Am sitting writing this in Pret a Manger on Regent’s Street. The luscious windows of Fortnum & Massons pear over me. My neighbour has a pink silk tie and expensive cufflinks. A woman has just stepped in wearing a fur coat. Their accents reveal that they are certainly not tourists.
I was going to work in the London Library and meet a friend – but I couldn’t get in. I suppose when you pay that sort of annual membership, they can’t give a day-pass to any blogging riff raff, can they? Fair enough, I didn’t book in advance and they were terribly polite about it – but there was no way I was getting past that desk.
Anyway here I am. Mobile office and all that, very happy until I start watching The Establishment glide by with shiny cars on litter-free streets. It’s reminded me of a conversation I had last week with someone I adore. (I hope she doesn’t see this. Mentioning our discussion is fine, the word ‘adore’ – no way.)
She told me on no uncertain terms that my daughter Bella is being rude when she says ‘pardon’. I’m told it’s not about class, it’s about manners. And by the way, I have been heard saying ‘dinner’ instead of ‘supper’. Finally, I am warned that this six-letter word could make her an outcast if she were ever accepted into one those exclusive local secondary schools.
Yikes. These thoughts coupled with the lunch-time flood of pin-stripped suits have made me run for the tube to King’s Cross.
Phew, I am now safely tucked away in a corner of the British Library. It’s not a mirror reflection of British society but certainly feels a bit more real. And I can’t get to work until I rid myself of these niggling questions.
Let’s imagine Bella were offered a place at one of those elite London schools. Would I want her to go somewhere where she might be outcast for saying ‘pardon’? ‘Of course not!’ scream my values. Would I want my daughter to go to a brilliant school? ‘Of course’ says her mother.
Either I am going crazy or this country has not entered the 21st Century. Someone please tell me what it is all about. Actually, I don’t mean that. What I really want to know is why on earth it is still going on. In The Times last Saturday, Ralf Fiennes called class ‘this country’s Achille’s heel’. He thinks it’s a ‘media construct to run stupid articles about class and posh actors’.
Well, I’m sorry Ralf, I do not agree and here’s another blog post about it. This country’s obsession with class is as real as my neighbour’s gold cufflinks on Regent’s Street. I know nothing about the plight of actors but I’ve seen a few boardrooms and Prime Minister’s Question Time. This is one UK folly I do not relish describing to my Australian friends. Monty Python funny. Class thing not funny.
And that’s because the class club still holds some people back and still promotes others. Anyone who denies it should take a closer look at business and government. Fine, there are lots of successful people who don’t speak with plums in their mouths. But look around and tell me who is ruling this country and The City? We should be ashamed of how far away we are from being a meritocracy. How about some Americans and Australians get over here to give us some training?
Sadly, I can’t see any ‘kill the class club’ camps anywhere, please delight me and tell me I am wrong. As far as I know, the next generation of these cufflink-wearers even have tutors with the right contacts in the right schools.
I would love Bella to become one of these British Library cosmopolitan self-assured girls sitting next to me. Big boots, big hair and lots of big books. I’ve just spied two, earnestly listening to an older American woman lecturing them on the history of feminism. I want these opportunities for my daughter (whether she grabs them is something I’ll have to find out). And I also want to know whether accent and background will still impact her generation.