Not to be outclassed

WE were born to snobbery ``as the sparks fly upward.'' We were taught to ``lose'' nobly at games, without showing anger or disappointment, and were inordinately proud of our sportsmanship, even at times, I think, of feeling superior not because we lost but because it was an opportunity to show what good sports we were. Not that I really recall trying to lose, say, at tennis, but being willing to. That is, not working too hard at winning. For, our gym mistress emphasized, the game was the thing, was it not? Never must we allow ourselves to envy. That was a mark of low breeding. We were careful to hide envy, even if we felt a twinge. Only ``common'' people envied the rich.

It was in this atmosphere that I deliberately rubbed dirt on the frame of my new tennis racket and my field-hockey stick, so that they would not look new, blatantly, vulgarly new! At the age of 11 it was important to look experienced. How we were considered socially, in Form 2 B, was, in some perverse way, a nagging consideration.

The village people had their snobbery, too, including my best friends, Mrs. Jubbit, who at 80 took us children on ten-mile walks over the moors, and Seth, the yarn man at the weaving shed. It was Mrs. Jubbit who fed us hot teacakes on baking day, when we were forbidden to eat new bread. And Seth, union secretary for the local weavers, and a whiz at mathematics, who helped me secretly with my algebra homework.

Of course Mrs. Jubbit had her own form of snobbery, more subtle than ours. I noticed it first when her cousins from London visited her. I was invited to tea and ``shown off'' to them, when I was asked to recite. As I plunged into ``I wandered lonely as a cloud,'' I hammed it up, with emphasis on ``cloud'' and the ``host of golden daffodils.'' I pronounced the name of William Wordsworth in a slow, elegant manner, to impress the visitors with my literary knowledge. Even my curtsy went lower than in an ordinary introduction.

Mrs. Jubbit went to work to make an impression after I had been, rather hurriedly I thought, offered a tuffet at the back of the house-place. She mildly complimented her cousin Betsy on her new costume from Harrods, and cousin Norman on his new ready-made suit, in terms of the faintest of praise; then she produced from her big oak wardrobe her own new costume (suit) made at the Co-op by Titus Hallowell, head tailor there. Without any obvious swank. She did, however, stress the fact that she had bought the length of worsted at the weaving shed, while it was still on the loom, before being sent to the shrinkers and finishers.

``The finest in the forty-pick-to-an-inch lot,'' she explained, ``the sort they send to foreign countries like America. Mary-Alice Lister wove it.''

``And Titus made it,'' murmured cousin Betsy. ``Ee, I never did.'' Then, not to be outclassed, she went on. ``I do get special treatment at 'arrods, meself. They measure right, even to an eighth of an inch in the gusset.'' She pinched the side of her skirt as she spoke.

``Titus would never leave details to an assistant,'' Mrs. Jubbit said. ``A pity thou 'ast to wear ready-mades, Norman.''

``Aye,'' said Norman, ``but there are advantages in London.''

``Like 'ats and 'andbags,'' added Betsy, ``like this'' -- as she pointed to her hat on top of the sewing machine, black with a huge bunch of yellow roses -- ``made to order. French flowers.''

``Bound to fade in bright sunlight, loov,'' was Mrs. Jubbit's encouraging comment.

Not in the West Riding of Yorkshire, I thought, as I looked up at the window, on which the rain was beating its all-too-frequent tattoo.

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