Jilly Cooper’s Class, written in 1979, was a hysterically funny book that took a massive swipe at the pretentiousness of the class system in Britain. It caused a huge uproar that even had the Duke of Edinburgh irritated enough to accost her at a function to deny such a thing still existed in Britain.
Cooper caught the duke well and truly out, though, when she suggested that according to the 1971 census, his daughter, Princess Anne, an event rider, was in the same social class as a gamekeeper, social class III. “Rubbish,” he snapped. “Keepers are working class.” Long live the class system in Britain!
The book is filled with superb examples of the class system, such as the very boring Nouveau Richards, whose luxury homes are in execrable taste, confirming the saying “money can buy many things but it can’t buy good taste.” The middle-class couple Gideon and Samantha Upward drink far too much and are always in respectable middle-class debt; and Harry and Caroline Stow-Crat love their dogs far more than each other.
Are class systems only the domain of the Brits? Well, of course, not. India reeks of the class divide and both Australia and America have their own class issues.
Australian children growing up in Papua New Guinea, me being one of them, had a rather elevated opinion of themselves, but luckily I had a mother who stood absolutely no-nonsense when it came to speaking to any person, be they “black, white or brindle” – as she would say – and she found the whole class thing a total bore. My mother preferred the company of our rather stocky gardener from the New Guinea highlands than the excruciating company of those whose conversation centred around “to which school one would be sending one’s children” and at which hotel you stayed on your recent trip to Hong Kong.
I moved to Australia in the mid-70s and lived for a period of time with one of my older sisters and her husband. The “new” suburb where they lived was overflowing with the Nouveau Richards with the horribly correct Upwards living in the older suburbs. The Nouveau Richards stood out like the proverbial “dogs balls” (don’t see many of those anymore in Australia) with their huge houses filled to the rafters with everything that was the very latest, including their dogs and cats; and conversations centred around the purchasing of said things – and that absolute no-no of a discussion point in the Upwards household: the cost!
There were certain dog breeds, like the ubiquitous Corgi in Britain, that were the breeds to “own” if you wanted to be accepted by your peers. My sister and her husband bought a Boxer dog and a Siamese cat. They lived next door to a couple who had two Afghan Hounds – God forbid this breed finds its way to these fair-island shores. The sort of snobbery that came with the “what one had” was about jockeying for position on the next rung down from the richest and all the way down from there. But to what end?
Slowly but surely, people, in Australia anyway, came through the “me” 80s and out into the 90s and more and more people seemed to have a social conscience. It was no longer cool, though there are still those who care less about those with less, to consume madly, to own all things without a thought for those less fortunate.
Australia got cleaned up with the Do the Right Thing programme in more ways than just the rubbish. No longer were there dogs roaming the streets. Local council bylaws ruled that dogs roaming the streets were collected and owners were given three days before they were euthanized. Shelters opened up like SCARS – Sunshine Coast Animal Refuge Shelter – to give dogs and cats that weren’t claimed life. And to these shelters came people who realised that there were fine dogs and cats without the enormous price tag that were wonderful companion animals and gave their owners enormous joy.
It was, therefore, a truly sad shock I received when I attended the rally Fun Walk for Animals – Towards Bali Free of Rabies at the Puputan Field in Renon last Sunday to see not one owned Bali dog.
On arrival I lined up with those paying their Rp20,000 to join the walk. Where were all the Bali dogs? I asked. No one had an answer. The cost of the dogs on show ranged from Rp3 million (US$300) to one whose owner told me cost her Rp15 million. One very handsome Scooby Doo-looking dog cost in the vicinity of Rp6 million per month to feed.
A couple of nights ago I drove home from Seminyak in torrential rain with some friends. A tiny puppy sat shivering on the side of the road. We stopped to try and catch it but fear had it running out of our reach. I went to bed with the sound of the rain pelting down and all I could think of was how many puppies would die during the night from the cold – or worse still, drown. Kittens too.
When those with money don’t care about Bali’s own dogs and cats, what chance do the minority who do have to make a difference on this island? I used to love the sound of rain as I slept in the past. Now all I can think of is the sight of that frightened little puppy.
Will you be part of the change? Please dig deep and be proud of your home-grown variety?
Elizabeth Henzell can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.