My parents are working class and middle class, my children are middle class and I am one of those, like many of my generation, who find it difficult to slot themselves into any class.
My parents bought a house on the edge of the working/middle class divide and my sister and I went to our catchment school, which was the working class school, much against the wishes of our mother, who tried to get us placedsin the school in the middle class area. She had aspirations for her daughters to cross the line from working to middle class. The local education authority, it seems, thought otherwise.
So, my sister and I walked a mile each way to our school – which was definitely working class. Most of the families lived close to the school and many of the fathers worked in the tobacco factory, with the mothers staying at home – our parents worked full time and both had good jobs due to their own hard work and perseverance.
However, at the school, we were branded ‘snobs’. We were considered ‘posh’ and our address was ‘well to do’ even though our house was similar to many of our school friends. Because both our parents worked, they considered us ‘rich’.
However, when we went up to senior school, which was in the same road that we lived in, we came across the people who went to the middle class schools in our area. Now we were ‘plebs’. The very name of our first school banded us as worthless, shirkers and layabouts. The teachers expected little of us, concentrating on the pupils from the other schools. While we had, to some extent, lorded it at one school, we were now the lowest of the low. I found it hard to understand how people could judge, decide your views and values just by where you lived or went to school and how both sides of the class divide could be so inwardly snobby.
To my mortification, any delusions of grandeur were dashed because our house was in full view of the school – all my posh friends knew I lived in the 3 bed semi over the road. ‘ Is that your Grandmother?’ they would ask- assuming all poor people’s relatives lived close by as I collected a key from our elderly neighbour. I even began staying to school lunch because I did not want to be seen going into our 'little’ house. Looking back, this was ridiculous but I was mixed up because of the snobbery from both sides and fittinginto neither.
When I went to university, I could once again indulge in some small falsehoods, leading friends to think I had a middle class upbringing, such was my mixed up shame about where I really came from, which was not a bad place at all.
Why this was, I was not sure but now I realise that some of it came from my mother who had worked so hard to ‘improve’ herself against sthe odds. Born in Belfast, she got a scholarship to grammar school but was not allowed to go and had to leave school at 14 to support her family. This left a sense of unfulfilled potential which I think was carried over, unwittingly, to her own children. She later came to England and, after losing her Belfast accent on purpose in order to fit in,she became a very senior and well respected nurse.
She did not want my sister and I to suffer the snobbery of others and wanted us to get the best from the start . My father, on the other hand, came from a successful and more affluent family but he was always made to feel he underachieved so either way, our parents were left with a sense of the fact they had not had support and really wanted to make sure we had what they had not.
Life has not been hard for us. Due to the support we have had we went to university, got good jobs, live in pleasant places and our children are firmly, proudly middle class. They know exactly where they fit socially and have a real identity and values. I still have my feet firmly in both camps andmany of my values are working class and many middle class.
Yet, if I sense my own children are judging others on their address or social standing, I am quick to jump on them and remind them that many people worked very hard to lay the foundations of the opportunites they have and many of these people were working class. Class is about values but it is also about the essence of a man, their soul, heart and willingness to put their own needs to one side to help their family. We seem to have lost these values a little now in exchange for a persuit of going up the class ladder.
While it is great ot achieve, we must never forget that far back, all of us are working class at heart. We should be extremely proud of this.