Friday, 28 March 2014

A very mixed neighbourhood.

(New cocktail glasses.)

When I think about the environment I grew up in, compared to that of my own children, I think of the word homogeneity because where I grew up in North Yorkshire everyone I knew was pretty much the same. 

We were all what you might call 'middle class' and we were mostly white. My friends lived in houses much like mine, newly built, or built in the last twenty years or so. Their parents were home-owners like mine. They had cars, sometimes two, like mine. They went on nice summer holidays to Cornwall, or even abroad once a year, like mine. 

I went to a 'good' comprehensive school where I guess there must have been children from deprived backgrounds but I was never really aware of that, and out of approximately one thousand pupils only one of them was black. 

I suppose we were the privileged ones because we were the only family we knew with a dishwasher and that, my friends told me at the time, meant we were 'posh'. 

At the other end of the spectrum I wasn't aware of people with trust funds, or people who went to private school, or people who went on skiing holidays. In fact I didn't come across anyone who had gone to private school until I got to university where I was shocked to discover that these same 'Sloanes' (for that is what we called them in those days), thought nothing of swearing in public, quite loudly, in braying tones - "Oh fucking hell, Emma!" 

I mention this because this week I was confronted with what a very different environment my own children are being brought up in, a long way from the 'sameyness' of mine, indeed a place full of extremes.  And I think that on the whole this is a good thing.

They live in south London, on a road that has people who own their substantial sized houses, who have huge Range Rovers and converted basements and four children at private school and weekend cottages in Gloucestershire, but where there are also people who live in rented housing association flats, or even rooms, and survive, somehow, on benefits. 

And although our boys are fortunate to walk across a pretty common to their 'good' comprehensive school every morning - where they encounter children from every possible walk of life - through an avenue of mature trees, past ponds that are currently being converted into a wetland habitat for amphibians. They also pass the drunks that routinely sit on the benches there, have seen discarded needles strewn along the path, and even, once, a drug deal going on in broad daylight. Indeed Eldest has been mugged on that very lane that leads to his school, in the afternoon.

But there was an incident on Friday last that brilliantly sums up the diversity existing cheek by jowl where we live, better than I could ever manage, and unfortunately it features me in the posh person role here, taking a delivery from that ultimate temple of middle class cliche, John Lewis. 

"Oooo!" I said to the guy who was standing on our front step holding one of those electronic signing pads that indicates something yummy is arriving, (you see I'm even slipping into the suitable vernacular here), "I think this might be the glasses I've ordered for my cocktail party!" 

He smiled, and at exactly that moment, the woman with the wild hair and the ravaged face and all those dogs, who lives upstairs in social housing accommodation over the road, and calls the emergency services routinely in the middle of the night, lent out of her window and shouted "You fucking paedophile!" at some man below who was leaving through the front door.

The John Lewis delivery guy and I exchanged looks and tried to continue our conversation but the woman called out again, "You fucking black paedophile!" 

It was hard to ignore and I felt it needed some sort of explanation. "It's a very mixed neighbourhood," I said to the delivery guy. 

"Indeed," he replied.

And thinking about it later it occurred to me that those Sloaney girls I encountered at university, and the woman leaning out of the window in our street, might come from very different backgrounds, life may have dealt them very different hands, but they have something in common that would have been shocking to a middle class North Yorkshire girl growing up in the 1970s and '80s, and that is that they both swear in public. 

So think on, as they say in Yorkshire.




  1. Great post. That's what I love/loathe about London: the diversity that enriches vs the inequalities that separate.

  2. Thanks for the comment! Haven't had one of those for a while and makes all the difference. Glad you feel the same about London. A funny old place. E x

  3. Great post Liz.... you know who I am, your middle class friend from our good comprehensive in North Yorkshire, and yes, I still live in the same sort of environment we were brought up in, safe, secure... sheltered! We have one black boy in my son's primary school, and we all come from very similar backgrounds. When we venture out to the 'big cities' my son's eyes are full of wonder at this outside world and he relishes these trips with, especially thos to London to visit his brother and sister. I worry he's too safe, too secure ..... but try to give him opportunities to see the other side of life. Maybe we should go to Hull more often !! x

  4. I've only just seen this Claire! So lovely to hear from you, and for you to verify my story! All true you see. Your boy looks lovely and you are lucky to be bringing him up in such a lovely place. I only have fond memories of my childhood in Yorkshire and I'm glad that I can take the boys back there with me regularly. All my love E x