Wednesday 25 April 2007

snob boy

December 2006

God I love Exmoor! Sometimes you get so used to a place you forget to look around you. But this morning, taking James to the bus, everything seemed very lovely somehow. The ponies were chomping at the side of the road on the moor, and the Barle was high and racing in choppy waves. Even the pheasants didn’t get on my nerves today. Watching them run, head-down, across the road, it’s an easy jump to see how birds were descended from dinosaurs.

And, OK, this sounds a bit goody two-shoes (not my usual state of play) but I did feel grateful for all we’ve got. OK, so we can’t sell our house. OK, so we’re slipping further towards penury with every day. OK, we can’t afford fancy holidays or smart clothes. But, by heck, we’re alive and (relatively) healthy and living in a truly stunning part of the world.

I visited my neighbour (half a mile down the road) yesterday and that helped me put life in perspective too. Her mother is in hospital, having her second round of surgery for cancer. She’s got three children, all of whom have been off school for various health reasons this term. And her husband isn’t that great either. They’re broke and have the in-laws from hell but is she moaning? No way. She’s as bright as a button and welcomed me in for a cup of a tea and a chat.

Mind you, I find being hard up very tough. Particularly when it comes to sartorial matters. Last year Adrian (being the archetypal skinflint) bought the most truly disgusting Christmas cards ever – you know the kind of thing – thin paper with foul illustrations of poinsettias. They were relegated to the bottom of the Christmas box but this year I thought, waste not, want not – and gave them to James for his school friends. He looked a bit doubtful but put a brave face on it and wrote out his notes.
Then disaster struck. ‘Tina doesn’t like her card. I’ve got to do her a new one.’
What? Ungrateful little wretch. Much harrumphing and tutting and James shrugged and said it didn’t matter.
Yesterday he got in the car and sighed deeply. ‘She’s crying about it now.’ What? Over a single rotten Christmas card? But I did feel a twinge of guilt – I was the mother who gave her son such lousy cards that they made eight-year old girls cry. Heck, what next?

Well, I’m ashamed to say it does get worse. We took James bowling with some friends. This was the first time we were to meet his ‘best friend’ from school and there were high expectations. Well, we’d barely got going when we heard from the back: ‘We’ve got a really huge house you know. And a heated swimming pool. And a tennis court. And …and ….and ‘
Adrian and I exchanged looks. OK, it was petty, but I couldn’t help myself.
‘Gosh, that’s nice,’ I replied. ‘We’re really really really poor. We don’t live in a house actually; we live in a large box. Well, not that big a box really. But we call it home.’
‘No you don’t…’ muttered nice friend, ‘You live in a really nice house.’
I turned round and shot him a surreptitious wink.
‘But you’ve got a car,’ said snob boy triumphantly.
‘Oh no,’ I replied airily, ‘We just borrowed this. We’ve got a bicycle though – we take it in turns to ride it.’
Snob boy looked puzzled and frowned. He knew something was going on but wasn’t quite sure what.
Looking back I felt a bit bad. ‘You didn’t like him, did you?’ said James. Heck, was it that obvious?
‘No, James, that’s not quite true. I’m sure he's a very nice boy but I didn’t like the way he boasted. I thought that was very rude.’
James nodded. ‘He does boast a lot.’

But then, of course, it’s not his fault – it’s the parents. Out here you meet people of all sorts – the filthy rich and the dirt poor (and every variation inbetween). We’ve always slammed it into James that you don’t ever judge anyone on where they live or what they do or how big their car is. That’s the way the countryside works. It’s interesting really, as you get to meet a much broader slice of society than you’d ever meet in the city. But some people just don’t get it. They still have to do the horrible one-upmanship bit. Yuk.

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