Friday, 1 November 2013

BEER AND CLOTHING

Cast your minds back if you will, dear readers, to the mid eighties. For those of you who were only tiny tots, you'll just have to use your imaginations. Britain is in the grip of Thatcherism, the Miners Strike is drawing to a close, and I have Billy Bragg's EP Between the Wars playing on a loop on my Sony Walkman. Any telephone conversations too private to conduct in the hallway at home take place in red telephone boxes, endlessly pushing 2p's into the slot as you hear the frantic beeps indicating you're running out of money. No one has heard of email, and there is one computer in the whole school, so precious it has its own room, and only A'Level maths pupils are allowed near it.

Every inch the right-on New Romantic in my winklepickers and 'vintage' great coat adorned with CND badges, open to reveal my Katherine Hamnett '58% Don't Want Pershing' t-shirt, I march up to a door on a relatively middle-class housing estate and knock on the door.

'Hello,' I say, politely, 'I'm canvassing on behalf of the Conservative Party'. This being Oxton ward and not Rock Ferry, I don't have the door slammed in my face, although the harassed mother, pushing her curious children back inside the house, does say rather quizzically 'You don't look like a Conservative' before accepting my leaflet and waving me on.

Quite true. I didn't look like a conservative. I wasn't one. I dressed my politics. Being far too young to vote, or to have a mortgage or pay tax, I had Convictions. I was deeply on the side of right not Right, and very proud of my militant connections, though these were only my cousin's husband, Lecturer in Trade Union Studies at Wolverhampton Polytechnic and the fact my other cousin had once been to Greenham Common.

You may have spotted some contradiction here. Why was I canvassing for the Conservatives whilst carrying a copy of Marx for Beginners in my pocket? The truth, dear friend, is terribly simple: Sex. Or romance, really, if you're feeling faint-hearted.

This being an unsophisticated decade, and not awfully yoof-friendly, there were very few places to go for the enthusiastic teenager to meet members of the opposite sex. Church was out, naturally - far too much chastity and singing - so that left politics. I simply couldn't bring myself to fancy anyone with from the Young Socialists, all dirty-fingernails, Real Ale, irritable vowel syndrome, and making you go Dutch on everything.

I'm afraid that then, as now, I fancied Tory Boys. I preferred them with a small 't', since I was much less interested in their politics than the fact they tended to have an allowance, access to their mother's car, decent manners and nice clothes. I probably should never have been allowed to watch Brideshead Revisited, since it seemed to have imprinted a 'type' upon me at an impressionable age but certainly it left me with the idea that the working-class hero wasn't going to work for me. Tory boys weren't deeply trendy, but then, life was ever a compromise and I have a passion for posh.

Nor did I admire the dreary sincerity of the Young Socialists: their meetings were full of earnest discussions about society and they talked a lot of politics. The Young Conservatives Association didn't bother with anything so obvious: apart from wandering about with a few leaflets come the council elections, I don't remember politics coming into it at all. Oh, except once, when in a wave of enthusiasm we had a debate: I stood against the motion, This House Wholeheartedly Supports the Nuclear Deterrent, and I won in a resounding victory, rustling up a little support for Conservatives against the Bomb in the process. On the whole, going to the Young Conservative meetings meant drinks, idle chat, illicit cigarettes and the promise of a Saturday disco.

In retrospect, I do wonder why they let me hang out with them, given that I was as volubly anti-Thatch as Ben Elton, and literally wore my opinions on my sleeve, given my predilection for slogan badges. I think they were simply too polite, and too middle-class to mention the elephant in the room, enthusiastically waving a red flag. Possibly I had novelty factor. Certainly, I enjoyed trying to shock them with my subversive opinions, and it gave me a nice warm feeling of contrariness which is always pleasing when you're 16 and full of yourself.

As a dating strategy, it was a great success. The tory boys had frightfully nice manners, and conducted themselves chivalrously, hugely in favour of making sure you had a seat and buying you a drink. They also took the trouble to properly chat you up before getting sweaty-palmed and pouncy during a slow dance to Careless Whisper. Good snoggers without exception, they'd had evidently taken an O'level in undoing bras with one hand. And these being more innocent times, seemed content with an above the waist and below the knee diktat. I still get slightly quivery when I think about the rough border terrier feel of a tweedy tory boy embrace and the hot steamy smell of damp wool rising from sports jacket during an enthusiastic tussle in the front seat of a VW Golf.

I think my appeal lay in the allure of the transgressive, of snogging outside one's postcode. A date with me looked like rebellion particularly since I made great show of reading The Guardian and Cosmopolitan in an entirely fictitious attempt to look liberated and sexually enlightened.

Nearly a quarter of a century on, the placards and badges long since consigned to the dustbin of history, I only read The Guardian online, and never open Cosmo, and my political opinions have mellowed to a point where they're not even brought out for dinner parties. As I watch Mr Trefusis leave for work, dressed in a very snappy suit and an Hermes tie, all properly polished shoes, good cuff-links and an innate knowledge of the correct use of the apostrophe, I realise that I've never quite outgrown the appeal of tory boy chic.

PS: Mr Trefusis would have you know that it's not that I like the politics, I just like the floppy hair and the well-cut clothes....

23 comments:

Evitchka said...

Lovely post. I bet the Tory boys loved you because you were gorgeous, as well as being 'outside their postcode'.I used to learn tracts of Marx and Bakunin off by heart and casually drop it in conversation as if it were easy, just to impress my Anarchist boyfriend (long hair, dirty WW1 coat I'm afraid).But that was the 60s for you!!!

smackcrumplebang said...

ha! lovely expansion of the twitter version.

