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The Independent

There's a good chap. Page 2 by Iain Aitch

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Out on the street the pair continue with the hat doffing and invite me to join them in wishing a hearty 'good day' to anyone we pass. This being Oxford Street we pass about two hundred people every minute and nearly all of them just stare back in bemusement or pretend that our warm greetings never happened. Even men in similar headwear to the Chaps simply look away grumpily. It seems that only American tourists welcome our gesture of civility, though they may just assume that we have been hired by the Tourist Board to make their stay more redolent of the London that they know from Mary Poppins.

As we are crossing the street toward trainer-junkie heaven Foot Locker Temple spies a woman in her seventies and attempts to accompany her across the road, only to be rebuked with the line: "I'm a Londoner, I don't need any help." Far from downhearted by the response he traverses the pedestrian crossing several times before a woman finally allows him to take her arm.

I try the same thing myself, believing that any lady in her right mind would enjoy being escorted through traffic by such a well-attired gent, but sadly the tight waistcoat seems to be cutting off the air supply to my brain and I only get rabbit -in-the-headlights stares back from women as I try to explain why I am trying to grab their arm.

Once inside Foot Locker Temple catches the eye of a shop assistant, who I can't help but feel sorry for as he wanders over.

"Good day," chirps Temple extending his hand. "I should like to purchase some plimsolls for a specific training regime."

"Well, we don't actually have that many plimsolls as such," says the employee. "What are they for?"

"I am being trained for the life of a boulevardier," says Temple. "Each morning I must walk along Jermyn Street at a brisk pace, turn left into St James Street, pausing to select the evening's cigar at Davidoff's before ambling to my club, where I shall spend the rest of the day ensconced in an armchair reading The Times."

"Well, something soft would probably be best," says the shop assistant, seemingly unfazed. "Do you have a style in mind? What about old school?"

"Ah yes, that sounds ideal," interjects Darkwood. "Which schools would that be? Do you have them in Eton colours?"

This sparks a lengthy explanation of the term 'old school' from the shop assistant but no sale. He does score highly for civility, though, as well as the ability to keep a straight face when faced with a trio of thirty-something men who seem to not understand what an Air Jordan is.

In Gap, Temple befuddles another member of staff with questions about the combat trousers before asking to see the head cutter but we are dealt with politely and efficiently; again learning new information. Our shop assistant tells us that the Queen wore jeans when she was working as a mechanic during World War II, though he can't vouch for the fact that she buys her denims from Gap nowadays, despite the endorsement of Missy and Madonna.

It is a similar story at Phones4u, where a request for a car phone for Temple's (imaginary) vintage Daimler in either Bakelite or solid Walnut leads to a lot of head-scratching and scurrying about in the basement from Karim, our enthusiastic salesman.

"Perhaps he is calling Mr Nokia's head carpenter," muses Darkwood. Though Temple suspects he may actually be hiding, watching on CCTV until we leave.

Some fifteen minutes later Karim emerges looking flushed, having obviously been calling around. Though he fails to mention if he has spoken with Nokia's head carpenter.

"We don't do anything like that here, but if you try Selfridges they can customise any phone to your requirements," he says. "Even diamond-encrusted, if you like."

Temple firmly grasps Karim's hand, Darkwood raises his hat and we leave, once again surprised at the willingness of a harried member of staff to try to provide satisfaction. Perhaps civility is there beneath the surface in every city centre if you scratch hard enough.

This is not the case at McDonalds, however, where our requests for a dry martini are met with looks of confusion and a general 'please leave now' approach.

"Is it because you are out of vermouth?" asks Temple. But the question goes unanswered. Similarly, Starbucks staff are unwilling to enter into discourse as to why they are unable to serve a pot of Lady Grey or provide china cups and saucers.

As we head away from Oxford Street, up Regent's Street towards a Chap-approved eatery, the pair seem optimistic that their day of protest could be the spark that we need to move away from the necessity to throw fried foods at David Blaine, fight in rows over bus stop queues or run noisy neighbours out of town.

They even moot the possibility of a Chappist Prime Minister; a role that they feel could be carried out admirably by either Boris Johnson or Tony Benn. Chap political debate generally revolves around such issues as 'single- or double-breasted?' rather than questions of right or left. 'Right or left?' being the kind of question that a Chap is only ever asked by his tailor when being measured for a new suit.

But this bubble of sanguinity is soon burst by the sound that most Londoners, never mind most Chaps, dread the most.

"Can you spare a minute for Cancer Research?" says a diminutive young woman swathed in jeans, body-warmer and charity tabard as she steps into our path.

But, quick as a flash, Darkwood counters the query as only a Chap can.

"Can't you see I am undertaking my own research?" he says, raising the bowl of his pipe aloft as he steps past the unfortunate chugger – another small victory on the road to the charmed uprising.

Around the World in Eighty Martinis by Gustav Temple and Vic Darkwood is published by 4th Estate .

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