Well that came out sounding rather more fed up than I’d expected it to…

There’s been a “thing” recently, much akin to the cyclical trends of flared trousers, yo-yos and pogs, which seems to be growing in Aber. I honestly can’t tell if it’s been about for ages and I’ve only just started tuning into other people’s conversations rather than sitting there in a Happy Dream World (TM), but I find myself not exactly bothered by it, but sufficiently confused by my own status of ‘at odds with this argument’ that I’ve actually been wanting to blog about it for a couple of weeks.

From where I’m sitting there’s basically a linguistic gulf between me and, um, most of my social circle here, in that they seem (at least in terms of what they say, rather than what they do) to think that being middle class is a bad thing. This baffles me completely, as I shall now relate:

In terms of class I see the bulk of the UK population as having access to two states: Working class and Middle class. Upper class is one of those things that you can’t achieve unless you have it, although you can, if you want, work at getting it over four to ten generations (barring massive social upheavals), so I discount it here since I can only count, uh, threeish people of my vague accquaintance who might fall into that bracket.

I’m fairly sure the problem here is with definition, rather than an actual world view, but I’m not sure, so let me explain.

I interpret the three classes as being, in very general terms somewhere in the following brackets by, say, 40ish:

Working class: Education level somewhere between Key Stage 3 and A-level, or Vocational Qualification equivilant. Probably employed in unskilled service industry or as skilled manual labour in manufacturing, etc. Financially badly off; limited savings, poor credit ratings, etc. The kind of people to whom DFS offer ‘Nothing to pay for a whole year!’ credit deals at 19%.

Middle class: Probably educated to graduate level and above. Typically management careers, lawyers, doctors, or owners of businesses. Reasonably well off; decent enough credit rating, probably enough savings that they can re-furbish the entire lounge, carpets and all without needing to take out a loan.

Upper class: Probably went to university, although with the luxury of not having to pay much attention. Bulk of money likely to come either from land, or owned industry, or else the whole goldpile went up the swannee somewhere in the last eighty years or so, and they live in a corner of the family estate having donated the rest to the National Trust, or something. Haven’t refurbished any of the rooms since mother insisted on getting an oil-powered Aga back in the fifties.

Now given that, I don’t see what the problem is with being Middle class. Christ, I want to be Middle class. I spent the winter of 1999 with the hole in my £20 BHS shoes patched up with guttering tape. Bugger that for a game of soldiers, I want to be able to go “these shoes are wearing thin, I shall buy some new ones,” not “I am going to have to make these last through until the January sales,” for Christ’s sake.

(Actually, in terms of shoes, I’m rather hoping to go with “These shoes are wearing thin, I shall have to send them back to Italy to have them re-soled,” but I’ll come to that in a minute.)

I assume the only logical reason people don’t like the idea of being ‘Middle class’ is that they mean something else. Claire, for example, said something like “I’d hate to be middle class!” with quite some force, and when I asked why, she said “Because I hate the idea that I have to eat steak, or something, when I just want a pie and chips!”

What I can’t grasp about that is that it’s the exact opposite of why I want to be middle class; viz: I want to be middle class so that if I want a steak, I’m not forced to eat pie and chips because I can’t afford anything else.

What I think must be happening is that when other people say “middle class,” what they mean is what I would call the “petty bourgeois” – the sort of people who didn’t like Keeping up appearances because they didn’t understand why Hyacinth allowed that fat slob Onslow into her house.

I can understand not wanting to be like that (although I’ve always felt that you’d have to work quite hard to manage it) because that kind of attitude makes you sound like a complete prig. When Harriet was at the Borough we dropped a friend of hers off at her house in Newport, following some music thing or other. The house turned out to be on one of the new housing estates up the Forton Road, and, hillariously, as my mother turned into said estate the girl said “it’s OK, we live on this private drive, but you can go up.”

It wasn’t a private drive, of course; what she meant was “1980s cul-de-sac” but that presumably wouldn’t have sounded quite so posh. Now I confess I ought to cut the girl some slack, because just about everyone is an insufferable git when they’re thirteen (or at least I certainly was) but it was especially funny to us because we do live up a private drive. We don’t, of course, own the bloody thing (although the deeds to the house to specify that we are allowed vehicular access at all times) but we had great fun imagining our neighbour Charlie’s response to that statement, because he’s Hellish keen on keeping out anyone without access rights, which I think comes of being a mechanic and wanting lots of room for vehicles to turn.

