Saturday, 20 August 2011

She's got no class

My dad worked for a construction firm when I was younger (actually, it was very recently he moved into an office environment). We didn't have a car because he had use of a transit van, and my parents were always quite careful with their money. The van reeked of diesel and oil, and in the back was a metal trunk full of rags. These rags were what became of unsaleable second-hand clothes, and dad would clean his hands with them, wipe minor spills, and stem leaks. The fabrics were often colourful, lurid, psychedelic, some would be old children's clothes or t-shirt remnants with some long forgotten fund-raising logo like "Telethon '78".

Sometimes I'd go to work on a Saturday with dad, wellies on, and end up sitting in a dumper truck, JCB or Caterpillar and pretend to drive it. One of his colleagues would inevitably give me 50p or £1 which would seem like a fortune considering you could still get 2 sweets for a penny and a bag of crisps for 5p.
Dad would always be nursing a wound, usually to one of his fingers, these could not be described as 'cuts' because the gash would be so deep I'd imagine I could see right inside to the bone and the flesh would look like a cross section of a blood orange.

Mum always had at least one job (sometimes three) but seemed to always be home too, cooking, cleaning, putting the washing on the line. Dinner would be classics; Shepherd's pie, liver and onions, casseroles, sausage dinner...
I always ate all my dinner, (nothing changes) and though some of the meals I now prepare are more exotic there's  a similarity to the routine.
My brother was always up at the crack of dawn, guzzling the leftover milk from a giant bowl of cereal and shouting to ensure everyone was awake. He had too much energy and was always trying to invent a machine by taking apart household appliances.

A typical working-class family, my parents liked to go out for a drink, and holidays would be Butlin's when I was younger; Spain, Menorca, Portugal and Bulgaria later on. Typical working-class, only on the surface though, any assumption that they enjoyed watching soaps, playing darts, and were uncultured would be wrong. They read a lot, listened to Radio 4, enjoyed plays, hated mainstream TV, were broad-minded about political and social issues and were very 'green' before it was fashionable.

I enjoyed watching Alan Bennett and Mike Leigh plays with them, and from this I think I 'got' the class divide thing quite early on. In Leigh's Nuts In May I empathised with the character Ray, caught in the middle of an embarrassing clash of values.
 At my primary school, during harvest, we used to take parcels with food in to be delivered to local elderly people a. My mother wasn't a fan of this scheme, she worked as a home help and knew the elderly locals had plenty of food and a loving family looking after them. Not wanting to give food away just to rot/go out of date, she gave my brother and I a bottle of Fairy Liquid each with a dishcloth secured to them with a rubber band. A friend laughed as she proudly showed off her box brimming with tins of 'Pek' ham, Oxtail soup, custard powder and fruit salad. There was another family who were of the same opinion as mine, they were forward-thinking Guardian readers,  stood out like a sore thumb amidst the car-factory workers who invariably described them as 'weird'. I was delighted to see their children arrive with a small bunch of flowers each which they'd picked from the garden that morning and tied with some wool. Someone else like us.

Dad excelled at school, but chose to mess around and left early; mum is Dyslexic but went through school being told she was thick.  Both have ended up doing soul-destroying jobs, physically exhausting and uninspiring. My brother and I are following their lead, school didn't do anything for us.
So, the cycle seems to be continuing, my eldest isn't finding school very interesting and I can't summon up any enthusiasm to return to education.

Destined to struggle, make very slow progress and have to pretend to be interested in popular trends? I could escape - if I wanted  to prove something to myself (or anyone else) I would. My determination and willpower are second to none when I've got a bee in my bonnet.  I used to feel inferior to people who'd been to university, travelled, spoke with confidence about politics and so forth. I used to clam up in conversations with people I deemed 'better' than me - felt I had nothing to offer.

Now, I realise that it's not class which stopped me from progressing in the past, and what stops me now. I just think we're a family who don't care to be defined or fit in. We have our own language based on amusing lines  overheard through the years, it takes a while to learn, but people worth having in my life are fully versed in it. Rules have never been followed very closely, social norms always questioned. In high school I tried to stand out instead of blend in. Now, I'm finally realising nobody has the expectations of you that you think they do, I don't need to try so hard to adapt. Being 'me' isn't ever going to happen -  I don't know who on earth I am.

I can't believe it's taken me this long to realise. I've spent hours wondering what the point of this post is, and wondering whehter or not to post it.

If anyone has any ideas, answers on a postcard please....


  1. Lucy, I LOVE LOVE this post because I know exactly what you mean and how you feel! I can't believe we weren't seperated at birth. And you love Nuts in May too!!Do you chew all your food 20 times before swallowing it?

    K xx

  2. I'm so glad we were introduced. Your last post had me wishing I knew you properly. I don't think I'd have a repeat of the pen-pal fail with any of my favourite bloggers.

  3. So many similarities with my family :-)

    Jem xXx

  4. I'm so very glad you did post this, Lucy.
    Wonderful words and compelling to read, as always. It's so lovely to share your obvious love and pride in your family, such a rarity in this day and age where it seems the trend to assasinate ones relatives and blame your shortcomings on everything they ever did. x

  5. Class has always been about attitude - it's just that wealth gives the confidence to freely (and loudly) express that attitude and not give a flying fek what others may think.

    Keith had that attitude, Candice Marie was concerned about other's feelings. I just tend not to give a flying fek, but in my case that indicates future baglady rather than Duchess.


  6. Really good post! Its so easy to stereotype people and put them into little boxes, but we are all totally individual. I've never really felt that I fitted in anywhere then as I got older I realised that it didn't really matter - I don't want to follow the herd anyway!
    Liz @ Shortbread & Ginger

  7. It seems to me you have lots of class!

    Not may people could write that; not may people know Mike Leigh or appreciate the issues going on in Nuts in May.

