Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Top of the class.

There was a quiz in a newspaper magazine last week called 'How liberal elite are you?' One of the questions was 'What is the Thunderball?' Don't know, I thought, unless it's referring to Sean Connery in that Bond movie, which I'm pretty sure it's not. What is liberal elite anyway? Where I come from there's posh people and then there's everyone else. And they don't call a spade a spade, they call it a shovel. 

When I was at comprehensive school in Yorkshire the other kids thought we were posh because we had a dishwasher. When I got to university I realised we weren’t posh because I met posh people for the first time and they were called Emma and drove Minis and slept around and said 'fuck'. This confused the hell out of me because I was told these things were common (not the bit about the Minis).

Different types of Thunderballs

in a Bond

in a game.

When I met my husband I thought he was uncommonly nice because he wasn’t posh. He had a London accent and I thought this would piss off my mother. I imagined she wanted me to go out with a well-spoken boy with a sensitive side so I steered clear of all those. Later I discovered he'd gone to a boarding school where they wore knee-high yellow stocks and marched into the dining hall playing musical instruments. On the plus side he went on a full scholarship because he came from a broken home and his family didn't have a washing machine or a car. It was around this time I realised class could be a complicated equation.

Pass the port to the one on the left.

As a kid I thought we didn’t have to worry about class because our father was a sociologist. We weren’t middle class or upper class or working class: our father was a sociologist, and an American sociologist hadn't yet come up with the idea of an out of touch liberal elite. Having said that our family life wasn’t like that of the other academics' families we knew. Our house was tidy for a start, and new. It wasn't a ramshackle Victorian pile with a freezing kitchen full of tea-stained mugs and a hall stacked with paperbacks. We had proper bookshelves and an avocado bathroom. We weren’t vegetarian. Our parents were happily married to the person they were originally married to and our mother was pretty and wore make-up. Our father wore a tie every day. Neither of them ever smoked marijuana and I never had a cello lesson.

But the kids at school thought I was posh because I said bath with a long 'a' and was called Elizabeth. So when I was 15 I reinvented myself. I was Liz. I went to the 'youthie' and danced with a boy called Glen who had a gold tooth and offered to take me to the bingo with his mam. He sent me a Valentine's card and wrote inside 'if one of your kisses was a snowflake I'd ask for a blizzard,' (you have to read that in a Yorkshire accent for the full effect). When I was at 'youthie' I referred to my parents as “me mam” and “me dad" and when I got home again, I called out, "Mummy! It's me!" Living a second life was confusing but if that's what it takes to fit in, so be it, I thought. Mad. But it worked.

Cathy born to wander.

At home we had standards. Elbows and milk bottles weren't allowed on tables. When my brother returned from university with a copy of The Sun and a liking for HP Sauce my mother was horrified, which is probably what he wanted. In truth she came from guttersnipes. My maternal grandmother worked in a factory in the Jewellery Quarter of Birmingham until she married. She'd lived in a back to back house on the same road they filmed Cathy Come Home. By comparison the house we live in now is a palace. Things she thought were luxuries are now run of the mill. We have underfloor heating and a Nespresso machine. My grandmother once stood next to me in the kitchen as I chopped a pepper and asked me what it was.

A pepper.

Eldest reckons he's working class. Husband pointed out it’s not very working class to complain when the smoked salmon runs out. Youngest was horrified by the Bertie Wooster tour of Mayfair Husband proposed when it was his birthday (Husband's, not Bertie Wooster's). I’m not sure what liberal elite is but it’s probably got something to do with eating smoked salmon and liking literary walking tours. Living in a city within spitting distance of a Waitrose is a big part of it apparently. I guess we’re all members of tribes and ours includes graduates who are theatre-goers and would never vote Tory, who buy stuff in John Lewis and could send their kids to private school, but don't, grow veg, cycle to farmers markets and have second homes abroad or in the country.

A love of the Woosters.

Signalling to one another what class we belong to is a complicated business that requires subtly shifting gears. It used to be all Volvo estates and now it's Ford, or even a Skoda. I don’t know anyone who goes on Mark Warner holidays and wears Boden anymore and yet both were de rigueur round here not so long ago. And then there’s language. Sofa or settee or studio couch? Living room or sitting room or lounge? My sister-in-law calls it the drawing room. Is it supper or dinner? Do you call delicious food "beautiful," and a loo a "toilet"? Living in North America as a child has confused me further. I'm still not sure how to say glacier, or vase. I once went into a hardware shop in York to buy some Swarfega (don’t ask) and the shop assistant told me, "it's on your own onus.” She meant she couldn’t guarantee it would work. I suppose laughing at other people's faux pas and calling them faux pas is a way of reassuring ourselves. About what I'm not sure.

I listed a few more of the questions from the quiz at the end for you to ponder, or rather, to test "just how badly you yearn to be in that category." Does class matter anymore? It probably matters the same as it ever did. Probably saying it doesn’t matter marks you out as liberal elite. 

Love E x


P.S. You write a blog? How very common.

Do you live in a city? Do you watch the X Factor? What is quinoa, and how do you pronounce it? Do you smoke? Have you ever a.) worked in a factory b.) been in a factory?Where did you meet your current partner? How often do you use public transport? Have you ever had a job that caused something to hurt at the end of the day? Since leaving school, have you ever worn a uniform? (I'm guessing they don't mean to spice things up bedroom-wise. I reckon they're thinking more of the army. Or McDonalds.)

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