Saturday, 29 January 2011

Class, it's an arse.

    One sentence, and I was momentarily speechless. "This is [Me-as-bloke], he went to [The school I attended over twenty years ago]". Not defining me by my achievements or my relevance to the subject in hand, but by where I went to school. To be fair I think the speaker might have been using it in the context of illustrating my academic background as much as my social standing, but even then it speaks volumes that he chose to mention my schooling as opposed to my university education or nearly twenty years in industry.
    Of course, it wasn't where I went to school that was of interest. What was being said was something more fundamental about how the speaker viewed me, he was saying to the other party present was simple: "This person is one of us". "Us" being public-school-educated and therefore some kind of sound chap. If only he knew, eh!
    It's a sad fact that as a species we are obsessed with status. Why should it matter to someone where I went to school? And would his interest in me have waned had he known that his assumptions about me based on where I went to school are largely wrong? I doubt he knew I went to school on one of Margaret Thatcher's Assisted Places so I suspect if he had I might have been introduced in different terms. He probably wouldn't have said "Scholarship boy" in the same tone as someone like him might once have said "Fag", but suddenly where I was educated might have been less emphasised. If it had been my choice I wouldn't have told him about it because it isn't important, but sadly he's someone who knows through other means.
    I find it annoying that there is such an assumption of privilege that goes with an expensive education. Both from within the "club" as with the speaker above, and from outside it. I am seeing a lot of discussion on this topic at the moment in light of the composition of our present Government, and I think that such commentary gets the relationship wrong.

    Privilege does not automatically follow private education, it is private education that usually follows privilege.

    My education came my way as part of a *(Delete whichever following sentence fragment your politics deem appropriate) bold experiment in social mobility/huge diversion of taxpayer's money by a Conservative government but while I wouldn't deny it has given me opportunities that I would probably never have seen had I attended my local Comprehensive, it hasn't led me to riches. Instead I had an isolated and difficult teenage period followed by a fractured career through different parts of the wilder areas of the media industry, all of which has led me to a small rental flat rather than a palatial mansion. David Cameron, Boris Johnson and their cronies are where they are not because of the school they attended but because they are dyed-in-the-wool toffs, I wish everyone would stop lumping people like me in with them by extension.


  1. I attended a minor public school and harbour a deep desire to go to one of the gatherings of the school alumni.
    It didn't turn co-ed until after I'd left,so I'd probably qualify as the oldest old girl there.

  2. Jeeeze! Are we all the same on here!?

    Out of curiosity I decided to try and find out what had happened to the one friend from my school days so since on another search using facebook I found him within a couple of minutes of signing on. He was the only person I recognised, obviously we are not an age group playing with facebook and signing up to our fancy schools!

    Not sure how the "years" were defined for the classes I hit the year previous to mine only to be confronted with a picture of a glamourous woman! So there is no chance of me being the first girl to go to that school! though perhaps the second in the first 625 years!

    Caroline xxx

  3. Damn, just been trying and failing to find a poem by Charles Tomlinson about class and accents, recounting a snobbish fellow he worked with who derided is Northern flat 'a's... "of course, I thought him an ass, which he pronounced 'arse'; it takes all sorts..."
    Grammar school oik here (and have met people who actually do call people 'grammar school oiks', strewth) but have of course endured the unwelcome bestowal of assumed privilege when among seafaring blokes. Urk. 'Not in my name', and so on.

  4. I am with Sophie on the idea of turning up at a class reunion en-femme, though in the small world we live in here in Edinburgh, it is like a village, I don't suppose that my identity would stay within the school walls for long.

    There are quite a few classmates on Facebook and tmy other day dream is to contact them and ask how many of them are transvestites - fun but unlikely that I will do it.

    Although not as posh a school as Caroline or Jenny's, my school is one of a group that you get asked about by others from Edinburgh. I was in Oman many years ago and when I met another Scot the first question was - you guessed it, "What school did you go to".

