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Today's Classiness

Classy Gent of the Day: 9 July 2012


Andy Murray

I’ve got to hold my hands up, I’m surprised to be sat here writing this.

Just a couple of days ago, I was pretty sure nothing could get me on side with Andy Murray and, as far as I could tell, he wouldn’t have been lying awake all night fretting over what I thought about him. I haven’t really changed my perception about that if I’m being honest – given that I’ve never met the man it would be somewhat alarming to me if he was.

For reference, if that were to be the case, I’d probably pretend to indulge him while I checked his house for any sign of shrining and, depending on what I turned up, either let him get on with it (under careful monitoring from afar) or call in the professionals if it seemed particularly severe. I haven’t had so many negative experiences with celebrities becoming obsessed with me since the restraining order I had placed on Craig Doyle; that seems to have done the trick as far as deterring them, although I did once catch Lee Dixon fishing my used Starbucks cup out of a bin, when I went to Welwyn Garden City on a bank holiday (he dropped it and ran away when a pigeon flew at him – shit scared of birds he is).

Lee Dixon religiously listens to ABBA while he paints endless portraits of Mick Fleetwood, using only tomato ketchup and his own bathwater, always while wearing ill-fitting floral print dresses. He then tries unsuccessfully to sell these outside Morrison’s on the High Road.

 

I actually didn’t see anything post-match straightaway on Sunday because I had a train to catch but I was texting one of my friends about the match and, when I said something about how it was hard to feel bad for him, he responded by saying he had instantly become likeable thanks to a genuinely emotional speech.

I was sceptical. Andy Murray!? A man who looks like he’s been having salt, sauce, and hot piss on his chips for dinner every night for the past twenty-something years?

Well, assuming Andy Murray has little or no interest in stealth-collecting mementos of my existence, I have now completely changed tack on the man. I’ll willingly admit that I found his speech after Sunday’s final very difficult to watch. I actually instantly welled up a bit (a lot) as he choked out “I’m getting closer”. I couldn’t help myself.

In that one sentence he suddenly became incredibly human. It was raw, genuine, and uncontainable emotion on show in front of thousands of people; people who surely all went “Aww!” in unison.

 

I think that was what we needed to see from Andy. A lot of us have probably been kidding ourselves that this man, who none of us know, was a completely one-dimensional character – gruff, ambivalent, and cold. It’s easy to forget, when people are in the public eye, that they are in reality human beings and that we don’t get to see enough of them to make real judgements on their character.

Not only that, but like it or not we are all led to some extent by the media’s agenda on how to feel about certain issues and people. Even now, while there is no escaping the fact that you would have to possess a heart of stone not to be on side with him after that outpouring of emotion, he will be treated like a saint by the press until at least the next Wimbledon.

We’ll all have to be careful about that – he might still be a tosser who was just having a good day.

For now though, we should all give him the benefit of the doubt and congratulate Andy, not just for putting in a sterling effort to get to the final, but for allowing himself to cry in public, for being gracious in defeat, and for being generally very classy this past Sunday.

R-Feds described this as a potential watershed moment in Andy’s career. I think he’s probably right; not necessarily in the sense that he will come back a better player, because I suspect he’s playing at close to the top of his game at the minute, or that he’ll probably go on to win a load of trophies, as Nadal and Djokovic look like being immovable obstacles for the foreseeable future, but I suspect the nation will now truly embrace him in a way they haven’t really up until now.

Let’s be honest, he’s a safe bet for the Sport’s personality of the year trophy this year, isn’t he?

And will that will cheer him up?

Probably not – it is after all a big pile of pointless wank.

Classy Gent of the Day: 04 March 2012

Walter Tull

Walter Tull was a classy gent in two separate periods of his life, if you’ll excuse the indulgence, we’ll start with the latter.  In this First World War Tull fought in the Middlesex Regiment, rising to the rank of sergeant and taking on Jerry in the Somme.  After this he was promoted to Second Lieutenant. Clearly a promotion deserving of respect, but not in itself an anomaly, that is until you realise that such were his “gallantry and coolness” that they outweighed British Military Law which forbade black people from holding such command as an officer. A veteran of six major battles and having been recommended for the military cross, Tull fell in battle, his body never to be recovered, despite the best efforts of his men while under machine gun fire.

Orphaned by his Barbadian father and English mother, the Tull brothers (Walter and Edward) grew up in the Bethnal Green area of London. Edward in fact qualified as a dentist – to become the first black man to do so in the UK. Walter had other aspirations, to become a football player. He initially trialled at Clapton as an inside forward, receiving rave reviews he was signed by Tottenham Hotspur in 1909, becoming the second black player ever to play top flight football in the UK. In May 1909, Spurs toured South America (Uruguay and Argentina) – making him the first black man to play football on the continent! In the true fashion of a Brit abroad, he complained of none of the waiters speaking English.

His classiness did not go unnoticed in the press. After a particularly brutal lambasting at the hands of some repellent Bristolians the Northampton Echo was moved to comment “…Tull is so clean in mind and method, as to be a model for all white men who play football”. After this onslaught he was dropped from the team in a truly ridiculous response, only to be signed by Herbert Chapman (who went on to manage Arsenal) as a wing half.

