OK UK?: English Money...
Oi Mate, Can You Spare A Quid?
Brits have a strange relationship with money. For the most part, it’s a class thing, but it is so different from the here in the US, it bears closer examination.
It struck me while sitting in a lawyer's office in Lemon County, California. The office I was in looked opulent, all polished wood and deep pile carpet. He had his degrees and Bar certification on the wall in expensive frames, and every surface whispered, “You can’t afford me, you loser.”
Now, my dad worked as a clerk, (why do we say clark in the UK? It’s an e for crying out loud), in a solicitor's office for pretty much all his adult life. I would visit him, and be shown off to the partners for a little forelock tugging. All the partners had the same last name, so they were referred to as Mr. Firstname. I would go into Mr. John’s office, the youngest of the partners, and do some cap doffing and a couple of bless-you-sirs. He would send me off to Mr. Ronald, who would give me a shiny sixpence for being obsequious, and on to Mr. Archibald, and so on.
Their offices oozed old and worn out. No surface was left free of dust, or stacks of files. The motif was, “look how long we’ve been here, and how dedicated we are.” Having given themselves to the Law, they acquired a grey pallor that matched their threadbare suits. Everything had the patina of age and that included serious wear and tear to the carpet.
The message was that not one penny of your hard earned fee was wasted on frivolity and unnecessary expense. It was the polar opposite of the American lawyer. His office said, "I’m rich, therefore successful, therefore your best choice." (Lawyers love ‘therefores'.) The English office suggests that they cannot be bothered by such mundane trifles as money, as they are far too involved in lawyer-ing themselves into an early grave.
It is only after hours that you realize they are brothers under the gavel. In both in the UK and US, you will find that they leave their office, slink off to the car park or parking lot, and get into their gleaming, top-of-the-line Porches.
For a certain class of Englishman, money is seen as ‘filthy lucre’. A dirty means to a necessary end. Anyone brandishing their wealth in public is seen as ‘Nouveau Riche’ or a Russian ‘businessman’. This group is universally hated by all for having no taste and absolutely no class.
Actual money, as in cash, plays no part in the lives of the gentry. Do you imagine that the Queen has a couple of Tenners in her purse? No, cash is absolutely not on. Plastic is similarly frowned upon. The real gentry put everything on account. This entire lifestyle is funded by the unfortunate shopkeepers who run an account for the ‘big house’. The debt, which accrues over many years, is only paid off when the head honcho dies, and you get to put in a claim on his estate.
Thus the wealthy live off the largesse of the middle and lower classes. In fairness, the tradespeople do get to put the rich bugger's family crest on their stuff, so the rest of the villagers understand why they are being overcharged for their box of cornflakes. But it is small comfort, as you open yet another can of Spam, that the rich are eating like, well, Lords, in their castle.
From a distance the gentry look fairly well dressed. Up close, you realize that every stitch of clothing is well past its donate-me date. Clothes are purchased at one's coming of age from Snobbish and Pricey on Saville Row in London. S&P knows how one should dress, or they did in 1901, and they still sell exactly the same stuff.
The young man goes 'up to town' (London) with his least rakish uncle and the clothes for the rest of his life are purchased in one fell swoop. Shooting outfit, hunting outfit, country suit(s), town suit(s), the whole ensemble, known as “the full Monty,” all purchased at age eighteen, on account, therefore paid for when one of the outfits is in a coffin.
The material chosen is tried and tested, and usually involves tweeds and other semi indestructible cloths. Many families have their own tweed patterns and colors, made by an impoverished peasant in the Outer-Hebrides, who is paid for his trouble in scotch. There’s a very subtle code at work here, only those fully in the know, i.e. family, recognize any particular tweed, thus ensuring that the riff-raff can’t slip into the exalted upper echelons.
Take hunting pink for example, that’s the color the foxhunting elite wear when riding to hounds and chasing poor Basil. You’ve seen the pictures, if not seen the actual thing, and those jackets are red, aren’t they? Well, yes, if you are a pleb. It’s like a secret society hiding in plain sight. And who are the ladies and gents wearing black jackets? Those would be people with actual money, but no land or title. They are riding “with the hunt”. Those in the pink are “the hunt”. You see the difference?
So, the new clothes are brought out to the stately pile (as the gentry are wont to call their homes) and broken in. They need to smell of dog and horse, as quickly as possible, and a bit of blood from a fox, stag, or hunt protestor, is an added bonus.
The wardrobe is changed throughout the day: morning suit, hunting togs, and then formal dress for dinner, but unchanging over time. You may only add in school ties, regimental ties, and stuff left to you by your uncle. Now, women wear clothes, but as they do not count other than as producers of sons and heirs, I won’t mention them, other than to say, the dresses are uniformly awful and designed to present the bosom in the best possible light.
This lifestyle seems utterly unsustainable, but by careful intermarriage of cousins, all property is kept in the family. The gentry own everything in Britain that is not owned by the Russian mafia. They have no actual money, save some rental property, and they do occasionally let in a pretty gal, to raise the overall IQ average, if the inbreeding gets too obvious.
If needs must, the pretty girl may be American, and have oodles of cash left to her by a dead daddy. (Sugar, or real kind.) Money entering the family must, however, not be used to pay debts. It is to be used for betting on horses or the stock market. If you see any of the gentry, quickly move away before they drawl, “Excuse me Buddy, could you possibly spare a quid…”
Dear Hub Reader
If you enjoy this hub, please check out my book,
Homo Domesticus; A Life Interrupted By Housework,
A collection of my best writings woven into a narrative on a very strange year in my life.
Available directly from: