Sunday, 26 February 2012

A DIY Guide to the Middle-Classes

I wonder sometimes what I am. I have lived the last decade on an inner city council estate, amid Oxford academia, in a remote country town and in London suburbia. In the first we were, with our relentless consonants and sagging bookshelves, regarded as aristocrats. In the second, as the 'squeezed middle'. In the third, as city sophisticates and now, sometimes, isolated in my tweed amid the Ralph Lauren and the hoodies, I feel myself a bumpkin.

Class should no longer matter. Nowadays, for most of us, it's more a question of perception than birth. But the perception matters. My daughter battles to adjust speech, habits and dress to blend in with each new environment; the political parties compete to woo the amorphous throng they deem Middle England and Melvyn Bragg has started a television series on class and culture.

The British, he decides, no longer define themselves by class, but by the music they listen to, the books they read. I listen to Dolly Parton and Beethoven. The Vicar reads The Confessions of St Augustine and Martina Cole. I am none the wiser. And so I consult Twitter. I ask those who regard themselves as middle class to describe their symptoms and I am surprised by the response.

Confessions pour in. One Twitterer began by thinking of herself as working class then, acknowledging her Boden clothes, National Trust car sticker, jute shooping bag and the organic kale from her vegetable box, her conviction began to waver. Another says he knew that he had attained the middle class when his wife sent an emergency text when she ran out of creme fraiche.

The consensus seems pretty clear. We are what we eat. 'If I regard myself as working class, then I am working class surely,' says my Boden-clad tweep. It's a difficult call and so after, profound scientific sleuthing, I have collated the definitive guide to identifying your inner bourgeois. If you score more than six you have, like it or not, acquired a middle-class soul.

1: You can name more than six different cheeses.


2: You have, at least once, bought perfumed hand soap/a tin of shortbread/William Morris table napkins from a National Trust shop


3: You pay a weekly fortune for mysterious muddy knobbles in an organic vegetable box


4: You pride yourself on your liberal attitudes to everything and everyone bar quilted loo roll and call centre staff.


5: You have mentally planned your eight musical selections for Desert Island Disc.


6: You know what a pissaladiere is. 


7: You own, unread, the last three Booker Prize-winning novels and, also unread, a copy of Simon Jenkins' Thousand Best Houses and a guide to British birds.

8: Your big toe can tell the difference between Egyptian and Italian cotton bedsheets.


9: You've harrassed Boden to start an underwear range so that you are properly coordinated.


10: You spend your newly constrained finances on a fortnight huddled in a rain-rinsed Norfolk windshelter rather than admit to a half-price deal in Lanzarote.


11: You send a #middleclass tweet when you run out of pine nuts or spot a misattributed Dvorak concerto on Classic FM.  


12: You call customer services when your Landmark Trust weekend cottage lacks a coffee grinder.


13: Your children think Dairylea is a family petting farm


14: Your thrice weekly work-out is in a 'health club', never a 'gym'. 


15: You sign up to a wine club. I am not middle class enough to know what this is, but assume it's like that other boozy middle-class status symbol, a book club, only without the bother of obligatory literary opinions.


16: You know how to spell houmous (or is it hummus,hommus,humos, hommos...?)


17: You lay out a picnic rug and a Cath Kidston thermos in well-known beauty spots in frost, snow, monsoon and hurricane.


18: You have created, or dream of creating, a yawning basement kitchen with Fired Earth tiles and a family sofa.


19: Fast food means microwaved Cocquilles St Jacques from the 'chef-created' Menu From Waitrose range. [You never utter the word ready meal except in post-ironic/boho context.]


20: You hang your school and university alumnae photographs with proud humility in the downstairs loo.

For the record I scored 8.5. Please be publicly brave about your own tally below and let me know if you can contribute any more identifying traits.

76 comments:

  1. I only scored 5. I am deeply concerned.

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    1. Don't panic. I cheated on a couple of mine. Eg I used to have a vegetable box so counted it as a MC Trait, but actually the muddy knobbly things and the green glaucous soup I had to turn them into got me down so I stopped.

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  2. Sadly or happily? I scored a 4. I guess this means I am not middle class?

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    1. No, I'm afraid you do have to try harder. Couldn't you go and get some White Company bud vases or something?

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  3. I scored one, I am definitely and absolutely middle-class. I think.

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    1. HMMM> Have you any other qualifying symptoms that might help you?

