Why the poor wear flashier trainers

The affluent give lectures on frugality while knowing nothing of the misery of deprivation. Plus: Paul Raymond, and obliging stereotypes

Share
Related Topics

One of the most regular horrors of British public life is the spectacle of a politician informing the disadvantaged that he empathises with their plight and would, if called upon, be ready to experience some of their privations himself. The sympathy may be genuine and the principle sound, but somehow these displays of fellow-feeling are nearly always cancelled out by the fact that they come courtesy of well-lunched middle-aged men whose last major domestic inconvenience was the au pair calling in sick.

If there is any consolation in the sight of the Conservative Party chairman, Grant Shapps, proudly declaring that two of his children share a room, or the Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, maintaining that he could exist on £53 a week "if I had to", it lies in the awareness that ghoulish assessments of how little it takes to live on have been doing the rounds for decades. Back in the 1930s, for example, a forensic debate took place in the newspapers over the question of whether an unemployed family of three could survive on the 16 shillings (80p) left to them once their rent and heating costs had been deducted.

The last word in this journey was uttered by the writer of a letter to the New Statesman who claimed that he could live on 3s 11½d a week (just under 20p) by way of a menu consisting of wholemeal bread, vegetables, oranges and broken biscuits, with the food eaten raw to save on fuel bills. But when it comes to it, the exact sums quoted in these discussions – from the New Statesman correspondent's 20p to Iain Duncan Smith's £53 – are immaterial: anyone who is absolutely compelled to, and has a reasonable idea of nutrition, can live on practically anything. What such surveys always lose sight of are the psychological currents that run beneath the average bread-line existence.

As George Orwell pointed out three-quarters of a century ago, a millionaire may enjoy breakfasting on orange juice and Ryvita biscuits. A benefits claimant does not. "When you are... underfed, harassed, bored and miserable, you don't want to eat dull wholesome food." This attitude applies to every compartment of life. It used to puzzle me, while supervising the church youth football team, to note that the boys from the poorest homes invariably had the flashiest trainers. But then, as Richard Hoggart once observed, the working classes have been cheerful existentialists for centuries.

...

To watch a preview of The Look of Love, Michael Winterbottom's forthcoming biopic of the Soho porn baron-cum-property magnate Paul Raymond, as I did last week, was to be reminded of the extraordinary complexity of the stereotyping process. Curiously, everyone in the film seemed to fill an almost figurative role. Raymond – played with tremendous attack by Steve Coogan – is the oldest swinger in town, hoovering up the sherbert and eyeing up the ladeez in a desperate attempt to retain his playboy edge. Fiona Richmond (played by Tamsin Egerton) is the bit of posh who enjoys talking dirty: not to be outdone, the editor of Raymond's magazines peers at the smut from behind a hedge of corkscrew curls and aviator sunglasses.

And yet, a glance at Members Only, Paul Willetts's entertaining biography of Raymond, on which the film is based, reveals that the key participants are almost exactly as portrayed on celluloid. Were they in at the birth of the stereotypes by which they are now represented, or, noting the way in which their lives were shaping, did they grit their teeth and play along? The stereotype's complicity in acting up to and abetting the role assigned to him should never be underestimated. Thus at Oxford University in the early 1980s there was a category of undergraduate known as the "Northern chemist". What was remarkable was the enthusiasm with which potential recruits embraced its caste-marks, grew their hair, listened to Meatloaf on the jukebox and gamely inebriated themselves in the college bar.

The imminent publication of John Crace's Harry's Games: Inside the Mind of Harry Redknapp reinforces this point. My father was doing impersonations of 'Arry 20 years ago ("I mean, well... the lads done great... can't fault their commitment... The boy did good" etc.). Half-manufactured, half-innate, the Redknapp persona – like Paul Raymond's – is an altogether tantalising piece of cultural assemblage.

...

Still with football, amid the continuing fuss about the political affiliations of the incoming Sunderland manager Paolo di Canio, I was hearted to read the article contributed by the West Ham co-proprietor David Sullivan to Thursday's Independent. Mr Sullivan did not mince his words: "Until he provides a clear refutation of his previous position, we'll have to assume he thinks fascism and football can get along together. Not in my book they don't, and Sunderland should not have appointed him manager."

All this is stirring stuff and, naturally, to be applauded. On the other hand, as Mr Sullivan luxuriates in the warmth of the moral high ground, it should not be forgotten that here is a man who made the fortune that enabled him to buy West Ham by exploiting women for commercial gain. You could argue – I wouldn't dream of arguing it, myself – that Mr Sullivan is at least as unfit to be involved in the running of a Premier League football team as Paolo di Canio.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: UI / UX Designer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This firm are focussed on assis...

Recruitment Genius: General Processor

£7 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A vacancy has arisen for a General Processor ...

Recruitment Genius: Outbound Sales Executive - B2B

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A great opportunity has arisen ...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Associate

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time and Part time positio...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: Our representatives must represent us

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
MP David Lammy would become the capital’s first black mayor if he won the 2016 Mayoral election  

Crime, punishment and morals: we’re entering a maze with no clear exit

Simon Kelner
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot