RADIO 4 aired a show on Sunday afternoon about the transformation of Buckfast from wreck-the-hoose-juice to quirky cocktail ingredient in London bars.
Is nothing sacred? I must be one of a small minority of Coatbridgands (my gran always used this word for our fellow Coatbridge people but I can find very little hint of it on the internet) who has listened to more Radio 4 output about the tonic wine than I have imbibed the tonic wine.
A chap towards the end of the programme said something along the lines of it being acceptable for people from Glasgow to denigrate Buckfast but when it’s slandered by Tarquin in a tweed jacket, the slight is too much to bear. I paraphrase, but that’s the jist.
While cat sitting recently in the west end of Glasgow I looked out the back window onto the gardens behind to see a group of three young people enjoying an aperitif. Two were on tins of beer while the third was drinking Buckfast from a Champagne flute. Is this cultural appropriation?
Is there anything more gratingly middle class than taking a bog standard item and using it to be ironic? I was in a restaurant last week that was serving up Mars bar chimichangas on a wooden plank.
“Is that just a deep fried Mars bar?” I asked the waitress. It was, but tarted up.
I say “bog standard” but others might say working class; typical working class items. I baulk at the idea of working class and middle class foods or entertainments, this idea that the opera is for the middle class while football is a working class pursuit. But it would be naive to think that these things aren’t still segregated by perceived audience.
When I was at school I hid the fact I was into ballet because it was seen to be “snobby”. Now the balance has shifted and the middle classes pretend they’re not.
KPMG has said it wants to set a quota for the number of working class staff in partner and director positions, 29 per cent by 2030. Partners at the accountancy firm earn upwards of £500,000, so you’ve safely ditched your working class roots by the time you get to that point.
Tackling discrimination and widening diversity is now a mainstream practice but social class is often missing from the conversation even though Britain lags in the league tables of social mobility. . How do you quantify it? KPMG has gone with the same measure the UK government uses: a person’s parents’ employment when they are a teenager. So, “routine and manual” jobs, such as cleaners, farm workers and drivers.
If only it were that simple. One of the problems with adjusting for class is that no one can agree on what that means beyond those who are middle class pretending they aren’t. An unarguably middle class professional of my acquaintance had me in stitches recently when he tried to sell me the fact he’d gone to school in Govanhill. Of course I immediately twigged that he meant Hutcheson’s primary, the private school. Which I think is technically Strathbungo but it would, as with so many things, depend on who you asked.
This attempt to lay claim to an identity not their own is perhaps in retaliation to that trope the actor Benedict Cumberbatch claimed: that the only acceptable category to discriminate against now is the white middle class.
Earlier this year the Social Mobility Commission (SMC) reported Whitehall civil servants being posher now than in the 1960s with “hidden rules” from those with the right backgrounds creating a hostile environment for everyone else. One working class employee reported colleagues cracking out the Latin in meetings, which would be isolating for those unfamiliar with the language but also just really bloody annoying.
Some said they would put on accents in an attempt to fit in, knowingly going the Hyacinth Bucket route for the sake of their careers.
Among the many benefits of being middle class – more money, for a start – is confidence. You pay for an injection of confidence when you pay for a private education and you pay for a leg up. But something I’ve noticed in the past 10 years of writing about Glasgow schools is how much more confident young people are now that the education system has a particular focus on building well being and aspiration.
Back in the day, trying to interview children and young people was blood from a stone, whereas now they almost all shoot their hands up when the teacher asks if they want to speak to a journalist.
Last week while out covering the Duke and Duchess of Rothesay’s visit to Glasgow the children were so beautifully bold. Some P6 children had been chosen to meet the future king and his wife. They had the chance to ask questions of a museum curator in front of Camilla and not a single one was abashed at talking in front of royalty.
It’s a bit trite to say you hope this next generation are the ones to stamp all over class inequality but confidence is only part of it. Business making the effort to promote diverse backgrounds is another decent step but stopping the middle class from appropriating this step up is the bigger challenge.