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  4. Oh blimey. I scored 9. That can't be right. Do I lose points for being married to a man from Rochdale who's favourite food is the "Baby" kebab they sell in the local chippy?

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    1. That could queer your pitch in Hampstead circles, unless they decided to think of him as a Bohemian novelty!

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  5. Only three. Tee hee. But I would add some more:

    You drive a very, very old car. Preferably a Volvo.

    You never tidy anything up (tidying up is for the nouveau riche).

    Your children's names do not figure in 'popular children's names' lists.

    You eat frozen pizza ironically.

    Your gardening coat came from Aquascutum-via-Help-The-Aged.

    You take your child to a cranial osteopath to help him over the effects of a traumatic forceps delivery. Ten years after the event.

    Your sledge is a wooden one with runners, not a plastic tea-tray type thingie. A family heirloom, obviously.

    Your 20-year-old TV only receives four channels.

    You shout at the BBC News when yet another presenter misuses the expression 'begs the question'.

    Or have I simply been deceiving myself and I am not middle class at all?

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    1. You know what, your test makes me more middle class than my own! I scored 6..

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    2. Now, being more middle class than middle class is definitely an achievement. I think you should celebrate with some Rock's organic cordial.

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  6. I scored 1. I actually didn't understand a lot of it. I can therefore say I most def do not pass for middle class!

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    1. I didn't understand some of it either. Still no idea what a pissaladiere is (or a wine club).

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  7. I scored 7. I think I'm happy about that. Although I'm equally proud of my east end roots.......but that's probably a middle class trait. LOL. Belnicholls

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    1. Excellent result. Come back next year and see if you can double your score!

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  8. Wow, I'm a real commoner it seems! My children may well think Dairylea is a petting farm, but only because I would only buy Asda's own cheesey alternative. I think I can safely say I'm not middle-class. My father took them mick out of me saying I was getting 'a bit middle class' when I purchased a teapot in Wilko.

    Oops haha!

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    1. Love it. Wilko is one of my favourite shops. Just returned from yet another spree, but bought those dangly perfumed loo fresheners not a tea pot. Can I still be middle-class?

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  9. I'm not middle class. Thank GOD for that...

    George Bernard Shaw said, “A moderately honest man with a moderately faithful wife, moderate drinkers both, in a moderately healthy house : that is the true middle-class unit.”

    Talk about being damned with faint praise...

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    1. By that reckoning, I am most definitely middle class!

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  10. I'm definitely middle class although living in France I don't do many of the things on the list. I don't belong to the National Trust, obviously, but I do drag my children to improving locations such as museums, galleries and ruins. I also bought them philosophy books for children (in French) (which they did their best to ignore). :)

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    1. Sounds as though you're making a jolly god stab at middle-classness.

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  11. Yes, it would seem I am middle class - always have a tub of houmous in the fridge and plenty of corncakes for dumping. I can always be found in the health and wellbeing section at the supermarket ..... and I live very very near Chiswick!

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  12. .... I meant dunking .... not dumping!

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  13. Ok, so as I recognise myself in the post as the wavering working class character from our Twitter chat, I feel obliged to do the quiz. I scored 9. Hmm...

    Despite the family black labrador, the agricultural college degree and the ability to speak French, I'd still consider myself to be working class. Mostly because I never vote Tory :)

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    1. To my surprise, in the inner city council estate where there was a lot of deprivation a lot of them did vote Tory. I wonder whether Labour, like the Lib Dems, is becoming a sign of middle class.... !

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  14. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  15. How come you always hear of people being proud of their working class/Northern roots, but never of their middle class/Southern ones? I am so confident and comfortable in my middle-classness that I do not need to do a questionnaire to affirm it. But for the record, I scored 9.

    My suggested giveaways are:

    Your garden has never hosted a begonia or a scarlet salvia
    You shudder at funeral flowers in football team colours, or spelling 'Dad' or 'Nan'
    You call your parents Mummy and Daddy after the age of 12

    I embrace them joyfully.

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    1. I shall make sure my chrysanthamums spell out Pater or Grandmamma!

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    2. I adore you. I too would be proud to be judged middle class. (and I would score a point for aech of your suggested additional questions)

      You also missed 'you own a pony' or 'your children have had riding lessons on a regular basis since the age of 5'

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  16. 12.5

    I have absolutely no problem with being middle class. To me judging someone by their class is akin to judging someone by their skin colour/race/religious beliefs etc....Judge the person, not the label.