Presumably, if that girl doesn’t get sufficiently battered by everyone else in society, then she will grow up to be the kind of person who says things like “Don’t put tomato sauce on your french fries, Tarquin; look, dab a spot of mayonnaise on with this lovely little spoon, there’s a good boy,” although for her sake, I hope she doesn’t.

And, yes, people like that are a sub-set of the middle class, but I don’t think they’re by any means the majority (and, in fact, I tend to assume they’re the people on the borderline, the people who can buy a new sofa no problem, but who have to take the payment plan if they want the full suite).

I think people tend to be more concerened with how they look when they’re on the edges. The upper middle class have a tendancy to embarass themselves by trying to jump up more than can be done in a single generation (and consequently go about buying up perfectly nice houses in the Lake District, flying a Union Flag on a dirty great pole in the middle of the drive, and stocking up all the bookcases with complete sets of Sherlock Holmes from the Reader’s Digest which, when put all in a row, make a silhouette of a man with a pipe and a deerstalker which made the whole thing look like an outsized Mister Men Collection. [True story!]

But, aye. I’ve no interest whatsoever in telling people that they’re not allowed to eat chips, and I’ve no aspiration to be one of those people who refuses to have a slobby evening slumped in front of the TV in case someone looks in through the window.

But I also have no desire to be one of those people who, when they quite fancy a bit of fish, is obliged to drive down to the chippy because they can’t afford to get some salmon and new potatoes in. I won’t ever make it to upper class, but I don’t see why I shouldn’t aspire to being a man with a profession, a steady income, and savings enough that I can take whatever holidays I fancy when I can escape the rat-race for a couple of days.

And I really don’t see why wanting that, or taking in the Saturday Guardian, would put me in the petty bourgeois category. And this is why I am confused, because I cannot tell if people object to the notion that I’ll start caring that they only every buy cars which are less than three license plates old (and have never been owned by one of those immigrants) or if they just mean somehing different by “middle class” than I do.

So, I dunno. Am I right in guessing that, or is there actually a problem here? (Because if there is, I bet I can out Yorkshireman Sketch you buggers without resorting to exaggeration) Frankly, I’d be far more worried if I were reading the Daily Mail. That’s what poor people read…

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.


  1. On April 18, 2008 Statto says:

    As always, the best dip-stick for social trends is comedy. In most comedy contexts, ‘middle class’ means exactly what you’d call ‘petty bourgeois’.

    Citing this week’s Now Show, there’s a joke in the audience question (‘A survey this week has suggested that activities as mundane as doing the washing up can reduce stress levels by 20%. What simple tips do you have for reducing stress?’) in which an audience member’s answer is mocked for being ‘middle class’ because they say ‘I watch the cleaner doing my washing up.’

    This leaves you and I in a pickle. I’m not ‘middle class’ by that definition (I don’t have a cleaner), nor do I have aspirations to be a pretentious, wealthy git (just wealthy will do me). So what am I? I’m not working class (I’m doing a fucking doctorate, for God’s sake) but then, I’m not exactly upper class, either (have you seen the PhD stipend compared to a graduate banking starting salary or the legacy of a rich aunt?).

    We’re probably lower middle class according to a sociologist, but there’s no adequate term for us in the rough and tumble of common nomenclature where ‘middle class’ is the Keeping up appearances caricature.

    Also, your definitions are being blurred by some idiot’s idea that we should be pushing 50% of people through university…but that’s a rant for another day.

  2. On April 18, 2008 Claire says:

    Damn, navigated away from the page before I sent it. Ok, yes, I mean the Keeping up Appearances kind of middle class. I want to be well educated and have a comfortable amount of money. What I don’t want is to look down on people who aren’t and don’t. I’m making a list of examples on my blog. We’ve all done at least some of them. Pretention is a key theme. Oh, and using words like bourgeois is pretty fucking middle-class ;)

  3. On April 18, 2008 Eskoala » Keeping Up Appearances says:

    […] In reference to JTA’s post about middle-class-ness… […]

  4. On April 18, 2008 The Pacifist says:

    I think the problem is some people consider “Middle Class” to be a perjorative, whereas “Working Class” is considered “trendy”. This seems to be the opposite of how things were a few decades ago…

    And personally I always thought of it as:

    Upper Class – inherited their property (and possibly a title)
    Middle Class – own their property
    Working Class – rent their property

    That would make Upper Class something you have to be born into and the other two just based on whether you pay a mortgage or a rent cheque. Hmm. Do “interest only” mortgages count? I’d argue not, because you wouldn’t own the property at the end.

