Francis F. Fulford rails against the current crop of wealthy “incomers” from the City of London to rural England and questions their financial integrity
Twenty odd years ago a friend telephoned. “Frank you’ve got to help me. I‘ve got these bankers from London coming to dinner. Could you come and liven proceedings up a bit. I think they may be bit boring.”
Well, you know what? They were a bit boring. In fact they were massively boring and to ‘liven proceedings up a bit’ as per my instructions I eventually piped up and said: “Do you know what makes me laugh? You are all worth hundreds of millions of pounds but what you really want to be is what we are: English Country Gentlemen!” Up until that point, they hadn’t noticed me except to give me the ‘goodness what’s that dog poo doing on the carpet’ look, but now I could see I had hit the spot.
As early as the 1420s the Italian scholar and humanist Poggio Bracciolini wrote of English society: “I have seen a man who has given up trade, bought an expensive estate, and left town to go there with his family, turn his sons into noblemen and himself be accepted by the noble classes.” As it was then, so it is today.
Now, on the whole we welcome these newcomers into rural England and it would be hypocritical in the extreme if we didn’t. After all I was once an ‘incomer’ to London where I shared a flat with another ‘incomer’, a Somerset baronet called Ben Slade. Our flat was in one of those red brick built mansion blocks behind Westminster Cathedral and boasted a balcony. Ben had the great idea that we could keep chickens on the balcony that every morning would provide us with eggs. It was back in the days when there was something called the ‘The Egg Marketing Board’, which urged everybody, “to go to work on an egg”. So we thought we would give it a bash and see if, as the adverts suggested, our performance at our respective offices in the City would improve.
To begin with everything worked well. The chickens seemed to thrive on the balcony and so many eggs were laid we even had a surplus but the locals began to complain. Our chickens were early risers and made a huge racket. The landlord sent a series of unnecessarily rude letters and the chickens had to go.
But I tell the story to demonstrate an example of urban intolerance to country people, coming to town and bringing with them their habits. I am a great believer in the ‘when in Wales, do what the Welsh do’ school of thought (though perhaps not with sheep). Sadly, urban man, when he comes to the country, does not subscribe to this dictum. Instead, he tries to impose his ideas, customs and prejudices on us native countrymen. All too often the courts of law, stuffed as they are with lawyers and judges who have no knowledge of the joys of rural life, side with these incomers when they whine about the church bells being rung, or the rich smell of a field freshly spread with slurry.
But the most irritating thing about many ‘incomers’ or ‘furriners’ as we call them down here in deepest darkest Devon, is ‘attitude.’ How often have I met some newly arrived banker at some ‘do’ or other and, on being introduced to him, seen his eyes glaze over in boredom before I have even said anything! This is cheek. Meeting Captains of Industry or Commerce is, all too often, like eating in a bad restaurant. The menu promises great earthly delights but when the courses arrive they are tasteless and disappointing. You think because they are successful bankers or businessmen they must, by definition, have much of interest to impart and lots of good stories to amuse the assembled company. Sadly of course they have none and spend their time instead staring morosely at the screen of their pathetic smart phone.
And they believe it is us not them who are thick and boring; an opinion that has been reinforced by the idea that rural England voted overwhelmingly for Brexit in contrast to ‘sophisticated international’ Londoners.
But worse than their ‘attitude’ is their ‘standards’ or rather lack a lack thereof. Every local builder and supplier learns this the hard way. If you are dealing with ‘incomers’ it’s ‘cash up front.’ Many a time have I listened to a tale of woe told by some jobbing builder seduced by prospect of working for someone with seemingly endless riches (instead of us penny-pinching locals); of how they were asked to build a wall or a fence for “them furriners who bought so and so house”, only to discover that when it comes to paying the bill they simply don’t. When the poor chap eventually insists, they find fault with some aspect of his craftsmanship and eventually, grudgingly, offer to pay him half or two thirds of his bill. All too often he accepts, as the cost of taking them to court is prohibitive.
“But Graham,” I say. “How did you think they made their money in the first place?”