    Right, I have choccie lab to feed, Cath Kidston plinsolls to buy and fresh pasta to make. Must dash...

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    1. You made me giggle. The trouble is, half the time we never get a chance to know the person; we just go by first impressions and leopard print stilettos and ankle bracelets send out one signal and Barbour and green wellies another and we are all slaves to our preconceptions.

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  17. This made me roar!

    After trying hard to keep up with the Cath Kidston mummy brigade I realised I was never going to cut it. (I don't fit into anything made by Boden and am unable to wear 'smart jeans')
    So instead of going on a Tuscan cooking course I put the Cowboy changing bag on eBay and bought some trashy novels with the proceeds.

    I now relish feeding my boy Dairylea and Fruit Shoots (the horror, the horror) in front of other mums. I also call him 'Babe' in the most South London accent I can muster when I pick him up from nursery.

    I am free, free I tell you. But I do like cheese and olives...

    Great post xx

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    1. My dear, you''re not free. You've just swapped one style tyranny for another! To be totally liberated you need to do something radical like bring in a family sized packet of Rice Krispies for him to plunge pubicly into. But then that would look bohemian and boho is the new middle class...!

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  18. Hmm, three. But I do have a Keep Calm and Carry On poster somewhere. Does that count?

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    1. Probably not unless it's an original. It's become too beloved of the masses some of whom might conceivably contain proles!

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  19. A meager five. And I started so well.

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    1. Same happened to me. It's just that it's an effort to be middle class for prolonged periods.

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  20. I scored 8 and 5 in the MaidfromYorkshire list. But if I'd got married and stayed in England I know my score would have been higher. I also went to a private school, have two degrees and bulging bookcases. So here I sit, a single mum, in my little flat, trying to make ends meet, dressing my daughter in hand-me-downs from friends and hardly ever going out because babysitters are so expensive. I cling on to my middle class soul like the proverbial straw in the clutches of the drowning man.

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    1. Goodness, that sounds wretched. Where can I post a bottle of National Trust lavender linen spray?

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    2. LOL - except that it's not as wretched as it sounds as the sun shines a lot, the park is free, and DD starts free pre-school in September rather than the private place she goes to now. I look on this as a temporary hard-times in order to invest in my daughter's education. Can't get more middle class than that!

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  21. I'm pleased to know I have retained my working class upbringing. Now where did I put The FT, its time to check the stocks with a large glass of Bourdeaux.

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  22. I scored 13. But then I was pretty sure I was middle class as I have light a fire with a creme brulee torch.

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    1. Gosh, you're the most middle class reader yet. Thought I was mc in insisting on a log fire but never thought to use the vicar's blow torch!

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  23. Obviously I meant lit a fire! Not displaying middle class grammar there ;)

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  24. Only a 6! But I am claiming 2 extra points, one for being he of the creme fraiche text message and a second for owning a printed thesaurus (used once). You may take points away for my love of football by all means.

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    1. So long as you esteem cricket too. I own a thesaurus and consult it with regularity. Hadn't thought of that symptom. Extra point granted.

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  25. Just thought: not only do I own 1000 Best Houses, I also read it AND have 1000 Best Churches too. Do I get extra points?

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    1. Sounds borderline upper class to me. Middle classes value them as part of the decor, surely.

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  26. Jeez scored 1. Does that make me actually American? Must try harder.

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    1. Actually Gemma I think you may be trying too hard already in order to get that score of 1. I reckon if you relax and do what comes naturally you'd score higher in time. Did I read that you want to move house to be in a better catchment area for the Primary Schools? That doesn't sound like a 1 to me ;)

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    2. Rachel! you have been banged to rights!

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  27. er.. i got 6.

    @manaiasmama

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  28. I scored 7, a tad disappointed tbh. I do have the book of British birds but we use it regularly, what with walking the dog and bird watching etc. We have a pedigree dog with papers proving relationships to Crufts winners, and DD calles us 'Mother ' and 'Father' rather than mum and dad. Also we own 'art', proper stuff from a gallery, not Woolworths. I felt that should all be taken into account. Oh and I drink Cava on a weekly basis.

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    1. You see, my own class prejudice would never have supposed a tattooes mummy to score so highly!

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    2. ha! I'm a middle class rebel (didn't get the tattoo til I was 40) oh and I'm the daughter of a Vicar! surely that counts for something too!!

