It's A Polenta Jungle Out There

by Quinn

There was an article in The Economist on the matter of “class” last week, reporting the findings of their YouGov survey on the subject (you can read the article here, free from subscription – yippee!; survey pdf can be found here).

According to the poll, 48% of people aged 30 or over say they expect to end up better off than their parents. But only 28% expect to end up in a different class. More than two-thirds think neither they nor their children will leave the class they were born into.

What does this thing that people cannot escape consist of these days? And what do people look at when decoding which class someone belongs to? The most useful identifying markers, according to the poll, are occupation, address, accent and income, in that order. The fact that income comes fourth is revealing: though some of the habits and attitudes that class used to define are more widely spread than they were, class still indicates something less blunt than mere wealth. Being the sort of person who “buys his own furniture”, a remark that Alan Clark, a former minister and diarist once reported as directed at Michael Heseltine, a self-made Tory colleague, is still worthy of note in circles where most inherit it.

It’s a funny thing, class. Perhaps it used to be simpler to figure out who belonged to which class when there was a clearer divide between a blue collar manual worker with keys to a council house and a white collar office worker with keys to the executive bathroom. Today the office worker could be a minimum wage slave scraping by while the manual worker is a self employed builder or tradesman employing an accountant to audit his vast income.

Did I say I find class funny? I think I prefer silly. Is it really anything more than an excuse to indulge in and to justify basic snobbery, be it inverted or the original, genuine article? I couldn’t care less which class I supposedly belong to because I don’t think such a thing exists as such. I don’t mind others considering me to be part of one class or another because I think it is more a reflection of someone else’s attitude and prejudices; this may count for something to some people, but I don’t knowingly move in the sort of circles where it does. However, it appears that I am writing about class; so, for the purposes of this post, which class do I belong to?

If you were to look at where I’ve come from you would probably conclude that I am middle class, at least if you were to consider many of those clichéd status symbols of my youth; my parents’ jobs were solidly middle class; they were home owners (of a detached property and all!); we went on foreign holidays (and I don’t just mean to North Wales); bought shares in the privatised utilities; my brother and I went to university. Other than going to private school, I don’t know what else we could have done to be middle class.

Having moved out of the family home and been left to my own devices, however, and things are not so clear. That university degree hasn’t been relevant to any of the jobs I’ve done, none of which you would describe as middle class; I live in a ex council semi; I’ve flogged all of the shares that have fallen into my lap (except my sentimental ones for Manchester City); I haven’t paid to go on a foreign holiday since my honeymoon four years ago.

In my penchant for eating chips and curry in the street you could consider me working class, while my penchant for using the word “penchant” could mark me out as middle class. So where do I fit in?

Well, yesterday, as I was about to pop out to the shops, I asked my wife if there was anything we had run out of that I could pick up along the way.

“We just need some balsamic vinegar and a bottle of extra virgin olive oil,” she replied.

Did you get that? She said we needed balsamic and olive oil, not for some special, specific recipe or owt, oh no, but because we had run out of those essential household staples. We needed them, just to have in! In my book you can forget “occupation, address, accent and income”, you can place them in any order you like; if my shopping list* doesn’t tell you that I am middle class, then I really don’t know what does.

* and then I go and spoil it all by doing something stupid like shopping at Morrisons rather than Sainsburys; but I prefer Morrisons, and as I’ve said I don’t actually care which class I belong to, so that doesn’t matter anyway. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I realise that with this post I’ve just gone and wasted everyone’s time. Again. Soz.