At the hairdresser, it is the pleasure of every harassed British housewife to peruse a glossy magazine or two. As she sits under the dryer in her unbecoming curlers, feeling slightly puce from the febrile winds blowing about her ears, she enters a world in which it seems very unlikely anyone is actually living. And yet there they are, apparently real people, photographed and even named, sporting themselves at parties and weddings and art shows and film premieres and charity balls.
The view from the barber's chair of these shenanigans varies enormously depending upon which magazine you happen to be reading; for in one the young of England are dancing around looking reasonably dignified in dinner jackets and demure dresses, while in the other they look dissolute enough for Gomorrah, their crazy clothes half discarded and their faces the epitome of decadence as they sprawl over tables and chairs.
If one sees the last periodical first, it is hard not to be saddened and shocked, for if these are our future parents, our leaders of industry and culture, heaven help us. Yet in the first paper they look rather nice: the girls watching cricket in neat summer frocks, or healthily crouching in grouse butts with whimpering retrievers, or standing with their parents to greet their guests at the tops of stairs: and the boys, still in British national costume, gray flannels and jackets with leather elbows, well-shaved and killing things as usual. A bit on the stodgy side, perhaps, and not quite like one's own lads (who seem to have got stuck in a jeans and T-shirt syndrome), but vaguely encouraging.
And yet is either of them the real England? Both trains de vie seem highly improbable.
And what is this strange language these women with purple hair tortured into rats' tails are speaking? In the current Social Diary we read, ''Must order the stiffies with thumb-nail-breaking engraving immediately.'' Presumably this, decoded, means, ''I must order some invitation cards,'' but it is not immediately clear, and engraving must have altered beyond recognition if you can break a nail on it? However, surveying our own workmanlike, not absolutely pristine finger ends, we may not be the best judges. Nor are we able to comment firsthand on the news that the London social scene is now ''awash in an aura of nostalgia'' and that everybody, everybody will be wearing tiaras again.
We do not, frankly, believe it, any more than we can believe there is a buyer for this small, admittedly pretty watch costing (STR)62,250, or that there are people who go and have ''quite a decent little Chinese meal'' in Chelsea for (STR)140 for two? We feel that somebody somewhere must be joking, and yet at the back of our minds we know they are not.
We flip on for a page or two, and there are the model girls in contorted poses and wearing staggeringly unpractical clothes, glowering out at us through their big beautiful eyes, their cheeks like damask roses and their smooth vermilion lips pouting. As we look up from their magnificent faces and see our own by now petunia countenances reflected in the mirror, we are liable to suffer a shock. Or at any rate a twinge.
But mercifully not for long. For as we shout, ''I think I must be dry now, Kathleen!'' and drag ourselves away from the diamonds and the decolletage, the bathroom fittings and the penthouse apartments, everything falls back into place again, quite quickly really; for at bottom we know we would much rather be heading for home and the family. Don't we?
Even if we were dressed up in scarlet taffeta pantaloons and were hung about with sapphires and could choose between caviar or oysters for supper and had a Rolls to take us on to a rout at Biddy Barmouth's we know we would be absolutely miserable there. Wouldn't we? Gathering up our shopping bags and plodding off to the bus stop in our sensible brogues, we really do know it.
Don't we now?