims to be local in all things, Daylesford isn’t really local to anyone. The Cotswold shop is miles from the nearest settlement. So the only way to get hold of their environmentally friendly food is to travel there in your polluting car. Judging by the car park, you have to go there in a very big car too. Preferably a Range Rover. It was these gleaming rows of over-priced metal that first told me how unusual this place was. There was only one car in there that was worth less than £40,000. Mine.
And then, there were the people. The older ones, I could understand. In every farm shop in the UK, you’re likely to see a selection of stern looking women draped in heavy jewellery, dragging behind them their defeated looking husbands. It was the younger element who appeared so alien. The first person I saw who seemed about my age also seemed about 70. He stepped out of a BMW, dressed in a green polo neck, corduroy trousers, brogues and one of those quilted shooting jackets that the seriously inbred tend to wear. His hair was flicked to one side of a ruler straight parting. His cheeks were ruddy with port. It was only when his wife handed him his baby to hold that I realised he can’t have been older than 35. This wife, of course, was blonde and wearing riding boots. So were all the other women. The rest of the men generally sported blazers and had their shirts tucked into their chinos and all wore heavy expensive-looking watches. I’d rarely seen people like them outside of the Telegraph lifestyle section. I had thought I lived in a middle-class bubble. The people in Daylesford lived in a sealed off pressure-cabin. They just weren’t like the rest of us. This was a strange new land, with different fashions, different genes (that made everyone slightly taller and much uglier) and different ideas about prices.
A friend of mine had warned me about this latter phenomenon, claiming that when he’d visited he’s seen a piece of driftwood on sale for £350. Even so, I was astonished. I spent most of the time that I was in the shop turning over price tags in amazement and fear:
Tea towel: £30
Olive oil, 750ml: £16
Bottle of champagne: £100
Two garden urns: £10,500
That’s right. £10,500. I noticed, because a woman had turned the label over and screamed.
“I don’t understand how they’ve put that many noughts on it,” she said. “It doesn’t compute in my world.”
“At least you get two of them,” I said.
“They must have got it wrong.”
We looked again. No. £10,500 for two stone urns. They were admittedly quite big. But that was all.
“This place really isn’t for me,” the woman said. I knew exactly what she meant. It was for a very different kind of person. Someone like…
“I’ve just seen Samantha Cameron buying her lunch!”
It was my better half, Elly, back from her own tour around the shop.
“It was definitely her. She had that nose and that long look. She was by the cheese. She saw me looking at her and she took on that awkward look celebrities have when they know they’ve been busted. I even felt sorry for her, for a minute. That she couldn’t even by her lunch in peace. But then I remembered how much her lunch must have cost, compared to, say a month’s dole money, and so…”
We didn’t need to go into detail about our dislike of the Tories. I would have dashed off to take a picture, but Elly also told me that the prime minister’s wife was there with her children, so it didn’t seem fair. Besides, by that time I’d noticed something quite alarming. Elly had a bag in her hand. She saw me looking.
“I’ve just spent £50,” she said. “But I’ve bought us supper.”
“For a week?”
She looked sorry enough as it was, without my moaning, so I bit my lip and I took her to laugh at the urns. And then, my other favourite item, an organic travel set, consisting of an eye mask, what looked like a tiny little lap blanket and a hot water bottle cover. The label said: “Was £295, now £350”. It seemed as if the fact that it now cost even more was supposed to be something in its favour.It was a strange land.
We took one more tour past the fabulous cheese counter, round the carefully tasteful slate-covered shop floor, through the heritage green doors and out into the real world.
Later that week the papers reported that the Camerons went on holiday together to Spain.
“Mindful of how a luxury holiday would appear amid massive public spending cuts, David and Samantha Cameron flew to Spain with budget airline Ryanair to celebrate her 40th birthday,” reported The Daily Mail. “And despite their wealth, they stayed in a three-star family run hotel.” The whole thing must have cost them less than their lunch. Speaking of which, I have to reluctantly admit that our £50-worth of cheese and ham was delicious. I mean, really good. It must be wonderful to be middle class like the regular Daylesford shoppers. So long as you don’t have a social conscience.