Waugh and the “Inner Toff”

Author and journalist James Delingpole, writing in this week’s Spectator in an essay entitled “How I learned to embrace my inner toff,” cites Waugh as a precedent in defense of his reaction to certain recent changes in life style.

Delingpole acquired a Land Rover to replace a more modest motor car called a Skoda Yeti when his lease ran out. He now receives more respect from fellow motorists but at first felt guilty because they don’t understand the financial sacrifice he had to make in this transaction even though the new vehicle was actually bought from a second-hand dealer. In the end he harks back to the example of Evelyn Waugh to justify his acceptance of the new situation. He admits that:

… yes, I guess I did get it for snob reasons too. It’s all just a front though: my Potemkin Motor, if you will, designed to throw people off the scent like the carefully constructed persona of some dodgy character in a mid-period John le Carré novel. Quite often now I’m amused to see myself described — usually by pillocks on Twitter — as ‘an upper-class twit’. I want to reply: ‘Really. You have no bloody idea. I’m the son of a Midlands businessman and at the village school I spoke with a Brummie accent.’ But I don’t, because I find being thought an effete toff more useful for the purposes of annoying people.

His wife can’t understand why he doesn’t “just admit that you’re not posh and we’re totally skint?”

Why don’t I? Well initially — as recounted in my cult classic Thinly Disguised Autobiography — I think it may have stemmed from my Charles Ryder-ish yearnings at university. But I think I’m pretty much over all that, now that I’ve since been so epically disappointed by so many of the smarter friends I once aspired to emulate.

Now I think I pretend to be a country squire for the same reasons I suspect Evelyn Waugh did. Because it’s the perfect way of retreating from civilisation, becoming as feral and eccentric and anti-social as you like, seeing only the people you want to see and letting the rest of the world go hang.


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