1 SEPTEMBER 1984, Page 6


Mo more tales from Wivenhoe this week, because we spent the bank holiday with my daughter in the Warwick- shire village of Whichford, where my son-in-law makes the best garden pots in the country. To mark the opening of a new kiln, which he built himself, they gave a marvellous country dance, to which the whole village, very old as well as very young, was invited, as well as a multitude of friends, also of all generations, many of whom arrived with tents which they pitch- ed in a nearby field. The occasion could have been, and in the old days almost certainly would have been, a bit of a strain, with all the different social groups refusing to mix, and the young children growing increasingly fractious and over-tired. In these respects I have to report that things ain't what they used to be, and are indeed improved out of all recognition. For exam- ple, I did not hear a single child crying or squabbling throughout the entire party, which started with cream teas and conjur- ing at four pm and went on with much drinking and barn dancing until the small hours. Teenagers may nowadays be more of a problem than they used to be but, on the evidence of this party, toddlers have become incomparably better behaved and more sociable. Nor is the problem of social mixing between the classes what it was, thanks perhaps to the fact that everyone nowadays has so much more in common to talk about than used to be the case. Television is particularly useful in this respect, since landowner and farm labour- er, for example, look at the same program- mes. They also even go to the same places on holiday, give or take a few stars, and drive roughly the same cars. As for the wives, they use the same supermarket etc. In the old days the only small talk subjects which different classes in the country had in common were the weather and the crops, which made for hard social plodding at these kind of village gatherings. Nowa- days there are many more real bonds forged by genuinely shared experiences, including incidentally the universal hatred for Mr Scargill. Social life is indubitably much less stilted than it used to be, as much between the generations as between the classes, and although this may not be a giant step towards utopia, I have to confess that it seemed so to me on Sunday night as young and old, rich and poor all happily `stripped the willow' under the harvest moon.

The death of J. B. Priestley has left a place to be filled in the Order of Merit, and I should like to suggest, nay affirm, that nobody is better fitted to fill the gap than the philosopher Michael Oakeshott. If the honour in question was internation-

al, like the Nobel Prize, then Oakeshott's claim might be disputable, since his special genius has been to analyse, describe and convey a way of thinking about man in society which is quintessentially English. But if people want to know why British politics are so relatively civilised, or to understand the public morality of the English gentleman, they can find these mysteries unravelled even more subtly and profoundly in the philosophical writings of Oakeshott than in the novels of Trollope. Having done so much to honour England, it is time England honoured him. The difficulty is that Oakeshott has always resolutely resisted being turned into a fashionable celebrity, as has happened to Sir Isaiah Berlin, or into a guru, like Karl Popper, and although plenty of young pupils during the last half century have sought to attach themselves as disciples, all have been rejected, including the once sycophantic Bernard Crick, who has never ceased denigrating the Master for refusing his cult-building services. I first met Oakeshott in Holland in 1944, when we were both serving in Phantom, he as squadron admin officer and I as its most junior subaltern, fresh from starting to read history at Cambridge. Full of juvenile intellectual pretensions, I used to lecture Oakeshott, who at no point during the few months we shared a tent ever mentioned that before joining up he had been a famous don at Cambridge, a fact which I only discovered on returning there after the war. One of the recommended lecturers was M. J. Oakeshott, and I shall never forget my embarrassed amazement when the now begowned luminary at the podium, on whose words the audience so eagerly hung, turned out to be the same small and merry figure who had so recently seemed quite happy to be lectured at by me. Although far too private a person ever to accept a knighthood or peerage, Oakeshott might not have the same objections to the mtich less pompous and grandiose Order of Merit, the bestowal of which involves no Palace ceremonial or anything of that kind. I should have thought some of the right- wing academics Mrs Thatcher has already over-honoured — Lords Quinton, Beloff, Baud, Thomas — might press this matter, since it must take a bit of the gilt off their gingerbread to know that someone so incomparably more illustrious has not yet received any public recognition at all.

Who is this relict of our grandfather's age, this choleric old gentleman, top-hatted and wing-collared, walking to- wards us up St James's Street, past those few surviving establishments of his youth so dear to his heart — the clubs, Berry's, Lock's, Lobbs? Why, it must be, yes, it is, Dr Scruton! Old-fashioned Tory philo- sopher, stern guardian of Victorian values, devout theologian who once saw Dean Inge plain. Here indeed is a metamor- phosis as grotesque as any described by Ovid. Superficial friends and enemies of Roger Scruton who recognise him as he bicycles in Notting Hill — sensible clips round the legs of his grey flannels, mackin- tosh tightly belted — may be forgiven for not recognising the old man struggling to get out of the young one. I am not suggesting that Scruton is deliberatelY playing a practical joke upon us all, in the manner of Evelyn Waugh. He has not, so far as I know, yet bought a country seat, nor ordered a wardrobe of tweed suits. But consider his recent panegyric of wine met" chants who scatter sawdust on their floor, and weigh their customers on antique hall scales. Consider, too, a letter last week M the Times: 'Poor old Scruton . . like 3 man who remembers his childhood through the tears of a disappointed old age and the fumes of port wine . . . Seldom has myth and reality conflicted so wildlY, And yet, Sunt quibus in plures jag es.; transire figuras: Proteus is alive, well, an living in Notting Hill.

Iam sure that the diary firms would sell 1.more butter if they produced a Valle!, pound pack as well as the present hau pound one. Our household has almost given up buying butter because so often the half pound size means a lot gets wasted, particularly in the hot weather. For picnics' too, the half pound size is far too large' which means that the uneaten section has, to be brought home in a horrid melte° condition fit only for the dustbin. There, are a great many health-conscious famihe', nowadays who are teetering on the edge ,_°1 ceasing to eat butter altogether, and ,°eY W producing only the half pound size e diaries provide them with just the ego°, they are looking for. If they were to lann._eu., a new smaller size pack, accompanfa an advertising campaign geared to the lu"„ that `a little of what you fancy does Yuu good', the sales might instantly iMPr°ve.

Peregrine Worsthoine