Foolishly, I didn’t think I would be writing about the class system in 2020.
Let alone as a lockdown diary. But here we are.
I gave up trying to understand what class meant when I left school. In Human Geography we often talked about white and blue collar workers. But that model feels very dated now. I mean, I am sat wearing a blue, round neck t-shirt whilst working remotely.
At work we sometimes (jokingly?) replace the notion with footwear. You can tell if someone thinks they work in either IT or Digital depending on whether they are in formal or casual shoes. Unless there is a pitch involved. There’s always a caveat.
What class I am, and where I have come from, is blurred. Easy to determine if you are looking down, but shifting and flexing as we move through the years. It will be something lower. Very rarely upper.
What were we?
I am the son of a greengrocer and bank teller. Who spent school holidays in houses in Kensal Green and Ladbroke Grove, that are now valued at close to £1.5m each. Only one family member sits on the paperwork to make them that kind of millionaire.
As a wider family we went skiing, dug up roads, laid gas pipes, owned race horses, drove speedboats on the Solent and drank cases of Moët. Gifted to the family, each Christmas. All whilst listening to the latest stories of what an uncle was up to, in his life as a manager of musicians and bands.
I know I am not working class. My wine rack supposedly discounts the idea of that degree of normality.
Though you could argue that’s what I came in to the world as. But then, you could no doubt go back to the 1970s and unpick that. Homeownership and regular holidays versus dirty finger nails and a faint smell of rotting fruit.
What am I?
I went to a Catholic school in an affluent part of London, full of boys from Irish, Polish and Afro-Caribbean heritage. Mainly from the local council estates that skirted the edges of that affluence. Never really excelling, but then never really trying.
I went on to a sixth-form college caught up in a wave of gentrification. My old “manor” would now be out of the price range of a number of my fellow students.
Uni was a blip. A waste of time. Sure I had the excuse of not finishing a course because of the number of knee operations for a potential PE Teacher. But the writing was on the wall. I needed to get a job.
So I did. In a fish factory. On a production line.
I worked out how to talk to people. How to give instructions through ear defenders and the malaise of putting fish on a belt for 8 hours a day.
It led to a job in a recruitment consultancy. From there I intercepted a job advert to become the European Consumer Services Manager at Sega Europe. I was a manager at 26. My hands have not been dirty since.
There have been other roles on what you could loosely call a career. More a series of opportunities that were right at the time.
Office worker, freelance writer, nightclub PR.
Now I am a Delivery Lead. In a team with a diverse background of creative types. Technologists. Business Change experts. Finger nails still very much clean.
So what’s the fuss?
Fuss is the wrong word. It’s a post born out of the concept that class seems to be a constant challenge across lockdown. Negatively so.
Bread making is middle class. The most likely people to die from The Coro are working class. The left are blocking this great nation getting back on with things – but the mouthpieces of the party of the workers are the liberal, metropolitan elite.
It’s not really about R – unless we only care about how you say glass, graph or bath. Then there’s an issue with your views.
I might have tried to resurrect my sourdough starter, if I could have got my hands on the flour. And life could have been so different, if I hadn’t have been stood next to a manager whilst trying to explain why KwikSave fish fillets look different to M&S ones.
I could have watched last night’s briefing from the Prime Minister (stop calling him by his first name), with utter dread. Accepting that I need to go back to work for the sake of my family – but full of fear that the production line doesn’t support social distancing.
We need to stop making this a class thing. Stop jeopardising the lives of others because of their perceived place in society. Stop making sly digs at others for trying to fill the endless days with the simple art of baking or crafting. These are common – regular, not accent based – activities that people around the world do, on a day by day basis. Admittedly they don’t document it on instagram, but that’s just life.
Which is what we need to protect. Life. Not social statuses or perceptions of being better. We need to do everything we can to protect lives of the people we share our communities with.
Physically, not virtually.
Image: The old site of the greengrocers my dad and godfather used to work in