So my son and I went for a walk Saturday out at a place called Darland Banks. We had a good wander and had encounters of the normal kind. Dog walkers, strollers, ramblers, kids on bikes, cows on paths. Each received a hearty hello and good morning from us and we received likewise replies from the humans and dogs, not from the cow though, which chewed the cud with us. On the return journey, it being a hot day and a long walk, we popped into a country pub. It wasn’t a small place and had an extensive beer garden surrounded by tall trees and which also contained a petting farm full of animals of various shapes, sizes and fluffiness. A country, family friendly, farm pub. Non chain, non brand name, non franchise.
We had caught the tail end of the lunch time rush and as we sat at our picnic table in the sun we observed, as people do, the others about us. It soon became apparent that we were being observed back. My son and I were in the midst of plump, middle to retirement age, upper middle class types. The men sat about in their khaki and beige clothes, cardigans draped over shoulders, three quarter length trousers, short sleeved shirts taunt across beer swollen bellies with buttons bursting to fly with the first sudden sharp intake of breath, hacking cough or brash laugh and complete with sandals and white socks. The ladies in lurid coloured summer dresses of purples and lime greens, flashy costume jewellery aplenty, their adult children were sporting bright energetic athletic clothing, garish sneakers aplenty and they were desperately scrambling about after their own kids, the khakis grandchildren, who were all dressed in their Saturday best. Starched shirts and dresses, shiny shoes who were running around carefree or happily feeding the pigs, sheep, goats, rabbits and other assorted animals whose relatives were being consumed in the adjacent beer garden. Nice big shiny cars and SUVs stuffed into the car park.
I am sure they are all individuals with lives as complicated as your or my own, with the same vague worries, appetites and hopes and dreams that we all contain. They seemed like happily functioning extended families, they’d all carved out their territories in the beer garden peacefully, I assumed, and there was enough English politeness going around that I wouldn’t have been surprised to find my self in some impromptu garden tea party with the queen. A few stalwart silver backs standing erect at the borders of the beer garden, ale clutched in hand, cigarettes pinched between fingers of the other hand, casting imperious looks around their fiefdoms.
My son and I stuck out. Hot, sweaty, sun reddened and dressed in casual jeans and t-shirts, ragged and dust dishevelled, we were not a part of this herd. Their disapproving looks told us as much but what did they know of our journey, what did they know of our travails? (We had to go back at one point as we couldn’t get past the cow in the middle of the path in the woods). They had driven here in air conditioned cars, secluded in their own little caged metal worlds. Oblivious to the natural world and isolated from the people around them. My son and I slowly drank our drinks under their disapproving looks and their conceited glances at our lack of designer clothing, gold watches and general lack of apparent affluence.
Who were these people to judge us? Who gave them the right to look down their noses at us simply because we were not part of their wealthy set? Was it because we didn’t drive here but walked, because we didn’t buy the most expensive drinks, or food or talk loudly about how much money we had made or where it was invested? It became obvious that these people were here to flaunt and show off, not to relax and be happy with their families. It was a pageant, a pageant for the middle aged near retired silver backs, a flaunting of their masculinity, power and of their dominance.
We observed more closely, there was a pecking order that was for sure. The largest and loudest of the families had cornered the garden where the sun was shining the most, and as time and the sun moved on, they moved around the garden following the suns heat. Usurping those people on sunnier picnic tables by adroitly placing glasses on their tables and talking loudly and quite blatantly insinuating themselves by sitting on the edges of said tables until the smaller, lesser family was slowly moved out of the sun and into the shade. It soon became apparent that our table was in prime location and slowly but surely the family made it’s way towards us, at sundial speed. An odd glass at the end of our table appeared and then another under watchful eyes unless we in our desperate thirst would swipe and drain them in a blink of an eye. A builders crack presented itself as a silver back lowered his weight on to our now creaking table. We suspected flatulence was used as some kind of chemical warfare but we remained, the two of us on a six seater table, we weren’t going anywhere. We had walked far and for a long time, we deserved this seating we had chosen and our time in the sun and we were not going to move, nope not at all.
This seemed to irk them. We offered the surrounding empty seats to them, to share the table with them. This irked them more, they obviously wanted dominance of the table, not to share but to conquer, to take over. They engaged us in stilted and stunted conversation. What job did I have, how did I get here, where is your wife, where did I live, what school did I go to? What was my son doing, what college did he go to, what car had I bought him, where is his girlfriend? Prestige, that’s what they were trying to beat us with, we have more, you have less. We have money, you have none. We have it all and you have nothing. Fortunately my son and I do not measure success in finance and baubles. We measure it in family and friends, in the warmth of love and caring. We may not have it all but we have politeness, we have compassion and we have empathy. We have the ability to see the person beyond face value, something which I was beginning to realise that these people seemed to lack. Is it because we had to work hard for what we had, because we weren’t spoiled by wealth like them and therefore appreciated all that we had even if what we had was nothing, only ourselves? These khaki drivers they know nothing of the journey, they know nothing of the travails of the poor and hard working. But then I know nothing of them except that they were overbearing, rude and conceited, give me my poor peers any time, I’d rather do without wealth if that is what it makes of us.