Christina Patterson: The class that dares not speak its name

Click to follow
The Independent Online

My name is Christina Patterson and I am middle-class. I grew up in Guildford. I went to a nice state primary school where we did projects on Ancient Egypt. I went to a nice state secondary school where the day started not with a knife-search, but with a homily and a hymn. I listen to Radio 4. Which would, it seems, much rather I didn't.

Yes, Jane Garvey, the new host of Woman's Hour, has made a shocking announcement. There is, she says, a marked "middle-class bent" to the content of Radio 4. Expecting, presumably, to be a little island of female chit-chat in an ocean of hoodied hip-hop and gritty glimpses of the ghetto, she found, instead, voices discussing books and politics and culture. Clearly enunciated, and fully beconsonanted, RP voices. Voices like hers – and mine.

She speaks, of course, for a nation confused. She speaks, in fact, for a nation which has a bigger middle class than at any time in its history, but for which the term "middle class" is somewhere on a par with that favourite of the sports field, "your mother is a whore". A whore? Pure luxury! Your mother is a teacher (like mine) or a doctor or a lawyer is so, so much worse.

When the grocer's daughter spread her gospel of housewife's thrift and universal home ownership (thus enabling me to buy a swirly-carpeted, woodchipped, Artexed ex-council shoebox in a large, leafy crack-den) she spearheaded a shift which had a profound impact on the nation. Little England metamorphosed into Middle England, a place in which electricians and plumbers swapped the swirly-carpeted, Artexed council flats they'd picked up for a song (or a Millwall chant) for a nice brick box in Essex.

If we aren't quite, as John Prescott said, "all middle-class now", we are certainly heading that way. Forty years ago, only 30 per cent of the nation's population described itself as middle-class. Today, it's 40 per cent and rising. Yes, we're all fighting to preserve our bricks and mortar, fighting for the best schools, the best futures for our children. We're fighting for handbags that cost the price of a holiday for four; we're fighting to keep the barbarians from the door.

But if we do manage to get our children into university, please don't mention it – and they won't, either. The new middle-class graduates will have the life-long asset of an estuary mother tongue. The old middle-class ones will envy and copy and pitch it lower. Because they have absorbed, along with their mother's milk, and parental help on the property ladder, the truth now universally acknowledged – that to be middle-class is an endless, suppurating source of shame.

And so the middle class, and often privately educated, Oxbridge boys who run the media, politely pretend that they didn't have the benefits of their considerable education. They didn't read books, or watch plays, or listen to classical music. And now, we can't either. We can do films, or football, or rock. We can do politics, chopped into soundbites. We can look younger, cook thinner, or swap wives. Occasionally, we can see a heaving muslined bosom or a frilly cap. But only, of course, if it's got the Andrew Davies Midas touch.

I have no burning desire for the latest news from Ambridge, or for the insights of pole-dancing pathologists from Midweek. I have no burning desire for You and Yours. But I do like the fact that when I brush my hair, or wash the dishes, or myself, I can learn about Rousseau, or Stephen Spender, or the court of Rudolf II. I can learn, in fact, about a world in which culture is not just about lifestyle. Nor, indeed, about class.

Supping with the Democrats

She's tough. She's feisty. And she gives a great speech. Yes, the real heroine of this week's rollercoaster American electoral shenanigans isn't Hillary, but Maria Shriver, otherwise known as Mrs Arnold Schwarzenegger. Golden scion of the golden Kennedys, the wife of the Republican governor of California waited until the very last moment before making her mind up about which candidate to endorse. Three days after her action-man husband plumped for real-life action-man hero John McCain, Shriver tossed her (apparently unbrushed) mane and told a pre-election rally at UCLA that she had come to bless Barack. Now that, Mrs Clinton, is real independence. And grace.

* There's nothing quite like a rom-com to boost sinking serotonin levels on a wet, winter's day. Dizzy blonde and corkscrew-curled neurotic wrangle for years, and then end up in bed – or up the aisle. Floppy-haired toff falls in love with glacial beauty, who marries someone else – but, at the 11th hour, all is salvaged. Attraction, obstacle, resolution. And all with a nice tub of Haagan-Dazs.

The feelgood movie of the year so far follows a slightly different formula. Unmarried, middle-aged siblings discover father has vascular dementia and move him into a home. He dies. That's it. And it's brilliant. Yes, of course, it's a bit sad (dying's a bit sad) but it's clever and funny and true. Here, in graphic detail, is the horror of a generation which has failed to get its own domestic and love lives in order – a generation which struggles to feed a cat, or water a plant – suddenly faced with its father's nappies. See The Savages and weep, and wince. And get yourself some offspring pretty damn quick.

c.patterson@independent.co.uk

Comments