what's wrong with being working class, anyway?
0 comment Friday, April 11, 2014 |
I've always been plagued by middle class sensibilities. As a girl I liked to read books and ride ponies, and I despaired of my working class parent's taste in newspapers and food. When I took my first steps into adulthood I was drawn towards education rather than the factory floor. I used to have nightmares about ending up working in a shop.
I've mixed a lot with the middle classes since then, and they're OK. So help me, I even married one of them. I recognise myself in a lot of their wants and desires. I do some middle class things. I hold my hands up to having holidayed in Provence and attended the theatre many times. I am a Guardian reading, degree obtaining, home-owning, houmous and pitta eating, working class woman.
But I'd always assumed my children would be middle class. That is to say, my children's lives would be enriched by being able to play musical instruments, speaking bits of foreign languages, joining the Scouts and the Guides, holidaying in France and eating fetta salad. They would be in book clubs and know their times tables. And they would go to University.
I have, therefore, suffered some anxiety over my own children's strong resistance towards all things middle class. They can both play the recorder, but badly. We teach them a bit of Spanish or French, but they forget. They tantrummed over going to Scouts. We dare not take them on a plane. They once screamed at me when I suggested they try an olive. They're not much interested in books and education. I don't think they'll go to University.
For a while I tried to pull them towards the type of life that my own birth children would have had. However it was such a huge leap from the life they had had, that we got nothing but anxiety and panic. They want home, familiarity and safety. Not clubs, learning new things and having new experiences.
I was bereft.
Then something happened.
Some minor acquaintance on Facebook posted something about taking her son to a Folk Festival so that he could see musical instruments being played in different context. Her son is eight.
Let's just recap that. This lady wanted to take her 8 year old son to a Folk festival so that he could see musical instruments being played by men in beards, wearing Jesus sandals. He normally listens to and plays classical, you see.
I know this kid. He hates his violin. All he wants to do is play his DS.
My working class instincts rose up in indignation. It felt almost sinister. Like when you know someone who starts dating a really controlling person and their whole likes and dislikes change to accommodate them? At what point does 'enriching your kids life' stop and 'making them be someone they're not' start?
A revolution happened right there and then in my working class heart. If my kids want to learn to play a musical instrument, I thought, they'll tell me and I'll support them. There's always a chance they'll pick up a guitar when they're older, or try the drums around at their uncle's. I'm not going to hothouse them for the Philharmonic.
Since that moment, the middle class has looked to me like some stressful, silly clique that doesn't seem worth the effort. Life's a ride and I want my kids to enjoy it. I don't want them to worry about speaking the 'right' way, or going to the 'right' university, or reading the 'right' books, or earning the 'right' amount, or living in the 'right' postcode. That's just a complete and utter and total waste of energy.
Being working class is great. You get to sit on broken deckchairs, swigging Red Stripe, burning a few Asda burgers on a BBQ improvised from a cooker grill stuck over a couple of bricks. Your nan comes on holiday with you. You can put your own wallpaper up.
Rather than us working classes aspiring to be middle class, I think the middle classes should ponder the benefits of becoming working class. You can do your job half-arsed because you're not on a career ladder, and you don't give yourself a stomach ulcer worried about paying school and University fees. It's much more chilled and less expensive, and you don't have to pretend to appreciate Tracey Emin.
If my kids pick up a few words of Black Country dialect from their grandparents, that'll do me. As for clubs - who wants their kids in a semi-military organisation the pledges allegiance to God and The Queen, anyway? Not me! We shall holiday in a caravan*, they can eat all the Chicken Dippers, jam sandwiches and Wagon Wheels they like, and sod all the expense and stress of University. They can do something actually useful and productive with their early adult years instead.
I still insist they learn their times tables however, know who the Prime Minister is and understand the difference between 'they're' 'there' and 'their'. Being working class doesn't mean being ignorant.
* when I was growing-up, working class families used to go camping because that was what we could afford. Now camping sites are for the middle classes who want to 'get back to nature'. No thanks!

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