The British are obsessed by social class. Actually, I am obsessed by social class as well. It is a frequent topic of conversation with my friends, most likely owing to the fact that it is a red rag to me; a topic that is sure to get a reaction. I take the position that I am most certainly working class but, to a man, everyone I have the conversation with insists I am wrong.
“You are a head teacher, so you are middle class.”
I argue that my father was a blue collar worker, my mother was a housewife and that I was the first of my family to get a degree. It is an age old excuse I am told. It seems my job dictates my class. I am accepted into some club as a result. But I don’t want a membership.
Mrs Head is working class. Everyone seems to agree on that point. When we first started courting I was a young(ish) senior teacher who had been earmarked for better things by the school’s hierarchy. I clearly remember being called into to speak to the school’s powers that be and told that if I wanted my career to develop at the rapid rate it had previously, I needed to ‘ditch the girlfriend.’ “We don’t marry outside our class” was the advice.
I don’t know who the “we” referred to. ‘We’ implies that I was included in the group and with such an attitude; it was obvious that I did not. I married, instead of ditching the girl friend and left the school soon after. My career has never suffered as a result, in fact it has flourished.
Certainly, Head Teacher peers I have met down the years are what I would consider middle class. They speak of spending their holidays in their other home in France or about their box at the opera house. I don’t own either. I have been to France and I like opera but I like going to football matches better. I don’t bump into my head teacher colleagues at matches.
My colleagues have nice suits and nice shoes. I buy my clothes at Asda. Wearing suits are a necessity of the job but the best one I have is from a Ralph Lauren outlet shop I bought 12 years ago. My shoes, as will be well-known to regular and dear readers are size 11 Doc Martens (equally at home on the football pitch or in a class war).
A colleague of mine takes great joy in pressing my class button. He will take every opportunity to point out that something I say or do is fundamentally and undeniably middle class. Last summer I let slip that I was reading TS Eliot’s collected poems during the summer holidays. He jokes that this is living proof of my middle-classness. I like poetry, I appreciate the power of language. I don’t think it defines my existence or rank in the social order though. TS Eliot rings true in my mind, but so does Bruce Springsteen.
Trawling the internet to find a set of criteria that could determines my social class presents a mixed conclusion.
The Middle Class Questionnaire (and I will even keep score of my answers)
1. Do you holiday abroad three times a year and take your nanny/au pair with you so you don’t have to bother with the your pretentiously named children?
No. Unless nanny refers to a grandmother. The kids are named after old family names, Victorian names or my wife’s favourite film. WORKING CLASS 1 MIDDLE CLASS 0.
2. Are your kids in nursery at the crack of dawn until late? Do they attend every club and class going so their every waking minute is spoken for?
No. I would rather spend their spare time with them. But they don’t want to spend it with me. I do remember a parent at another school saying to me (and I quote) “I am so stressed. My son has a Yoga class and then I have to get him to a violin lesson with only a 10 minute in between.” WORKING CLASS 2 MIDDLE CLASS 0
3. Do you have two cars when you only really need one?
We have 1 car. It is 11 years old and has a smashed tail light, dented fin from where I hit the brick wall in the school car park and cigarette burns near the window. Oh, and the drink the kids spilled in the back in 2004 has now solidified into what I like to call an object d’art. WORKING CLASS 3 MIDDLE CLASS 0
4. Do you complain about the recession because you’ve had to cut back on a holiday?
Not really. We would have had the same holiday regardless. The trick is choosing a holiday that is appealing enough so to outweigh the kids’ embarrassment of being with me. WORKING CLASS 3 MIDDLE CLASS 1
5. Did your dad play golf?
No. But he did get a hole in one through King Kong’s legs once in Ocean City. WORKING CLASS 4 MIDDLE CLASS 1
6. Did your mum have dinner parties with starters?
Does Wonder Bread count as a starter? I didn’t know there was such a thing as starters until I was about 24 years old. WORKING CLASS 5 MIDDLE CLASS 1
7. Did you go to piano lessons every week and the girl guides on a Friday evening?
I was a cub scout and a boy scout. My hands are too small for piano. WORKING CLASS 6 MIDDLE CLASS 2
8. Did your parents live in an old house in much need of repair?
Yes. They still do. WORKING CLASS 6 MIDDLE CLASS 2
9. Were you the last family you knew to get a colour telly?
No. WORKING CLASS 6 MIDDLE CLASS 3
10. Was the furniture covered in dog hairs?
Yes. I’m still finding hairs in our London flat from my dog that died in New Jersey in 1978. WORKING CLASS 7 MIDDLE CLASS 3
