The chav in its most pure form can be best observed on a Saturday night in any provincial English town (they exist in London, but anyone who hasn't traveled outside the capital won't appreciate the full horror of the British social fabric). Here he is swaggering down the high street with baggy trousers and a gold chain round his neck; there he is imbibing twelve pints of lager before the pub closes at 11. And, of course, having a greasy kebab afterwards and looking for fights.
Sometimes Chavs not only forget their manners, but how to flip people off in British
It's weird how something is so terribly wrong with drinking culture in England; part of a Northern European phenomenon that tends to affect places where it's too cold to sit out on your pleasant cobbled central square and quaff a glass of chilled white wine while discussing existentialist philosophy. Spaniards, French, Italians - they might drink a lot, but at least they do it in a civilized manner. Brits just down as much booze as they can, before lumbering out of the pub and vomiting in the street. Looking for a fight, or just the first opportunity to pull his flick-knife on any language student with a half-decent mobile phone.
It's this readiness for fighting where Britain reveals its true chav underbelly. I don't know what it is - the mindless boredom of shit jobs; the lack of sunshine and endless rain; or the revoltingly low standard of our women- - but there's something that just makes British men want to fight.
I used to have a Welsh girlfriend, and once or twice I made the mistake of visiting her in Swansea for the weekend and we'd go out on the town together. I remember one visit was the weekend after two Iraqi refugees, who'd fled Saddam (it was pre- shock and awe), were stabbed while waiting to go into a club, for being "terrorist Pakis".
Binge Britain can be observed in full swing. People are throwing bottles, police cars patrol the streets. Pools of vomit and discarded kebab wrappers litter the pavements. Fat girls in miniskirts stagger around swearing filthily and drinking cheap wine out of the bottle, their pale chubby legs going red in the icy wind; and gangs of men roam around wearing Burberry shirts and looking for the smallest opportunity to start a fight. In four years of living in Moscow I've never once crossed the road to avoid a gang of people groups of men here get paralytically drunk, but tend to do physical damage only to themselves. In England, if you don't want to get "started on", it's wise to cross the street every few minutes you run a constant risk of "aggro".
"Are you looking at my fucking bird?"
"Oi, cunt! What's your fucking problem?"
This Middlesbrough Chav is posing with his own mug, as seen on a local anti-crime bus advert
And so on. I trekked through the Northern Areas of Pakistan in September 2001; I've traveled all through Iran; I've been to Syria, Lebanon, Tajikistan, Dagestan and Ingushetia. And I've never once felt like my life was in any kind of danger in any of these places. Put me in Swansea, south Wales, at 1.30am on a Saturday night though, and I'm terrified. It's worse than all those places, and it's also worse than other European or American cities of similar size. Everywhere there are people who are angry; everywhere there are people looking for crime. But the sort of mindless, drink-fuelled aggression of provincial England, I have yet to see anywhere else (except Scotland).
Another terrifying phenomenon is chavs on holiday. Again, the antiquated notions of Brits as extraordinary adventurers, walking barefoot through Arabia or circumnavigating the globe in a banana boat, are long out of date. Now, we're phenomenally unadventurous travelers. Turn up to any obscure location in the globe Yemen, Syria, the Sahara and you'll find coachloads of intrepid German pensioners seeking thrills. But the Brits, we prefer to stick to a few revolting destinations Corfu, Majorca, Costa Del Sol, where thousands of overweight, shaven-headed Brits go every summer for a fortnight of boozing and carcinogenic sunbathing (Jade Goody of Big Brother fame has a tip for those who want to tan quicker smear yourself in vegetable oil). My enduring memory of an ill-advised family holiday to Minorca many years ago is a giant, beetroot-red skinhead, wearing an XXL Chelsea shirt with "Fat Bastard. 9" written on the back, screaming at his six-year-old daughter (named Chelsea), "OI!!! Chelz, I'm trying to sleep! Shut up you little cunt or I'll fucking slap you!")