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  29. I had hoped to drink my tea - instead the dog is wearing most of it, that which didn't go down my (cashmere, hospice charity shop from visit to yarm - better quality of charity shops) jumper as I dribbled with mirth.

    Have given in to teenage whinging this summer (after Norfolk last year) and are going on cheap package to Corfu ...

    Gillie

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  30. I only scored 1 but then I knew I was properly common. I live in sandwell, went to public school and have been seen outside in leisure wear!
    On the other hand I have a masters degree, a professional job, was married before having my son, wear pearls (real, not cultured), own my own home and love cabernet sauvignon chiraz!
    I also proudly cherish my black country accent and get very offended when called a brummie.
    Class is not just about the externals, its about politeness, consideration of ones neighbours, taking the high road in difficult situations and general good citizenship.

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    1. Hopefully, the latter qualities transcend all classes, although not, according to today's papers, the 'upper classes' by which I think they mean the filthy rich.

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  31. scored 6 - common as muck and northern to boot!!!

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    1. Don't talk rot! Six qualifies you. Surely you could thrown in a Heston Blumethal recipe book for good measure.

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    2. What about TWO Heston cookbooks - I am rapidly climbng the social ladder!!

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  32. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  33. Sorry, didn't write anything rude, just replied to wrong thing so wouldn't have made sense.

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  34. I scored 6 - quite proud of myself actually!

    My idea of the class system is this;

    You are working class if you keep your tomato ketchup in a cupboard.

    You are middle class if you keep your tomato ketchup in the fridge.

    You are Upper class if you have no idea where your cook keeps it.

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    1. Only a person of real class could have thought up such a definition!

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  35. I scored 4, and then lots of 1/2s, eg no Cath Kidston thermos, but I do have Cath Kidston hand lotion in the front of the car.

    Where I live (America, Midwest), you're middle class if you drive a car and not a truck - hand lotion in the front of it or no.

    I think there should have been a question about recycling in there somewhere. That's a middle class obsession, isn't it? And what about allotments and keeping hens (rescued from battery farms)? Everyone is doing that these days.

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  36. Recycling, I feel, is no longer the preserve of the middle classes since it's mandatory in most counties. But hens - and bees - yes, a very fine new symptom that I must remember to aspire to!

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  37. Haha! I scored a 7 on your quiz, but I feel somewhat of an imposter as I genuinely didn't get some of it! I am quite middle class now, but absolutely not by background so I never feel entirely comfortable or desirous to 'belong'.

    I think another category would be your approach to brands. If you wear them visibly on your person you're working class, if you choose clothes and accessories for their discreet labelling but then can't control yourself and end up telling everyone or brand-dropping then you're middle class. Similarly true for where you shop - what is it with middle class people and banging on about their supermarkets??!! My social class in-betweener status was perhaps confirmed the other day when I wanted to thump yet another parent who name-dropped waitrose. We all know which ones are more expensive - the indirect but glaringly obvious wealth-gloating is the least tolerable middle class attribute. Honestly, I could have thwacked her with my Mulberry ;)

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  38. Oh dear, I scored 7. I do have a wine club membership but that is because you get good discounts and I am an alcoholic. I had always assumed I was a working class one but I now stand (or stumble about) corrected!

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    1. And my score showed me to be less middle class than I'd assumed! Your comment made me laugh!

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  39. I already knew I wasn't middle class but boy, I didn't know just how far I am from being so! At a push I might be able to name 6 cheeses (cheese triangles among them).

    Frankly, I'd say there's one big difference between us that isn't explicitly mentioned there - money. Although working class people may sometimes earn a decent wage we have no hope of ever inheriting anything of evident monetary worth.

    Our money is totally personally earned and the lack of cumulative wealth has a huge impact upon our life chances from higher education chances, to the opportunities for making friends outside our social circle, to what we live off in old age. We have no financial safety net except any we can make for ourselves.

    Hmm, that I even mention such things also probably *shows* how working class I am. Yeah, there's another measurement - once we stop doffing our caps to the middle class gatekeepers aping their lords and masters, we mention the elephant in the middle of the room (and also the smelly pile of droppings someone with more money than sense is calling 'Art'). Yep, I lack (or rather, I choose not to adopt) whatever uptight, often collusive, frequently deceitful BS passes for 'good manners' in middle class circles.

    lol, do I sound bitter? You bet your M&S clad arses I am!

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  40. I must be common as muck; my kids thrive on dairylea.

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