I used to go to art school with a load of scruffy urchins (who I loved) and one fabulous tory - daddy in the shadow cabinet, educated at Eton, blond hair, blue eyes, champion triathelete... need I go on? (swimmers build)

The other gay in the class and I spent 3 years mercilessly teasing him, in what amounted to an unremitting, loving but consistent case of sexual harassment.

If only one of the blasted toryboys would admit he batted for the other team (and I don't mean the liberal democrats) then I would probably be as happy as you were in that disco...

exromana said...

thank you for educating me about the YS and YCs, and making me laugh at the same time. of course the Tory lads adored a gorgeous creature like you. xoxo

screamish said...

the rough border terrier feel
of a tweedy tory boy embrace

you know that is truly the first line of a damn good poem!

vicki archer said...

i am glad you had the courage of your convictions and stuck with tory boy chic! Great post, xv.

mothership said...

Gorgeous post. I was transported right back to the 80's and could almost feel myself canvassing door to door with you, and my heart flutter at the sight of floppy blond hair being pushed suavely out of the eyes of a swoonable Toryboy.
Sadly I never got to go out with this type. Mine all had odd coloured hair with bits shaved off, smoked heavily and listened to loud unpleasant 'music'. Thank God I shook that type before I settled down with Husband..

Marie said...

I never did figure out what Pershing is and whether or not I wanted it.

Red Shoes said...

I am wondering what the US equivalent to tory boys are. I'm assuming prep school.

Completely adorable.

Lucy (The Fashion Setter) said...

I really enjoyed reading this.
I have a thing for tory-boys too.
Lucy =)

nappy valley girl said...

Loved this.
Reminds me of when, at boarding school, we were reprimanded for chatting to boys in town. We retorted to housemistress that where were we supposed to ever meet the opposite sex? She replied: join the Young Farmers or the Young Conservatives....!

But although I thought this was preposterous, I also had a thing for Anthony Andrews /Brideshead types. So no surprises that I then fell in love with and married a fairly posh boy with floppy hair who sounds a bit like Hugh Grant (although he's not a Tory). Maybe it's like posh girls wanting a bit of rough? Leftwing girls secretly fancy a bit of posh....

Kate Lord Brown said...

It's the hair isn't it? Whatever the tonsorial equivalent of beer goggles is I also had it - first bf dated primarily because he looked like Rupert Everett in Maurice. Tragically hair only thing they had in common.

littlebrownbird said...

What a fabulous post.

I was transported right back to the 80s. Bet you had an army of Tory boys following you around!

Punctuated by membership of the the anti-apartheid society, knickerbockers,frilly shirts and pearl necklaces and earrings,I somehow managed to only attract geeky boys,when I only had eyes for the lovely PJ.

He was tall, blues eyes, floppy brown hair. Magical kisser.

Thereafter,I used to hang out with the arty set, painting sets for school productions, being a prompter and helping with costumes and make-up.

Lurking in the background. Life imitating art. No change there then.

g said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
pellegrina4 said...

What an evocative post! Brings back memories of my terrible fake Catholicism and yearning for floppy hair brushing my cheek. Of course I went to what would now be called a bit of a 'CHAV' school, and rallied with three or four of the Über-posh to defend our snootiness by decrying quotes from 'Vile Bodies' and 'Decline and Fall'.

Steerforth said...

I tried the Brideshead look (as I was obsessed with the television series) in my first year at university and it was a disaster. I later discovered that many girls assumed that I was gay and took my affected nonchalence for a lack of interest.

I should have been more Tony Last and less Sebastian Flyte.

Oh well...

westendmum said...

Ah that was marvelous, I can almost smell them, rain, tweed, leather – actually I think Penhaligans do an aftershave that smells of tory boy.

Welsh Girl said...

Aha! A new dating strategy for me... But no, alas, I don't think Plaid Cymry have quite the same appeal. Back to the drawing board for me then. Sigh.

WV is 'wilicad' - that sums up Tory politicians I think.

Wildernesschic said...

Loved it can I take it you are originally a Wirral girl ?
Until this week I had never read a blog , now I am hooked, lovely to read thoughts and experiences of like minded ( or not ) people. Or as my husband would say another way for me to loose time :) Thankyou

Rose said...

My ultimate weakness is the tory boy types who have socialist sensibilities. That combination is devastating, they can read the Torygraph, open doors for me, wear shoes that make the good clicking Jermy street noise but also satisfy the still an idealistic teenager part of me. The Cambridge spies types (without the betraying your country bit). Sadly there don't seem to be any of these except Tony Benn and he's a bit older!

As an aside I am a Mitford obsessive too. The Pursuit of Love is my absolute favourite but I do love them all- well the main 4 books. I am now in the process of trying to find the out of print stuff on ebay etc.

theundergroundrestaurant said...

So THATS where I've been going wrong!
Dammit why didn't you write this post a lot earlier?
I suppose it was because we didn't have computers...
I'm afraid I always went for the dirty fingernail brigade, hence no husband at all...

Mrs Trefusis... said...

Dear everyone
I'm so busy gawping at toryboys I'm afraid I've been very slack with the blog, for which I apologise profusely.

Anyway, I'm finally coming up for air and will post next week. Normal weekly service will then be resumed.
Mrs Trefusis xx

Where to from here? said...

Phew
I was beginning to think that Mrs Trefusis had taken her leave so I'm glad to hear that you'll be back soon.

KatieGirlBlue said...

Ah...tory boys. I think Dead Poet's Society did for me what it sounds like Brideshead Revisited did for you. An adolescence spent dreaming of plaid-clad, floppy-haired lads with whom I shared few beliefs. How cute they were in their moms' Jags, though.