  5. I attended a private school until the age of 7, then it was state schools until I went to college. In retrospect, the state system failed me quite badly, so I'm more than a little envious of those I know who went 'public'.

    Nevertheless, I had a pretty comfortable upbringing. But I hit the class barrier solidly when I fell in love with a girl from the local Council Estate. Dad made little secret of his belief that she wasn't good enough.

    Well, we've been married for over 40 years now and are still madly in love, despite the emergence of 'Angie', so dad was wrong, and so were the prejudices of all who looked down on the girl from the Council Estate.

    To be honest, those who have snobbish class values are not the sort of friends I want. I just tell myself that it is I who have seen the light and they who are living in the dark ages.

    Angie xx

  6. The last thing I want to be reminded of is school1 I hated the place. Although I did fairly well at school I didn't leave with many quals but I then went to college and did far better there. My school education was marred by all the bullying I had to endure. I was a timid and shy child probably too effeminate for all the rough necks there so I took the insults, the shoving around and general bullying because i was too wimpish to do anything else. Mmm...I wonder why I was like that? I hate the class system and everything it stands for and especially 'the old school tie' brigade. Gosh half of those who went to public school and subsequently ended up in government are reall doing a fine job arn't they? Yeah sure! Most of them are as thick as two short planks! look at the mess this country is in. Jenny love you are probably better off now than you mighy have been had your face fitted so to speak. At least you are putting your talents to good use.

    Shirley Anne xxx

  7. Sorry about the typo errors there!

    Shirley Anne

  8. Jenny-wonderful post.
    I have the same issue from the other side (yes I'm another oik).

    Not having the accent or the privelege, (but a modicum of talent), I spent the first years of my career roasting "twits" and "good chaps". I hope I've lost the chip on my shoulder, but it took me a long time to realise that not all public school boys were lazy underperforming pampered poppinjays. I hope I now judge on merit rather than accent, as the prejudice can poison in both formulations.
    Thanks again Jenny
    (BTW were you in Griffindor House?)
    PS You might need to explain that "public school" in UK means elite private school in US.

  9. Claire an Oik!? Language is only here to cause misunderstanding, guess 600,000 thousand words in the dictionary are not quite enough.

    I doubt I would have survived if I had not managed to get into my slightly posh school which had less thuggery than I heard of in other schools.

    I already knew that there was no place in their society so just kept my head down, became a ghost and just passed exams with zero effort and left without a word.
    Clearly the "old boys network" was never going to work for me. As soon as I left the school I also left my family home and country. guess I was not too happy

  10. @Caroline.Rats, mine was 15th century ; does that mean you can call me an oik ??? Language...
    Actually I'm quite proud of the way I graduated from mine. Semi-thrown out for passing out stuff on open day questioning whether the equation of 30% black entrance applicants every year = one half Pakistani son of a lab assistant attending, made much sense.

  11. Evening all, and thanks for your comments.

    I have no desire whatsoever to attend a gathering of my school's alumni. I have very little in common with any of them. However the idea of turning up in full-on seven foot girl mode does appeal, if only to see their faces. Statistically there have to have been other trans people passing through an institution of that size, so I doubt I'd be alone either.

    They were mostly the types who would revel in the old school tie, not me. Nothing to be envious of.

    It's interesting that you all apply a social connotation to the word "oik". I've never thought of it that way, in fact I'd cheerfully apply it to ...I dunno... Boris Johnson, for example. I had to look it up, it simply means "an uncouth or obnoxious person" with no social angle at all.

    It's funny, part of the reason I was so taken aback by what the bloke said was because it's never happened before. My scruffy male alter ego dresses like any other geek and speaks like any other person caught between Estuary English and the Midlands so confusing him with the Ruperts and the Nigels might not come so easily.

    My school is a relative youth in the age stakes, a mere five hundred and something years old. They must be *really* crap if they've had that long to get it right and they still do such a bad job!

  12. @Jenny/@Caroline:
    Perhaps I am not an oik at all, but rather an Awk (a rather unlikely bird!).