Thursday, 25 September 2014
'He looks the sort of man who'd take his weight on his elbows!' said my grandmother upon meeting my father for the first time.
It was the 1960s and my grandmother was prescient. That bastion of English values, Country Life, has redrafted the definition of a true gentleman to bring the species into the 21st Century. The new rule book is more concerned with correct prejudices against fuchsia trousers than whether men vacate their seat for a female. Millennial Man, according to the magazine I find in the hospital waiting room, abhors cats, gladioli and Twitter and uses Facebook only to keep in touch with his 'many godchildren'. He suffers soporific theatre shows until the curtain falls and, crucially, only makes love on his elbows.
My grandmother, evidently, could sniff out gentlemanliness at first sight. I feel slightly betrayed. The Vicar, I'd thought, was a gentleman, but he owns two cats. I haven't tested his opinions on gladioli and he seldom wears trousers that aren't black, but he devotes whole evenings to Twitter and he is guaranteed to fall asleep before the interval of any performance.
I decide to consult the embodiment of 21st century priorities, my 12-year-old. A gentleman, she says, is someone who is rich. The 9-year-old, who is currently exploring the novelty of manly sensations, says he's someone who kisses women full on the lips. I ask the check-out lady at Waitrose while she weighs my bananas. She says she doesn't know, but would come home and cook me a curry if she could, so she's definitely a true gentleman.
The more I ponder it the more I realise that there's something wrong with Country Life's list. There may be a gent lurking in many suburban kitchens, but the domestic environment doesn't give blokes much scope to exhibit the requisite symptoms. How many family men get a night out at the theatre or the chance to acquire a taste for Malibu? How they can reliably avoid the corruption of biros when scrawling an emergency shopping list on the fridge door, or ensure they acquire the full quota of godchildren when junior football league occupies every Sunday?
Come morning, as the Vicar wakes me with the daily mug of Tetleys, I've decided to rescue the modern male, for my conviction is this: it's perfectly possible to be a gent, whatever your taste in trousers, so long as you don a pinnie and abide by these rules...
A true gentleman should:
Put his own underpants in the washing machine.
Quietly supplant you at children's supper time as peas and insults hurl across the table.
Empty the sludge at the bottom of the marital tooth mug.
Scrape the pan you've burnt the supper in and left for the last week to soak.
Overlook the matted blade on his best razor when you nick it to mow your legs.
Put on, unasked, the clean sheets that you've abandoned on the bed after stripping it.
Let you play The Monkees on the motorway when Any Questions is on.
What do you think makes for a gentleman?