We went to London last week, and stayed in Fulham, where I lived for several very happy years. For the information of non-Londoners, it's an area in the South-West of the capital, a twenty-minute Tube ride from the West End and Theatreland. Part of Fulham covers a stretch of river between Hammersmith Bridge and Putney Bridge. A truly idyllic mile frequented by crows, seagulls, ducks, cormorants and herons.
When I first moved to Fulham, in 2000, I used to joke that the night bus 14 wasn't as threatening as other London night buses because the drunks on that line were intoxicated by champagne. Another joke I heard from more than one person (or perhaps it wasn't a joke) was that the most frequent reason for admission at Chelsea & Westminster Hospital Accidents and Emergency was a cut to the hand caused by a large knife slipping while trying to remove the stone from an avocado. There is a pub called The White Horse, but which the locals know as The Sloaney Pony. That is a fair illustration of one of the social types that reside in that area. Indeed, Fulham is filled with what, at the University of Durham, we called screaming, stonking 'Rahs. Again, for the benefit of those who have never had contact with this sub-group of the English middle classes, 'Rahs are second and third-generation Sloanes. In other words, the banknotes in their wallets are so new, you can still smell the ink a mile away. 'Rahs tend to speak with a plummy accent but not with the clarity of cut-glass English. Their speech is sloppy, lazy, and their vowels half swallowed because, let's face it, oh, yeaaarrrh, it's just t'much effort like to pr'nounce th'm. Male specimens of this social sub-group are sometimes called Sebastian, Crispin, Oliver, Tristan or Rupert. They often wear stripy shirts and chinos or corduroys. Lace-up shoes are mandatory. Back in my youth, they were seen sporting V-neck cricket jumpers or stripy rugby shirts. Nowadays, they prefer crew neck lambswool jumpers. Their female counterparts, often Isabellas, Mirandas, Juliettes, Dorcases and Chloes, can be recognised by their trademark string of pearls no matter the outfit, or, these days, a piece of "ethnic" jewellery. Still, whether they're wearing the green Barbour jacket of my generation or the more modern cropped tweed blazer or short mac, one characteristic remains unaltered: they still have longish blonde hair.
Last week, as H. and I were strolling through Bishops Park, there was a group of them standing outside an infants school, having dropped off their mini Ruperts and Mirandas in Baby Gap and Cath Kidson outfits. They stood there, chatting to carbon copies of themselves, jangling keys to people carriers and oversized Volvos. "Look!" I said to H. "I told you Fulham raises the national average for blondes by a large percentage." He looked at them with an expression of disbelief. There were six or seven of them, all of them blonde.
There were more of them in the coffee shop where we went to have breakfast. The table next to ours was a veritable aviary, with screeching, high-pitched giggling, and shrill outbursts of excitement. It was nearly ten o'clock, and I wondered – as I did while living in the area – why these women weren't somewhere else, engaged in money-earning employment. Who pays for their leather designer handbags, their suede boots, their wide silver bangles, their smoothies and their pains au raisin? I guess some things don't change, whatever the efforts of the various feminist movements.
* Gentle, genuinely affectionate fun. To quote Mr Bennet, "For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbours, and laugh at them in our turn?"