11. Do you live in a house or a cottage?
Neither; a flat. WORKING CLASS 8 MIDDLE CLASS 3
12. Does your home have a number or a name?
Number WORKING CLASS 9 MIDDLE CLASS 3
13. Do you have an aga?
No. We have a microwave oven. WORKING CLASS 10 MIDDLE CLASS 3
14. Do you believe that social status is important?
No. Unless we are talking Face Book. Ok, yes, I am a reverse snob. WORKING CLASS 11 MIDDLE CLASS 3
15. Do you say pudding or dessert?
Pudding. But not like Bill Cosby does. WORKING CLASS 12 MIDDLE CLASS 3
16. Do you say loo or toilet?
Both. Usually proceeded by “Who the fuck’s in the…now?” WORKING CLASS 13 MIDDLE CLASS 4
17. Do you place a high value on education?
Yes, it is a human right. WORKING CLASS 13 MIDDLE CLASS 5
18. Do you insist your children are doing A-levels rather than NVQ’s?
No. I insist on them being happy and not stressed as teenagers. WORKING CLASS 14 MIDDLE CLASS 4
19. Do you worry about your own children’s education?
No. I worry about the education I am giving other people’s children. WORKING CLASS 15 MIDDLE CLASS 4
20. Are you happier to save for university fees than for a splashy wedding?
Uh, what are savings? WORKING CLASS 16 MIDDLE CLASS 4
21. Do you have an ISA?
No, but I can sing the ISA ISA song from the TV advert. WORKING CLASS 17 MIDDLE CLASS 4
22. Do you look for fair trade or organic goods in the shops; spending a bit more money on ‘green’ items?
I do like to buy Fair Trade items due to the social responsibility aspect. The only thing organic in our house is the mould growing in the shower. WORKING CLASS 18 MIDDLE CLASS 5
23. Do you buy clothes from solid, unflashy places like John Lewis rather than Versace and Prada? Hmmm.
OK, the kids will only wear designers labels so they are middle class, not me. I think John Lewis is flashy. WORKING CLASS 19 MIDDLE CLASS 6
24. Do you have holidays in the UK (Scotland in particular) rather than heading off for the nearest, cheapest sun trap?
Doesn’t have to necessarily be the nearest sun trap. WORKING CLASS 20 MIDDLE CLASS 6
25. Do you spend money on professionally coloured hair but not on nail art, fake tans or tattoos?
No hair, real tan, and I have three tattoos. I bite my nails. WORKING CLASS 21 MIDDLE CLASS 6
26. Do you spend more time in the library than the shops when you go into town?
Given the choice I would opt for the library. In reality, I unwillingly spend more time in shops. WORKING CLASS 22 MIDDLE CLASS 7
27. Do you have ridiculously impractical floor coverings like sea grass that can’t be kept clean?
Wood veneer tongue and groove 12 years old. WORKING CLASS 23 MIDDLE CLASS 7
28. Do you choose premium paint colours (Laura Ashley, National Trust) for the walls instead of Dulux?
Dulux for us (but we did think that was a premium paint) WORKING CLASS 24 MIDDLE CLASS 7
29. Do you have a patio made of stratospherically expensive stone flags instead of composite with a wood burning stove?
We have paving slabs that were nicked on a fire escape. Oh, and a candle. WORKING CLASS 25 MIDDLE CLASS 7
30. Do you have a wall of books?
I have about three walls full of books. Some of them are TS Eli0ot poetry collections. WORKING CLASS 25 MIDDLE CLASS 8
31. Do you have a piano?
We have a Casio electric keyboard. I can play ‘I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles’ and with the flick of a switch give it a samba beat backing track. WORKING CLASS 26 MIDDLE CLASS 8
32. Do you earn£31k- £176k?
Yes. But we spend more than that. WORKING CLASS 26 MIDDLE CLASS 9
33. Is your car worth at least £7k?
No. The petrol inside the car is worth more than the car. WORKING CLASS 27 MIDDLE CLASS 9
34. Do you put aside £2k for college expenses for each offspring?
Savings? WORKING CLASS 28 MIDDLE CLASS 9
35. Vacations: Working Class holidays cost about £2000, middle class holidays can be triple that figure.
Both. WORKING CLASS 29 MIDDLE CLASS 10
36. Do you put aside 3.2% of your income for pension purposes?
Yes, I am not working until I am dead. WORKING CLASS 29 MIDDLE CLASS 11
37. Education: The typical middle class household head has about 2 years of college education.
I have BSc and MA, that’s six years. Mrs Head has NVQ3, that’s 2 more years. WORKING CLASS 29 MIDDLE CLASS 12
38. Do you swear in front of your children?
I swear because of my children as well. WORKING CLASS 30 MIDDLE CLASS 12
From that questionnaire I can take it that I am in fact I am 69% working class. I am not middle class although I do have 31% middle class tendencies. So there. Stick that in your Waitrose organic cinnamon and gooseberry yoghurt and suck it up, bitch! I am off to blow the kids’ alleged college saving fund on scratch cards and fags.
Keep the Faith,