Bohemians; what is so wrong with being clean and presentable?

Frankly, the music, the preponderance of olives on the menu, the shit art and over-use of galvanized metal in the furnishings, even the idiotic people themselves can carry on with my blessing. I am - contrary to popular received wisdom – a tolerant chap.



Bohemians; what is so wrong with being clean and presentable? (Or, the changing nature of dirt in modern day fashionable society)


Doubtless you will all be aware that it is very fashionable to look oafishly disheveled, scruffy, down at heel. Words like granddad chic, eccentric and bohemian are common in badinage amongst the beau monde these days. It seems that an enormous amount of time, effort and money is spent on concocting a scruffy appearance calculated to highlight the wearer's artistic credentials. I say artistic here, because as yet no one I know has heard of a youngster waltzing around pretending to be a scientist. No, scientific eccentricities in clothing are ones that have not yet crossed the divide between the cool and the great unwashed, sadly unable to shake off an image of test tubes in lab coats, hearing aids and Bunsen burner stains and cello taped NHS specs. Thus, we can safely confine this argument to an artistic creative elite, who seemingly want to be seen as down at heel painters traversing Montmatre, or initiates in OGPU.


It's not only the clothes though, is it? Recycling old clothes can be seen as a commendable and thrifty act. I can feel the hands of dozens of long-dead Lancastrian ancestors on my shoulder, whispering to me that there's nowt wrong with making things last; indeed I'm just as "guilty" of buying 1930s trousers as the next arty type. No, where things start to get out of hand is when you find yourself in a trendy arty cafe, for these are the places where Creatives act out their bien pensant aspirations to the full. As if entering a place that is intent on serving food but strangely having a name such as Aubergine or La Folie or Blue Harvest wasn't bad enough. That's just the start of it all. Firstly there is not a tablecloth to be seen. Nor will it be sensible Formica wipe-clean tables either. Rather the table will be a rough-hewn piece of salvage from a village hall, given a perfunctory wipe with some foul-smelling general-purpose rag. Furthermore the walls will be adorned will lots of meaningless pictures, mostly sardonic in tone and self-regarding and blase in subject matter. As if that wasn't bad enough, there will be a selection on background music that will alternate between dreadful Latino style rumba bollocks, awful 1930s cabaret tunes or new age sounds that forever grope towards the meaning of melody. All the music will be set at a volume quiet enough to be truly irritating, i.e. loud enough to prevent any personal reminiscence or introspection. But, of course, that's not allowed these days, is it?


This type of cafe bar, strewn with its amusing detritus and Liberal newspapers, is where the modern Boho likes to hang out, sullenly wrapped up in a corner, or brazenly splayed over about four chairs – nursing some hideous Continental froth in a cup whilst adopting a dreadfully smug look at me attitude. It really is utterly nauseous, if only for one overriding reason. Frankly, the music, the preponderance of olives on the menu, the shit art and over-use of galvanized metal in the furnishings, even the idiotic people themselves can carry on with my blessing. I am - contrary to popular received wisdom – a tolerant chap. What really gets my goat is the assumption that the proprietors and clientele are living out some kind of benevolent Down and Out in Paris and London tableaux, pretending to be one of the Righteous Underclass. There is a conspicuous and conscious (though never consciously uttered) desire to be associated with another, lower class; a class less well off (meaning more honest), a classless well educated (meaning more noble), less advantageously placed in the job market (meaning more tolerant towards their fellow citizens) than their own. They are just playing at peasants.

In fact there's a pub (bedecked with pictures of Marx etcetera, etcetera... no doubt ironically) bloody well called the Peasant in North London, where you can drink fine wines and cask ales and listen to soothing Latino bollocks. Marie Antoinette's little shepherdess role in the gardens of Versailles pales into insignificance with this stuff. At least she never pretended to be dirty and dangerous and "street". No wonder Matisse adopted the garb of a prim clerk, all the better to shake off any unfair aspersions of living a Bohemian life style.


Oh dear. Not being very funky, am I?    


The stupidity of this mass metaphorical wearing of a Beckett's hair shirt by today's arty slackers was brought home to me recently whilst watching some grim 1980s television drama about Oop North. It was television very typical of its time – the visual message (as told by earnest BBC types) was that living in the North of England was grim, dirty, boring and violent (as well as cold and wet). I suppose up to a point it was, and still is. No, what really shocked (once you got past the clumsy, earnest message) was that I hadn't seen chipboard or grey, fitted carpet squares in interior furnishings for a hell of a long time. Not to mention plastic, "wood-grain effect" tables with metal legs or smoke-stained, swirling plaster-effect wallpaper. And distinctly dirty, noticeably dirty grubbily dirty people. The people sporting out-of-shape grey jumpers tucked and belted in skinny jeans and once white trainers. I hadn't seen people this grubby in ages. It was weird, but instructive to see. We are not that dirty or uncouth any more, and there is no point in being so.


Now, let me say right away that I am not defending this old kind of interior or dress sense as "ideologically pure" or "honest". No, it was depressing stuff, frankly. But it was real, fag stained, chip-fat greasy dirt, unwashed clothes begrimed with dead skin dirt. Not show dirt. Not old sofas brought into a bar to add "character", and dirt. Not old TVs piled on top of each other in an ironic dumb show (instead of being rightly consigned to a skip); not places where bare concrete walls give a feeling of drinking in a multi-storey car park... In short, not the places (unfortunately) where clean and successful, affluent, educated and stylish people go to enjoy themselves nowadays.


Am I the only person on this planet avidly wishing that the people who frequent these places would all grow up a bit?      


Words: Richard Foster.