I think it was the late (and much-missed) Paul Fussell who in one of his books (either Class or Bad ) coined the term “prole drift” to describe how American society was shifting inexorably towards the working classes in terms of clothing, manners, taste and so on. (Aside: I love books written by ur-patricians like Fussell because I’m one of them, and unashamedly so.)
So I gladly admit to bias when I read articles like this one:
Almost a quarter of the population of Marlow in Buckinghamshire are aged over 65 and many of them think a Wetherspoons pub will attract ‘the wrong sort of people’.
For Readers of the non-Brit persuasion, Wetherspoons is a massive chain of pubs found all over the place, whose modus operandi is typically to buy a failing pub (or any failing business, for that matter) and reopen it (sometimes under its own name even) as a place that sells cheaper fare — beer, wine, food whatever — to attract a large and it should be said loyal customer base. Needless to say, the toffs and trendies tend to look down on Wetherspoons because inevitably, the kind of people attracted thereto are quite definitely Not Our Kind, Dear.
So this latest kerfuffle in Marlow should be seen in that context.
As it happens, I’ve actually been to Marlow simply because in looking for a place to have lunch while on a road trip, I took a wrong turn somewhere and ended up there.
It is undeniably beautiful, as these English small towns go, but like the curate’s egg, only in parts. While the main street is lovely, there are also parts that resemble Typical Brit Suburbia (i.e. fugly semi-detached dwellings) with a population to match. Not Yorkshire Mining Town, to be sure, but not a place where Mr. Free Market would feel at home either.
Here’s what I discovered when I retraced my steps and went back up to Marlow Road (the main drag): fucking hell, it’s an expensive place to eat and drink, even by Brit standards. Worst of all, the high street pubs are of the gastropub variety — at least, the ones I looked at were — and when I finally did find a place to eat — off the main street — I ended up ordering a simple cheese sandwich, chips and a pint which still set me back close to £10 (which was a lot, back in the early 2000s, when the same meal in London cost me just under £5). I don’t remember which pub it was, but it sure as hell wasn’t The Coach (as mentioned in the article).
So I can see why Wetherspoons would choose to open one of their corporate or franchise pubs there, because if you’re not one of the Snooty Set, there’s nowhere to get a decently-priced pub lunch in Marlow. And while the Snooty Set are well represented in the town’s demographics, there is also a sizable percentage of people like, well, you and me; and that that makes for a sound business case.
Finally, I find the outrage at the “prole” Wetherspoons to be hypocritical. Why? Because on that same Marlow Road can be found a Domino’s Pizza and Subway sandwich shop.
And if that ain’t prole, I dunno what is.