Don’t call me an unfunny, flat-haired, pretentious pleb
PUBLISHED: 00:00 02 October 2012 | UPDATED: 09:04 05 October 2012
In an alleged torrent of four-letter words, it was the word you could use in front of your puritanical grandmother that caused the most offence: pleb.
As the proud owner of an A-level in Classical Civilisations – the only way I could escape Costessey High School’s sixth form for the bright lights of the Hewett was to take an A-level it didn’t offer – I know that plebs were land-owning, non-aristocratic Roman citizens.
I also know that multiple plebs are called ‘plebes’. And I know more than any human should about Roman sewerage systems, but that’s by the by and might constitute as showing off.
Unlikely as it is that chief whip Andrew Mitchell found himself surrounded by land-owning, non-aristocratic Roman citizens when he threw a tantrum on Downing Street, we can’t rule out the possibility. Just as we can’t rule out the possibility that Andrew Mitchell is an unpleasant toad partial to lording it over underlings that can’t count David Cameron as a close personal friend.
Now I’m not averse to the odd spot of swearing; in fact if I compiled a list of things I excel at, swearing would be in the top five alongside moaning, avoiding phone calls and watching Downton Abbey while simultaneously texting and using an exercise bike.
Swearing in the heat of the moment is one thing – and I don’t trust anyone that doesn’t swear or uses the phrase ‘pardon my French’, asterisks or coy, almost-swear words instead of the real thing – but using words like ‘pleb’ is quite another.
Feel free to let rip at me with swear words and liken me to certain areas of the female body or question my parents’ marital status at my birth, but start insinuating I’m a non-aristocratic land owner and you’ve declared class war.
I often receive mail which is less than flattering: in the past few weeks, readers have suggested it might be a mercy if I hang myself, told me that I shouldn’t be “allowed” to have children and that I am personally to blame for women exercising their right to have abortions.
None of this bothers me: my default response is that if someone disagrees with what I’ve written, they are by definition (a) mad (b) not operating on the same dizzyingly high intellectual level as I am and, most importantly, (c) wrong.
Option (d) is that they are entitled to their opinion and that although I disagree with it, I would demure from suggesting they stick their head in an oven or race to the doctor to be sterilised.
This is not to say that there aren’t a few criticisms that stick in my mind, like Crazy for You played at full volume on repeat by a psychotic Liverpudlian neighbour, and which torture me on a nightly basis.
The born-again-Christian who emailed me from his Aviva account with one devastating line in 2007 (“You are nowhere near as funny as you think you are”) caused me countless sleepless nights as did the Paul McCartney fan who ended a ranting diatribe by pointing out that I had “flat hair”.
I may not be as funny as I think I am, but by God – and despite my byline picture that suggests otherwise – I don’t have flat hair: it took every single ounce of self-restraint not to email the McCartney fan a selection of non-flat hair pictures: self-restraint and the knowledge that in all of the non-flat haired pictures there was some other heinous issue, such as “drunken eyes”, “hamster cheeks” or “a sinister air of shiftiness”.
In a further devastating blow, I was also recently called “pretentious”. Pretentious? Moi? I am many, many things – bitter, cynical, scathing, dictatorial, evasive, unhinged, obsessive (I could go on) – but I am not pretentious. There are Findus Crispy Pancakes in my freezer. And McCains’ Potato Smiles.
The point is that if someone had simply sent me a stream of four-letter words and obscenities, I’d have been able to ignore it entirely – take note, Mum – but it’s those targeted value judgments that really hit home – not funny, flat-hair, pretentious, pleb.
At the time of writing this, Mitchell was yet to fall on his sword and we were all left wondering who we trust least – a politician (tainted by more scandals than even the England squad could amass in a season) or the police (one word: Hillsborough).
Frankly, I’m beginning to run out of people not to trust. Still, my money’s on believing the police, even given the fact they can’t recognise the moon when they see it – more on that coming up.