In terms of footballing skill, I’ll leave the phrasing to the Football Ramble, who brought this man to our attention and provided much of the information for the article via the superb Dean Windass Hall of Fame. Who describe his abilities on the pitch as well as some of his exploits off it:

Walter Tull by Dean Windass Hall Of Fame on Mixcloud

Today’s classy gent is Walter Tull, a man who excelled as a football player, helping breaking racial barriers on both sides of the Atlantic. He was a great leader of men who inspired his fellow soldiers to fight his corner to promote him in the face of military law (which I imagine isn’t to be trifled with lightly), and one who paid the ultimate sacrifice honouring their wishes to be led by them. 

Classy Gent of the day: 1st of March 2012

Eric Arthur Blair (1903-1950)

Our classy gent of the day for today is Mr. Eric Blair. Born in (British) India in 1903, he grew up in a world very different to our own today. As a boy, he was sent to Eton college on a scholarship. It was during these formative days in Windsor that he established himself as a challenger to authority (as a practical joker and by “making himself as big a nuisance of as he could”); as a free-thinking, investigative person (manufacturing explosives and shooting a jackdaw off the college roof so that he could dissect it); and as a writer (getting several poems published in local newspapers).

His first published articles as a professional writer, which would form the bulk of his career, focused on censorship and the conflicts of interests behind multiple newspapers being owned by the same proprietor.

In early adult life he worked briefly as an Indian Imperial Policeman in Burma, during which time he (claimed to have) witnessed a hanging, which he later described as an “unspeakable wrongness”. It was during his mid 20s, after a time recuperating from Dengue fever in England, that he decided to leave the police and become an investigative author.

His social conscience was piqued by the conditions that people living in poverty had to endure. He variously dressed as a tramp and slept in doss-houses and homeless shelters around London; worked as a plongeur (dish-washer) in the restaurants of Paris, and when ill, was treated in a Parisian charity hospital (a significant risk to his own life), so that he could discover “How the Poor Die”.

He wanted to discover what life and death was like for those less fortunate than he was, and despite his privileged upbringing, blended in well among the down-and-outs he met, under the alias of “P.S. Burton”.

When he published his writings on this period of his life, he was worried that his “lower-upper-middle-class” family might be socially embarrassed by the fact that he had lived as a tramp, and so to protect their feelings, published under another pseudonym, chosen because it was a “good, round English name”, which he would go on to use for all of his writings.

Throughout most of the 1920s and 30s, he supported himself and his literary career through work as a teacher or tutor, and through shifts worked at a friend’s bookshop.

It was just before Christmas 1936, that he left the comforts of life in England and travelled to Spain, declaring upon his arrival that he had “come to fight against Fascism”. The political situation in Spain at the time was extremely complicated, and could fill entire volumes, but Blair was fighting for what he believed to be right.

Despite the difficulties of living in a war zone, our classy gent insisted on doing things the classy way. As a British man in the mid 1930s, he was a great tea drinker, and had crates of Fortnum and Mason's blend delivered to him in the front line.

At 6’2” (1.88m), Blair was considerably taller than his Spanish brothers-in-arms. This highlighted itself as a significant disadvantage in early 1937 when, whilst on duty in a trench, his head projected above the parapet and he was shot in the neck by a sniper, ending his service in Catalonia.

His life after military service was relatively sedate, due to his injury, and various recurring illnesses.

Blair was a heavy smoker of hand-rolled cigarettes, a drinker of strong tea (about which he wrote an essay, of a similar nature to some of our own on this site), and an appreciator of good English beer, taken moderately and regularly. Blair wrote an article describing his ideal pub, the Moon Under Water, which was the inspiration for the style of the J.D. Wetherspoon chain of pubs.

Despite being very particular about the way he took his liquid sustenance, Blair was famously unfussy about his food - during the war he enjoyed the rather euphemistic “Victory pie”, was possibly the only person ever to extol the virtues of BBC canteen food, and once ate his cat’s dinner instead of his own by mistake.

As many a classy gent is, Eric Blair was somewhat eccentric. He insisted on having the finest cloth used to make his clothes when he went to his tailor, but happily tramped about in rags as well. Whilst fighting Fascism, he was described by a comrade as looking “like a prep-school master” due to his dress, but when living in London was described in his Special Branch dossier as dressing like a Bohemian, which was noted as being a sure sign of being a Communist!

His attitude to social mores was equally confusing. He expected working-class guests to dress for dinner when dining with him, yet he would also slurp tea from a saucer (considered to be remarkably uncouth) whilst in the BBC canteen.

Whilst this article does not touch on his later works, which virtually every schoolchild will have read, Eric Blair was a prolific political writer, highlighting the dangers of not thinking for oneself, and of accepting totalitarian government.

In constructing his later novels Animal Farm and 1984, he created a new set of ideas and analogies. Not only did he enrich the canon of English literature and political thinking, but he invented an entire lexicon of neologisms (called Newspeak) for 1984, describing the concepts required of the population under his dystopian totalitarian government.

Eric Arthur Blair grew ill in late 1940s, struggling to write because of his illness. In late 1949, he became so ill that he was admitted to University College Hospital, in London (a far cry from l’Hôpital X, where he had previously stayed) and passed away on the 21st of January 1950.

His will stipulated that he wanted to be buried in the Anglican churchyard nearest to where he died. Due to the closure of all inner-city churchyards in London during the 19th century, Eric was buried in the Oxfordshire town of Sutton Courtenay, under a headstone which makes no mention of his much more famous pseudonym, George Orwell.