    Of course, there are always pursuits assigned to each category:

    Upper Class: Horses, “land”, titles, owner of business, Horse and Hound.
    Middle Class: Biscotti, tiramisu, white wine, desk/supervisory job, Radio 4, Daily Mail
    Lower (“Working”) Class: Chips, council house, manual labour, Radio 1, The Sun

    I think “Classical music” might fit both Upper and Middle. Anyway, this is down to individual interests and anything else is surely just a stereotype?

    You could argue that someone is Middle Class if they drink white wine, listen to Gardener’s Question Time and work in a skilled profession, but surely that’s just a label. It’s really up to them how they self-identify….

  5. On April 18, 2008 eezageeza says:

    Oh for goodness sake, who gives a toss anyway ? The only people who worry about these things are those with chips on their shoulders because they perceive themselves to be in a class lower than that to which they aspire. It just doesn’t matter. And, as an aside, acknowledging that is a REAL sign of class – I once asked an eminent surgeons pre-school daughter what her favourite food was, and she answered “chips and ‘mato ketchup”. Did he cringe and say “oh no Jemima…” No, he just continued the conversation.
    Get on with your life, pursue your aspirations, earn what you’re content with, fulfill your dreams, but don’t waste any more time fretting about what class you are, or think you ought to be….

  6. On April 19, 2008 Mister JTA says:

    Well, yeah.That’s partly the point I was going for, although I do tend to blog in a “what comes into my head” sort of way, so I can see how you might have missed it. Insofar as I do give a toss, it’s because I’m reluctant to get lumped in with the Hyacinth Buckets of the world for want of a proper definition!

    Who are you, anyway; don’t think I’ve seen you about before? And kudos to you for having some very sensible friends!

    See I reckon having cleaners is upper class. But then the only time I was a domestic cleaner was for Dan Arden, and I don’t think “Dan Arden, MBE, man who takes the piccies for the Newport Advertiser” constitues upper class the same way, say, “Peregrine Cavendish, Duke of Devonshire” would, so again I find the language is noisily failing me!

    Well that makes sense, at least! As long as you don’t object to being able to afford steak I find myself less baffled! Although with reference to “bourgeois is pretty fucking middle-class” – I balance it out with an upper class habit of calling just about everyone the proletariat. Does that fix it?

    Again, yes. I’d just like it if there was a way I could self-identify as Middle class (which I’m perfectly happy to do) without everyone else immediately thinking “what a bastard! He can buy his own bloody pint, then, stuck up git that he is”…

    Incidentally, if anyone is sufficiently swayed by this incisive social commentary that they fancy wiring me a fiver or so to cover the cost of a wee drink or two come tomorrow morning, then by all means feel free to come good on it…

  7. On April 19, 2008 gary says:

    having a cleaner isn’t middle or upper class, its just pretty lazy.

    and to be fair, britain’s society is relatively classless nowadays. i know thats an exaggeration, but i’m just pointing out that as a predominantly tertiary sector nation, the majority of people could reasonably claim to be middle class. and when its split in that kind of way, it ceases to be as important because the only people to ‘capitalise’ on class are people like marx, and if they dont have a lower class majority to lecture at they don’t really get very far.

    and the british middle classes, the people like the chairmen of big businesses, just outsource and the working class becomes china and the rest of east asia.

  8. On April 20, 2008 Scatman Dan says:

    Nice post. Not that I’m one to care even a little about or for class distinction: perhaps I just don’t “get it.”

  9. On April 20, 2008 gary says:


  10. […] There’s been quite a lot said recently on abnib about class. JTA opened up the debate; Claire followed up by listing some of her least favourite things about the stereotypes of the middle class, and attracted a lot of debate in her comments; Matt P argued that the class system doesn’t exist (or, at least, isn’t relevant) in the UK any more anyway; and even Beth weighed in with her opinions on the whole thing, although it did take me prodding her with a virtual stick before she did so. […]

  11. On April 26, 2008 Mister JTA says:

    Heh. Nice link there Gary. I must’ve seen that years ago, but I’d completely forgotten about it! Good old The Internet.