The apparel oft proclaims the man, said Polonius, full of the wisdom of
the obvious. But these days the vehicle just as oft proclaims the driver: bright
red, for example, for the aggressive, apple green for the tasteless, black for
the serious or the depressed. As for the drivers of white vans, they have
become a political category, white van man.
White van man is the politician’s bête noire, so to speak; he wants to be
left alone, to work on his own account, to prosper in his own way but not
necessarily to be rich. He expects little of the state and demands of it. He is
skilled and essential to modern life and the comfort of millions; in private life
his tastes may be unsophisticated and common and he is despised or looked
down on by intellectuals and everyone with a university education.
Recently white van man has come to my rescue on three occasions in
quick succession. My roof leaked; an ancient garden wall almost collapsed,
until recently both held up and destroyed by the ivy growing on it; and
quintessentially middle class Aga sprang a leak. I was as helpless in the face
of these small disasters as a new-born babe.
White van man, young and old, came to my rescue. Each said he did
what he was going to do and charged what he said he was going to charge. I
watched from my study window the scaffolder erect the scaffold for access to
the roof; his speed, efficiency and skill were humbling for someone as inept as
All these white van men were not only skilled, but extremely pleasant
to deal with. They were all cheerful, polite and obliging; they were not
intellectual, but they were intelligent – as indeed they had to be to solve the
problems of the jobs they did. Their conversation was interesting and, having
dealt with customers, they knew about human nature. They took a pride in
The Hilarious Pessmist
their work, the bricklayers for example demolishing the wall and rebuilding it
in precisely its original beautiful form and style.
The intellectuals’ habit of looking down on people upon whom the
comfort of their lives depends is an old, dishonourable and even despicable
one. Snobbery is a vice, and I think a serious one. But reflection on human
nature as I have found it suggests to me that it is ineradicable. One of the
most basic of human needs is that of other humans to look down on.
Snobbery always defeats equality…