    There are lost of very stupid people who've gone to university - many more who give up any interest in anything academic of challenging as soon as they leave. Hardly any write reflective intelligent blogs.

  8. The point of the post Lucy is that we can all nod sagely in agreement, or in the case of the younger followers, jump up and down enthusiastically shouting “Yes, you are so right” There’s some reason we are following each other’s blogs (and I include other bloggers anfd followers here), and it’s because we are like-minded in some ways; not all, that would be boring. Your upbringing was close to mine, though a generation further back, but my love of Radio 4 and plays by Mike Leigh came from my own mother.

  9. I don't think the idea of 'class' fits anyone, really. I find writing posts like these to clear my head exceptionally well, although I rarely post them. You need to work out how you feel about things. It's hard to defend opinions and feelings if you can't explain what they are.Well done on articulating them!

  10. i'm convinced that guardian readers don't beat their wives and children nearly enough

  11. Im glad you posted this too. I also think this is the joys of blogging - we are all on the same wavelength regardless of class/upbringing/wealth etc, its just a place of acceptance which is so refreshing in a world that can knock many a good person back. Scarlett x

  12. I used to be a free spirit who also didn't care to be defined or to fit in.

    I was a rebel - at school and at church and at home, in my marriages (I'm on my 4th now because of all the insisting on not fitting in) and was always in deep trouble for something. Oh the mess I have made of my life because of following my own drumbeat!

    But it has now been squashed and stamped out of me and I have been pulled into line and made to fit in and conform. Oh you should have read my earlier blogs! My secret blogs. I wish I had kept them. All I have now is my lighthearted Coast Road blog. It's probably better that way.

    Occasionally I might still rebel and step out of line but the penalty is nearly always too high and so nowadays I just keep my mouth shut, damp down the protesting voice in my head and get on with fitting in.

    I think what keeps me sane is that inside, I know who I am, no matter how much I conform to the norms outwardly. I have a laugh, in my head, or I stage a rebellion, in my head, and nobody else knows about it. And sometimes I might actually do something, but it's nearly always an action that only I know about - it soothes me though.

    Never under estimate the power of society and it's norms - status anxiety keeps us all in line and herded together.

    You need to work hard to find out who you really are. It is most important.

  13. Wow, Wendz, now you were a REAL rebel. Makes me wonder what I meant when I said we don't conform to society norms, clearly - we do.
    Plus, I know exactly who I am, it just doesn't fit with who I thought I was before.
    Suppose it's time to get my head out of the clouds. Next year I'll be looking for a job, and this cosy little world where its just me and the boys will be confined to memory. Really, with all that's gone on the past 12 years (since becoming a mum) I've done well to get through with my sanity intact.
    I'm going through the preparation stages for next year. I don't want a job where I come home and worry about things all night, but don't want to get into a situation where I'm doing a job which means nothing to me. We all know, beggars can't be choosers.
    One day I'll do a post explaining more about my family background and things will be clearer. I'll ask my parents permission first.
    Thanks for all the encouraging replies. Blogging has enhanced my life considerably thanks to you.

  14. I am at a bit of a loss for words Lucewoman, but I so "get" what you wrote and it seems you're/I'm/we're not alone...) x

  15. I remember watching Mike Leigh-style plays with my parents and never being sure whether I was on the side of the working or middle class people. My mother read the Sun and had no pretentions to be anything other than a working class housewife, but my dad liked to think that he was middle class because he had a Hay Wain on the wall and some classical records. People used to say to me that class doesn't matter, but that's because they always knew where the knives and forks should go.

    You shouldn't regret not going to university unless you had a burning ambition to study. Not everyone who is intelliegent is naturally academic. Judging by the quality of your writing, you're a naturaly creative person and as someone who has worked in the book trade, I think you have the talent to get published.

    I know what your post was about. I've felt the same way myself and I'm sure many of your other readers have. The good thing about the blogosphere is that it makes us realise that we're not alone.

  16. Oh dear, I have one of Michael Jackson's worst hits in my head now - 'You Are Not Alone'....
    Thanks again for taking the time to give thoughtful and helpful replies to this post.

    Steerforth - I suppose class is a state of mind, which reminds me of an album title - 'Council Estate of Mind' by Skinnyman.

    It also reminds me of my ex-sister-in-law who thought she'd hit the big time by being able to buy a North Face jacket to wear on the school run whilst driving her Lexus 4x4 the 2 minute journey. She used to give me pitying, yet patronising looks when I turned up head to toe in worn out clothes and waxed lyrical about all the stunning original features in their new house. "We like modern, CLEAN spaces, Lucy".
    She must have been thinking, 'go away you poor, scruffy, out of touch embarrassing relation, you have NO class'.

    p.s I'm trying to think of a way to say thank-you about the getting published comment. Thank-you very much indeed will have to do!

  17. I felt liberated moving to a don't get the class or accent thing New Zealand (it's all about which school you went to here). I came from a working class, ridicule books and education kinda family so education was my rebellion and I feel it has been the making of me, so I am more than an enthusiast for education for kids and adults. Does your son have interests or passions outside of school? 8 hours a day, for 5 years or so bored must be torture. Thought about homeschooling or a change of school?

  18. I have thought about both, but he's not unhappy at school, just uninterested. Socially, he's painfully awkward around adults and becomes mute in their presence. His father reports feeling similarly, being exceptionally tall, yet immature, gives mixed messages to adults.
    I'd love to inspire more thirst for knowledge and understanding in him, but he's locked in his own little dream (like me). He excels at maths and wants to do something with numbers. That's a start, I suppose!


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