My temporary new home, in a new London borough is somewhat different from my flat in Putney. It's not the buildings which differ hugely, nor is there a varying range of entertainment. The river is still a walk away. My usual bus route to work is still accessible. What marks my change of scene are my new neighbours, and fellow pavement-pounders. Leaving English families with small children, Aussies and Kiwis, post-university first-timers in Wandsworth, I find myself in the realm of the Sloane, in the heart of Chelsea. Walking down the street there one is often more likely to hear Spanish, French or Russian spoken than English, but the Kings Road is still a stronghold for the dying breed of moneyed, young Brits.
So, a spotter's guide. Here come the girls. Appearance-wise they all look pretty much the same. Hair is worn too long, dried out from peroxide and straighteners, usually flopped over one over-kohled eye. Make-up is over-applied, to create an orange mask over pale English rose skin, with heavy lashings of black eye-liner - this is never removed, more is simply applied over existing coats, creating a smudged, just-rolled-out-of-bed effect. Younger versions are slightly podgy, the elder ones are scarily thin, courtesy of eating disorders. Differing figures however are usually drowned in their tactic of layering of vest tops, cashmere, cardigans, huge knits or hoodies. Their arms clatter with wristfuls of bracelets, from gap years in Thailand or birthday presents from Tiffany. Legs are clad in denim (mini-skirts, hotpants even in the winter, or skin-tight jeans) or tracksuit bottoms, with stare-inviting slogans across the buttocks. Sloaney feet are shod in flat ballet pumps in black, animal print or gold, or the ubiquitous Ugg boot in traditional tan. Huge sunglasses obscure half the face, and are warn at all times regardless of season or weather, outdoors or inside. Loud and brash, these girls rasp in haughty voices, gravelled from smoking since pre-GCSEs. They name drop loudly, and gossip about shopping, possessions and meeting Ed, Fred, Ted and Beaky later at Boujis.
The boys are less offensive, but still noticeable. More often dark where their female counterparts are blonde, many are somewhat beautiful in a chiseled or floppy-haired way. The drawback is that they are all too aware of their attractiveness. Those less gorgeous cultivate an alternative attribute with which to gain the attention of the girls, commonly an eccentric dress sense. Along the Kings Road, I have witnessed oversized yellow ski-goggles atop a flammable gel-spiked quiff, green tweed jackets lined with scarlet satin, silk ties worn over t-shirts, all ruffling the seas of traditional navy blue and pastel pinks.
As a social group they appear to have little regard for anyone else - particularly for those older, employed (and thus incapable of meeting for a three hour lunch mid-week), or capable of existing alone. They never appear solo in public, but sweep down pavements three or four abreast, knocking everyone else into the gutter. They may have money but without a Blackberry or iPhone to link them to their hoardes of acquaintances they are, in their eyes, poverty-stricken. What odd creatures! What strange jungle have I landed myself in? Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Putney any more...