David Cameron’s parents were very rich. He went to Eton. Then he went to Oxford where he joined an exclusive drinking society dedicated to the un-ironic wearing of tail coats and smashing up expensive dining establishments. Then he became the Conservative Prime Minister of England*. Even so, he is very keen to tell us that he is not posh. “Call me Dave,” he says. More importantly for the purposes of this site, he also frequently refers to himself as a member of the “middle classes.” Admittedly, he often uses the term in the sense of “sharp-elbowed middle classes” (since middle class, let’s not forget, is an insult) – and uses it to explain why he is closing down yet another much valued public service**. Even so, I thought I should investigate. That’s why, not very long ago, I took a trip to Cameron country – the affluent Cotswold surrounds of Chipping Norton.
The first place I went was Daylesford Organic. This is a large and successful farm shop selling just the kind of ecological, fair-trade-food-porn produce that appeals to such large swathes of the middle classes. It’s a place where you can even get your dishwasher salts in brown paper bags, to make them look that bit more rustic and earth-friendly. Its windows and doors are painted in the standard heritage green (or “coalshed door green” as Alan Bennett rightly describes this incomprehensibly fashionable colour). They have those chalk boards talking about how “seasonal” everything is, how “organic” it is, and how all baked goods are made by “artisans”. But this is not your average middle class deli. Far from it.
In fact, far from everywhere. Although it aims to be local in all things, Daylesford isn’t really local to anyone. The Cotswold shop is miles from the nearest settlement. So the only way to get hold of their environmentally friendly food is to travel there in your polluting car. Judging by the car park, you have to go there in a very big car too. Preferably a Range Rover. It was these gleaming rows of over-priced metal that first told me how unusual this place was. There was only one car in there that was worth less than £40,000. Mine.
And then, there were the people. The older ones, I could understand. In every farm shop in the UK, you’re likely to see a selection of stern looking women draped in heavy jewellery, dragging behind them their defeated looking husbands. It was the younger element who appeared so alien. The first person I saw who seemed about my age also seemed about 70. He stepped out of a BMW, dressed in a green polo neck, corduroy trousers, brogues and one of those quilted shooting jackets that the seriously inbred tend to wear. His hair was flicked to one side of a ruler straight parting. His cheeks were ruddy with port. It was only when his wife handed him his baby to hold that I realised he can’t have been older than 35. This wife, of course, was blonde and wearing riding boots. So were all the other women. The rest of the men generally sported blazers and had their shirts tucked into their chinos and all wore heavy expensive-looking watches. I’d rarely seen people like them outside of the Telegraph lifestyle section. I had thought I lived in a middle-class bubble. The people in Daylesford lived in a sealed off pressure-cabin. They just weren’t like the rest of us. This was a strange new land, with different fashions, different genes (that made everyone slightly taller and much uglier) and different ideas about prices.
A friend of mine had warned me about this latter phenomenon, claiming that when he’d visited he’s seen a piece of driftwood on sale for £350. Even so, I was astonished. I spent most of the time that I was in the shop turning over price tags in amazement and fear:
Tea towel: £30
Olive oil, 750ml: £16
Bottle of champagne: £100
Two garden urns: £10,500
That’s right. £10,500. I noticed, because a woman had turned the label over and screamed.
“I don’t understand how they’ve put that many noughts on it,” she said. “It doesn’t compute in my world.”
“At least you get two of them,” I said.
“They must have got it wrong.”
We looked again. No. £10,500 for two stone urns. They were admittedly quite big. But that was all.
“This place really isn’t for me,” the woman said. I knew exactly what she meant. It was for a very different kind of person. Someone like…
“I’ve just seen Samantha Cameron buying her lunch!”
It was my better half, Elly, back from her own tour around the shop.
“It was definitely her. She had that nose and that long look. She was by the cheese. She saw me looking at her and she took on that awkward look celebrities have when they know they’ve been busted. I even felt sorry for her, for a minute. That she couldn’t even by her lunch in peace. But then I remembered how much her lunch must have cost, compared to, say a month’s dole money, and so…”
We didn’t need to go into detail about our dislike of the Tories. I would have dashed off to take a picture, but Elly also told me that the prime minister’s wife was there with her children, so it didn’t seem fair. Besides, by that time I’d noticed something quite alarming. Elly had a bag in her hand. She saw me looking.
“I’ve just spent £50,” she said. “But I’ve bought us supper.”
“For a week?”
She looked sorry enough as it was, without my moaning, so I bit my lip and I took her to laugh at the urns. And then, my other favourite item, an organic travel set, consisting of an eye mask, what looked like a tiny little lap blanket and a hot water bottle cover. The label said: “Was £295, now £350″. It seemed as if the fact that it now cost even more was supposed to be something in its favour.It was a strange land.
We took one more tour past the fabulous cheese counter, round the carefully tasteful slate-covered shop floor, through the heritage green doors and out into the real world.
Later that week the papers reported that the Camerons went on holiday together to Spain.
“Mindful of how a luxury holiday would appear amid massive public spending cuts, David and Samantha Cameron flew to Spain with budget airline Ryanair to celebrate her 40th birthday,” reported The Daily Mail. “And despite their wealth, they stayed in a three-star family run hotel.” The whole thing must have cost them less than their lunch. Speaking of which, I have to reluctantly admit that our £50-worth of cheese and ham was delicious. I mean, really good. It must be wonderful to be middle class like the regular Daylesford shoppers. So long as you don’t have a social conscience.