I Lived as a Tory for a Week, Day One: Mansion Viewing
Oobah heads to Barnes to check out a £3.5 million house that's recently been put on the market.
As part of our week on Britain's fastest growing subculture, Tories, I've spent a week undercover to try and unpick the mysteries that make them who they are. By experiencing their behaviour firsthand, I hope to understand them better so that we may one day live amongst them.
I'm sitting in a country pub where a pint costs more than I'd normally spend on lunch. A stack of 20 Telegraph newspapers rests on the bar, ready for one to help themselves to. On the menu, I'm offered "triple cooked chipped potatoes with harissa aioli". I can only guess this means chips and spicy mayo. I'm in the eye of the storm. I'm in Barnes.
What brings me to idyllic Barnes, south-west London? Ideal-to-send-your-kids-to-school, eco-conscious, can-leave-your-door-unlocked-although-no-one-ever-would Barnes?
Well: this week, I'm living my life as a Tory in a bid to understand why the other half votes the way they do, and today I'll be taking part in a Conservative ritual as old as Andrew Lloyd Webber: buying a £3.5 million house.
Yes, I've booked a viewing. But before I arrive I need a makeover. I genuinely live in a shed and eat curly fries three nights a week, and you can absolutely tell it from looking at me. I won't make it through the door. I need to become a Tory.
Turns out, all you need to do that – looks-wise, at least – is a comb, a white M&S shirt and some trousers your nan would approve of:
This is Herbert: accountant for Virgin. And he's in the market for a £3.5 million starter home, ready to learn all there is to know about property.
Heading over, I felt a little apprehensive; what do I do if I'm found out and humiliated? I'll never get to be a Tory! And the estate agent will know I'm a liar!
Oh but hey, principles don't matter, Herbert – you're a Tory now!
A silver-haired New Zealander pulls me through the doorway. I immediately just start nodding and saying "space". This isn't even an act - I'm so struck by the absence of stuff in the place, and the nothingness just amplifies the few objects that have been left.
For example: this selfie of Boris Johnson and a lady. Which isn't that strange; person in a Tory area has a photo of themselves with Boris because he was campaigning around here at one point or other.
However, looking a bit closer at the other frames, something becomes abundantly clear: none of the people in the photos seem to belong to the same family. No: as far as I can tell, these are all objects planted by the estate agent as a mansion-selling technique. This is Patrick Bateman's Silian Rail business card, reworked for a housing market in which only the wealthy – so, by default, mostly Tories – can prosper. I take out my notepad and write two words: Boris Sells.
Ah, Pellegrino and Champagne: the two most Tory of drinks, just behind the Colonial G&T.
Here was me thinking that all estate agents did was generally be awful and charge you £300 for a piece of A4. But no: when the property in the balance isn't a shed in south London, the lads at Barnard Marcus really pull out all the stops.
This place is unbelievable; it has a basement the size of a council flat.
Outside, I meet a couple in their mid-thirties standing on the lawn, liaising with the agent. They're talking about extensions. Seven bedrooms, four reception rooms and four bathrooms is clearly not enough. Quickly, I shake it off, take another gulp of Champagne and get my head in the game.
"Say," I interrupt. "What would the deal be with putting a fitness pool in here?" The agent flinches. The couple look irritated.
"We have planning permission for an extension. What size are you thinking?"
"Big." I gulp.
"I can't see why it would be an issue." I brush past the man, grab another glass of champagne and disappear upstairs.
Lost in a labyrinth of Farrow & Ball-white walls, jacuzzi baths and pacific blue orchids, I start chucking back the champagne.
A second after that last picture is taken, the agent appears. I jolt to the ground, freezing like a cat caught in the middle of the road. The agent looks at me, smiles and walks on. Christ: as long as people think you have money, you can do anything!
Skipping down the stairs, I feel like Clark Gable, if Gable knew and did not care whatsoever about the destruction of the NHS and the doubling of homelessness under the current Conservative government.
"So, Herbert, what does your gut say?" He flutters his long eyelashes.
"Well," I take a sip of my champagne, feigning deep thought.
"I adore the place. And the price isn't too bad," I say, being as sincere as one of Holly Willoughby and Philip Schofield's contagious laughing fits. "Let me give you my card." I dip my hand into my pocket and pull out my wallet: my Slipknot wallet.
All three of us stare at it, wide-eyed; my mouth feels dry. The chase is up. My Inglorious Basterds bar moment. It's silent. I don't know what to say, so it comes out: "My son's bloody wallet!" They look at me, gobsmacked. It's time to go.
Within seconds, I've dished out sweaty handshakes and am out on the street, humiliated. How do you recover from this? Surely, no Tory can be shown up as both a liar and fool, and recover? Surely Richmond never forgets! But then I look up.
I think Herbert is going to fit in just fine.
Oobah's week living as a Tory continues tomorrow.