Postcards From Beyond No.5: Vintage Tractors v. Chelsea Tractorsby Bruce Abrahams
It was our local village carnival recently. In procession with the usual tractors (ancient and modern), 1950s Austin cars and glum looking children in Disneyworld-inspired, home-made costumes, were various floats. As always, these were mostly created by local football and young farmers clubs. And as usual, they tended to major on tableaux featuring hefty blokes with lividly rouged faces and wearing floral dresses and balloon bosoms. The term ‘bosom’ is especially apposite in the context – ‘breasts’ implies a totally different perspective on this aspect of gender difference.
How we all cheered and laughed. By contrast, femininity was represented in the form of small(ish) girls clad in what is best described as Alice in Wonderland frocks looking appropriately bashful in their roles as the carnival queens and attendants from local communities.
In common with all local festivals of a similar nature (though on the secular end of the motivational spectrum), this was a simple and jolly celebration of our shared humanity and culture. Returning home to the realities of BBC and Guardianista commentaries, I was struck by how out of touch metropolitan rapporteurs and commentators are with what constitutes the mainstream of our national experience of life and as it may be termed ‘inter-gender semiotics’.
Not least as contributing to the disjunction of revolutionary fervour and reality is the feminist propaganda topic list. Justified as sadly it too often is in its assault on male hegemony and malfeasance there is, a major flaw in the strategy. Apart from too often seeming like ‘nagging’ – that along with huge bosoms Donald McGill’s fans will recognise as a satire on a worthy female characteristic (no disrespect to the huge-bosomed) – the polemic is both relentless and exclusive. All ideological movements demonise the perceived opposition, and feminism is no exception.
Meanwhile, on the bosoms front, it seems that topless sunbathing has become less popular and a subject of feminist debate. Once regarded as a symbol of liberation it is now increasingly eschewed as calculated to cause jealousy or insecurity among the sisterhood and arouse the irredeemable beast in men – and increase the risk of skin cancer.
Although our tourist season is in full spate and there have been some lovely hot days, the North Atlantic coast does not favour nudism. On the beach, windbreaks and wet suits are the norm. On balance, this is probably a good thing. Nudity, unless you are models for Health & Efficiency, prefers the context to be erotic. Windswept beaches reduce the most elegant human forms to basic functionality: even these are pleasing aesthetically there is little room for carnal appreciation. Perhaps the sight of the male torso clad only in a Speedo does hugely arouse some women, but I doubt it’s a majority. If they become erotically inspired on our beaches at all, I suspect it is by the lifeguards: their becoming costumes mask their undoubtedly athletic forms with a certain authority and, of course, suggest heroism will be performed at the drop of a bathing cap.
I’m tempted to speculate that back at the campsite or holiday cottage some eye-watering sexual engagements take place. But I don’t. On the beach and at the adjacent pub are many jolly and estimable people. They do not strike me, in demeanour, age or appearance, as being very orgiastic in temperament.
Meanwhile, the posh-grockle season is in full swing. In the lane outside my home, the Chelsea Tractors queue up in opposing phalanxes and refuse to reverse for the indigenous population or, indeed, for each other. Classy, thoroughbred women in designer jeans and branded wellies shout at men in lesser vehicles such as people carriers; sometimes they come into my drive, demanding to call the police.
You get the impression that a fuck is the last thing on their minds with you or anyone else. It’s hard to see if they have kids with them: their Range Rover windows are too tinted. But judging by the surfboards on the car roof and the bicycles strapped to the back that get caught in the overgrown hedges, they do have kids. And judging by their demeanour, they have probably said to themselves ‘enough, already’, though probably not because they are Jewish.
In many ways, our local beach and the lane leading to it are a microcosm of our society. There are those with smaller populist cars driven by men, with those weird roof boxes and wives and kids peering out, who buy each other ice-cream and make the best they can of the holiday. And then there are the aforementioned urban tractors, driven by rich bitches with a second home in the county who would rather be without the children and on a yacht on the Cote d’Azur, but their husbands like the golf here. When I say microcosm, I must acknowledge a slight lack of ethnic diversity; I should mention the many Japanese tourists who visit our humble hinterland in smart fleets of hire cars. They, by contrast, are not known to remove their clothes, or even go down to the beach.