Socially distant or socially mobile?
Summer one-upmanship isn’t about getting the Covid bug. It’s where you caught it that matters
The art of one-upmanship has been tricky in these troubling times. The usual summer swank has been on hold. This time of year Gloucestershire high society ordinarily boasts a Mediterranean base-tan, a Cornish second home, a Royal Ascot picnic or a Wimbledon debenture ticket. Instead it has been a struggle to find a competitive social edge.
In the early days of lockdown there was grandstanding in furloughing the Daily, sourcing the right sourdough flour and acquiring the best laying chickens. Then, during the blistering barbecue days of May, it was finding the right online butcher, one who before lockdown had only supplied Michelin starred restaurants. And since social distancing has eased and we have been in each other’s gardens it has been the pouring of the right pink wine and the displaying of grown-out grey roots, which shows off how law-abiding someone has been, that has exercised the Hyacinth Bouquet in us all.
Most particularly it has been the electric bicycle that has come to symbolise one’s current social standing. This was confirmed when Kate Moss and her daughter Lila Grace were pictured testing their new juiced-up boneshakers in the lanes surrounding their small hamlet near Burford. Yet long before the supermodel and her offspring were seen out and about my valley was a veritable velodrome of AC/DC two-wheelers. Weeks ago my local farmer was touring his land on his new e-bike claiming it is `more fun than a quad bike’. And a wealthy widow popped her head over my garden wall to tell me about her brand new £2,000 wheels saying “I’ve done 15 miles so far and I’m not the slightest bit out of breath”. Cotswold smart society is wobbling through our lanes on these sit-up-and-beg eco-contraptions slowing down cars and annoying the vulgar lycra-clad jockeys on their carbon fibre numbers. As Shane Watson in the Daily Telegraph observed, “Every fashion watcher will want an electric bicycle. They’ll have been thinking about it, worried it might make them a bit of a loser but now all their doubts will have vanished.”
However, there is one other piece of lockdown snobbery that has managed to out-swank both grey roots and the e-bike.
In March the Cheltenham National Hunt Festival hosted the jump racing beano despite dire warnings that it was folly to go ahead. It has since been scapegoated as a major Covid culprit and a possible epicentre of the disease.
The two most exclusive hang-outs at the festival are the discreet members-only Cotswold Club, where an annual table for 10 costs tens of thousands of pounds a year, and the somewhat less rarefied Turf Club, the temporary tented arm of the St James gentleman’s club. It was in these two places in particular, possibly because many of the attendees had been on skiing holidays in the Northern Italian Alps, that Covid seemed to be rife. In the weeks that followed the festival the disease felled a large percentage of the grandees from both clubs. Once the racing gentry had recovered, claiming to have contracted the disease at ‘The Cotswold’ or ‘The Turf’ was as smart as owning a new Land Rover Defender or sporting the latest Hermes Birkin handbag.
A pillar of the community in my village, who reckoned he’d got infected at the festival, joked of being a ‘super-spreader’ and boasted that everyone wanted to meet him not only to get a mild dose to become immune and liberate themselves from social distancing but also for a measure of social cachet. Of course if one was asymptomatic or had had only mild symptoms it was necessary to take an antibody test to better oneself. There are, or were, two tests – the £50 swab or the £100 blood test. The first had only 90% accuracy and it could be could be got by queuing at a nearby village hall (as I did). The second, with 100% accuracy, needed a private doctor. So the latter was not only more expensive but also gave one more standing when claiming to have had the lurgy.
Last week, at a social distancing gathering, I was brandishing my fifty quid test results and my claim to immunity when one of the guests piped up that she too had had a mild hit of Covid and that she had almost certainly caught the disease from the Duchess of Cornwall. Now that, one has to admit, was 2020 Cotswold one-upmanship without parallel.