Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Middle Class Heroes

Last month I posted a comment on Sam Jordison's blog about the English middle classes, Organic Peas and Orderly Queues.

I argued that Lewes was one of the most middle class towns in Britain and cited two examples, one of which was this quote from an interview in local magazine Viva Lewes:

Question – “What did you have for breakfast?”

Answer – “I had baked millet and quinoa with steamed chicory and seaweed. And a cup of sage tea. My daughter had blueberries, yoghurt and nuts.”

That is only Exhibit A. I can produce a lot more evidence to prove that Lewes is a strong contender for the top spot, including the following signifiers:

  • A market town with a Liberal MP
  • Mainly pre-1900 buildings
  • No branch of McDonalds
  • A local currency
  • At least two classical concerts per week
  • A higher than average number of Lesbian couples
  • A lack of chain stores
  • Tasteful, subdued Christmas lights in the town centre
  • At least half a dozen "lifestyle" shops selling overpriced clothes and kitcheware
  • A high proportion of graduates
Sam has responded with this excellent post about Lewes, which certainly lends support to my campaign. But it can only be a matter of time before the citizens of Southwold or Hebden Bridge make their own claim, so I'll have to keep compiling evidence.

I tried to find a YouTube clip of one of my favourite Lewes activities, the Dance of Disobedience, during which a group of local people celebrated the life of former resident Tom Paine through the medium of dance. Sadly, I drew a blank.

However I did find this:

If you're still not convinced, check out the website of one of the most popular independent shops in Lewes (so popular, it now has three branches), Wickle. You'll find no nasty plastic children's toys in Wickle and if little Bruno wants a fire engine for Christmas, they probably have a tasteful one made from responsibly forested Norwegian spruce (actually, I love Wickle and I'm the proud owner of one of their very reasonably-priced wooden toy castles).

Wickle is the quintessential Lewes shop.

I could go on, but instead I'd urge you to join in the debate at Organic Peas and Orderly Queues, where you can become a middle class traitor! You don't have to live in Britain. I've witnessed the same phenomenon in the USA.

I know some people who have read this blog before might wonder, why do I keep banging on about class? Does it really matter?

Well, no and yes. On the one hand, this blog post is just a bit of fun, gently mocking the fact that we all too often express our individuality by slavishly imitating people who seem to share the same values. But there is also a more serious side to this debate, namely the fact that even in 2010, every newborn baby's destiny is shaped by a postcode lottery.

Visit any class of infants and you'll be struck by how bright and curious most of them are, regardless of their social background. Return six years later and the disparity between the middle class children and the poorest can be dispiriting.

As much as I make fun of certain aspects of Lewes, it comes closer to my vision of how life should be lived than most places, although I draw the line at quinoa for breakfast.

The Divine Comedy - the ultimate middle class band.


Martin said...

Great post. In our neck of the woods, I'm constantly reminded of something that irked the late John Peel. Namely, the prevalence of expensive 4x4s, driven wildly about the lanes by thin lipped women.

Interestingly, ITV made a documentary series about village life, in which, our village featured. Not one housing association tenant got a look in. The joke is, many of the tenants are either self employed or qualified 'professionals', who do the daily commute. They just don't live in thatched cottages.

Sam Jordison said...

Wow! Thanks Steerforth! I wondered my stats had taken such a big rise today.

That film is marvellous too. I may post it on my blog, if you don't mind.

(Am very glad to hear that you're enjoying your mother's company by the way. I was very moved by your original post, but couldn't think of anything sensible to say.)

Sam Jordison said...

That Lesbian mothers article is quite touching, by the way. It's really quite shocking that the poor mother is so worried about having to continually come out - and the implications for her child - that she's going to home school. Even in Lewes! How sad!

Steerforth said...

Martin - ITV? What's that? ;)

Sam - Yes, it's a pity that the mother felt like that. Lewes seems a very open-minded place, but on the other hand there are plenty of conventional, two-parent families, so that might make some people feel more isolated.

The Poet Laura-eate said...

I'm afraid I fail the breakfast test.

On the other hand, I wouldn't be able to stomach the greasy spoon fry up so beloved of the working classes either.

Oh lordy, I must be a bluestocking!

As for the plight of Lewes lesbians, now come on, they are still busy working out what class you are and here you are hitting them with this other curve ball - what do you expect?

Martin said...

ITV. Surely you've heard of it. Think, Inferior - Tacky - Vacuous. Perhaps, like us, you live in an X-Factor-free zone.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure if it's "class" in the US, but it is definitely affluence that largely depends upon parentage and the parentspostal code (zip code). Americans pretend (force themselves to believe) the American Dream, i.e., with effort, any poor boy or girl can rise up and become wealthy. However, in matters other than sports, most grand success stories in the US started with affluent and educated parents. Founder of Microsoft -- affluent educated parents; more recently, founder of Google -- affluent educated parents, even our President [supposed quintessinal American Dream story] had very educated parents -- with his mother being especially well-educated for a woman of her generation.

More than a decade ago a friend was involved with a University of Chicago study of children. She remarked to us that the differences on all the indicators was immense by the time the kids were in pre-school...even those children in Head Start (a pre-school program designed to make up for educatable deficiences in poor children BEFORE they enter school) were incredibly BEHIND the children less than 2 miles away in the University of Chicago's affiliated pre-school.

Anonymous said...

Addendum of my comment on unrealistic belief in the American Dream -- and the overwhelming problem with belief in the false American Dream is that the deluded vote for politicians and support policies that HURT them just because they view themselves as equal to wealthy or maybe as one day wealthy themselves. A prime example is the recent federal election and continuing support for tax breaks for the very top (1%) of Americans.

Steerforth said...

It's shocking and incredibly depressing how some children's fates are mapped out so early. I don't know why we aren't doing more to tackle this problem.

Surely even the most conservative politicians will appreciate that tackling the effects of poverty in early childhood will, apart from being the morally right thing to do, also save a fortune by reducing future healthcare and crime bills?

Re: the American Dream, it is like the lottery and the new cult of celebrity - for people to win, it is necessary that most of us fail.