Saturday, 22 December 2012

Class, consumption and London life

We are back in London.

And today we clambered over and around the British class structure.

Now I know that there are many who doubt the usefulness of class as a way of analysing society today - surely we are all middle class now, they say.

I retort that the definitions of working, middle and upper class have changed and it is harder to identify members of each by clothes, accents or even occupation, but it is still possible to classify people in terms will suggest the opportunities and advantages or otherwise that they will get out of life - class can make you or it can break you.

Yesterday Elena and I began our day with a trip on the Hammersmith and City underground line from Baker Street.
At Ladbroke Grove, a young man threw himself into our carriage and spead himself out on the seat opposite us. To our right were a couple of young men and their companion, a young woman, sat opposite them and therefore found herself next to our sudden interloper.
Now all of these were roughly the same age, and all wore roughly the same kinds of casual clothes, and all had roughly the same kind of accents.
Let me relay the dialogue that ensued :
Interloper : Ullo there, is she with you?
Young Men : Yea.
Interloper : Do you mind if I chat her up?
Young Men : It won’t do you any good.
Interloper : Have you got a boyfriend,.....oh good, more of a challenge, what’s your name?
Young Woman : Sarah.
Interloper brings a can of strong lager out from his coat pocket.
Interloper : What about your second name........
Young Woman : What, why shoiuld I..........
Interloper : It will help me to find out something about you.......your antecedants ( sic )
Do you know Harry?........Prince Harry?
Young Woman : Yes
Interloper : What personally....I do....he’s well known to me....( taps his nose, knowingly ) but ee can’t acknowledge it, ees a boy I can tell you.
The young men and woman get up and leave at Latimer Road and everyone is laughing.

Interloper to us : Are you married?
He takes a swig from his lager - his mobile rings...Ello Tom mate.....know I’m fine, I’m not drunk no, I’ve got probation at 3pm....I was all over the place yesterday, I was scorchin, squiffed out mate, but no, I’m fine mate, I’ll see you soon, be there in 10 minutes.

Elena asks him if we can take his picture.

Interloper : I’m wanted by the Police, what will you do with it?

Elena : We will publish it on our blog, very few people will see it, but it might make you famous.

Interloper : Yea, people tell me I could be an actor, but I say no, fuck it, I want it to be real, I wanna be real, pah, acting, who wants to act?
Same with girls though. They all fancy me, its true.
I was going to be married, but I packed my bird in....what she did in bed, it was disgustin...I kept thinking about her doing that with other blokes, no, I thought, out, so that was that.

The train pulled into Hammersmith station and Interloper asked me if he could slip through the gate behind me because he didn’t have a ticket.
As long as you don’t get me arrested, I said.
Don’t worry mate, I’m an expert, trust me.
As we went through the barrier, a guard noticed him and call ed to him.
I’ve got a Freedom Pass mate! was his brilliant reply, and he ran off.

Is he a member of the working class, the benefits class, or what the Victorians’ called the Residuum?
He is a character, a comedian, a charmer and good company in a tube carriage on a wet day.
We wanted the picture to remind ourselves that some people add to the sum of human happiness with wit and warmth alone, no more. This man had his demons. Better this than a miserable success of a bourgeoise. And I’m still wondering what that disgusting thing was that she did to cut herself off from him? There are, after all, only so many things a girl can do to a man in bed....ah well.

We were off to The River Cafe, to treat ourselves and to watch the middle class, or the moneyed class, at play. It is a beautiful restaurant, classless in a way, not stuffy or snooty, relaxed, the food is superb - and expensive.

The photographs say it all, but the food was superb, and the entire experience was a pleasure, despite the price. The diners again were mostly casually dressed, but if they wore jeans, their jeans were the kind that cost over £200 and the intricate designs on the pockets show others that this is so.

Class designators are more subtle these days, and British Toffs no longer wear top hats and tails, except when they get married, but restaurant locations are not subtle - they indicate money at least,but you might have, like us, saved up all year to treat yourself. The Ivy, an expensive and good restaurant in central London, is filled with the happy sounds of Essex and Cockney accents that don’t usually belong to lawyers and bankers, but they might to Traders in the City of London’s financial district. But perhaps because of this, the hard core middle class have moved on, or out here to Hammersmith and the River Cafe.
Elena maintains that the concept of class has no value at all today - maybe she is right, not because there are’nt people with different life chances, but just because these now defy classification at all.

A good London pub will attract all classes - a pub is more of a temperamental thing, if you are happy to stand and share space at a bar, interject in other drinkers banter, drink, as it were, from a common well, then you will be happy in a pub.

I know Toffs who are happy in pubs, but they are probably a minority.
A pub is a communal idea, like a municipal swimming pool or golf course, or a park.

The world is moving towards private space, private clubs.

But we like pubs, and parks, and London has a lot of both, which is one of its many charms.

Unless otherwise stated all photographs by Elena Bruce

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