Date: 19 March 2005
They say in the paper that the term Chav was invented by the girls at Cheltenham Ladies College to describe Cheltenham averages. Charmante. The taxi driver, veteran of 64 gold cups though he's never entered the course on the big day itself, pointed out in his thick gloucester accent, the green uniformed girls and their luxurious boarding houses. Outside the track, young county folk of the posher variety were trying to sticker punters with save foxhunting labels, their appearance: pale skin, pink cheeks, well washed fair hair, a general look of having been exposed to clean hair and organic food, seemed of the same genus as the school girls.
At this moment I must try to confess. I do know that we match up stereotypes of appearance and character post-facto, after we have discovered the race, class, nationality, or religion, of the person. I am frightened of large groups of people who are different from me, especially when they are English, lower class, drunk, and seem of uniform or conforming behaviour, and that fear makes my judgments imprecise. I do however think these ideas should be discussed, not like the tories in a kind of dissembling way of pandering to prejudices to win racist votes, but in hope of eliminating or at least exposing my assumptions, and less sanctimoniously because it is interesting and novel to talk about class.
Moving on. Background. I have been to the Gold Cup at the ages of 16, 21, 24, and now again at 29. I have always gone in the cheapest enclosure (called the Best Mate enclosure now). 16 and now I picked the winner. In that time I have passed from comprehensive school to Oxford and through other elite (ist) insitutions to become an artist. I live in an a suburb of London which has a large non-white, non-British population, and which is not very middle class. I am extremely middle-class as you have probably guessed. My parents are middle-class too.
Moving on. I am not sure I can describe the people in the Best Mate enclosure that well. To do so, I would need to have spoken to more of them and observed more individuals' clothes, faces, and bodies. My first impression was of a Wetherspoons pub outside of London on a busy night. There seemed to be a lot of very drunk white men, ethnically English, of lower middle-class or lower class background. Some were in cheap suit jackets, others in going-outclothes of shirts and trousers, or t-shirts perhaps. I saw one man in the same red lacoste shirt I was wearing. They spoke mostly with non-London accents of an uneducated type. Their hair was short and many looked like they gymed out their burly builds. The few women were more obviously dressed up, in heels, skirts, and strappy tops, friday night style. At 2pm many people were drunk in a stumbling, blank eyed manner. Others were in raucous groups. As opposed to previous years there was not a gambling or racing atmosphere, it all had a stag-night feel.
My two annoying interactions with the crowd involved the same joke. A bloke says to you that you have something on your shoe, you look back and down and lift up your heel, and a roar of laughter goes up from his mates, as you have hilariously and stupidly been forced into a camp gesture. This had to be explained to me. The second time it was attempted on me I only half went through the motions. I suspect that I was singled out because of my accent and appearance: less that short hair, a different cut of trousers, glasses etc. Such silly incidents create a negative outlook in the victim, who then sees everything else through the prism of feeling different and picked on. I cannot remember having felt so out of place before at Cheltenham or any other race course, or in a betting shop, even when I was a teenager and it was illegal for me to bet.
To conclude let us compare, we have the delightful multicultural place where I live, where there are too many differences for me to feel different, and where in any case I am able to escape into the privacy of my house; and the mono-culture of the laddish Cheltenham race-goers, a sense of being imprisoned in the Best Mate (not mine) enclosure with the scum of England, those that on a sunny day at the races would prefer to be in a stinking crowded noisy beer tent watching it on TV. If you could choose who and where would you be?