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Thursday, 1 September 2011

Heart of Glass


Listening to Polly Toynbee's "The Class Ceiling" on the radio this morning, had me reviewing my class status. Distressed Middle Class - that's me. I might almost be the squeezed middle.

Dear Polly, who's named after a Further Education college in London, is clearly pukka middle class, but from what I heard she was not a happy middle classer. You see when it comes to social mobility, which is what she was on about, she is well and truly on a downer.

Social mobility is a good thing. It's good that the family of oiyks on the local council estate have kids that get to university, move off the estate and buy a house in Buckstead (and still shop at IKEA for furniture?). The class you're born into shouldn't determine your place in society. Right?

 Unfortunately all is not well on the social mobility front. It appears to be seizing up. Kids born now have less chance moving out of their class than kids born 50 years ago.

Back to Polly and me. Polly, a journalist, is the second daughter of the literary critic Philip Toynbee (by his first wife Anne), granddaughter of the historian Arnold J. Toynbee, and great-great niece of philanthropist and economic historian Arnold Toynbee, So clearly social mobility for her has not been an upward curve. I wouldn't be surprised if her kids weren't living on a council estate somewhere in Sheffield.

Which illustrates the problem with social mobility. It's fine if you can float up on the currents of native intellect and gifts, but if you're not that well equipped down you may fall. Can you see Bertie Wooster clinging on to his privileged life if there was loads of social mobility around in his days? I think not. 

Looking at my lineage I'm immediately struck by the difference in the fortunes of my father's and mother's family. My father's grand parents were wealthy Greeks and legal advisers to the Greek royal family. They owned much of Cephalonia and a few other bits of rocks off the mainland. My dad was a tradesman, a cafe owner and labourer. Quite a comedown. My step father was born into a wealthy Northern industrial family but he ended up as a tool maker in a factory. My mother on the other hand came from good old yeoman stock. My grand father, a farm labour, sired five sons all of whom became businessmen or farmers.

I'm sort of in the middle - squeezed between the labouring, skilled  and the business classes - I became a civil servant. Having no children I don't fret about what would have happened to them class wise, although I'm sure had they been born they'd have inherited my intelligence, native flair, good looks and pleasant nature. They'd have gained Double Firsts*, been president of the Union, both Oxford and Cambridge and by now leading either a political party or the country. 

I, of course, could have done better, but I was held back by the Class Ceiling.

2 comments:

Steve said...

Isn't the apparent stagnation of class mobility more to do with the fact that everyone is drifting slowly and inexorably towards the middle? Most of us are middle class, I'd say. Or the middling classes.

RubberCrutch said...

I am no authority on the British class system, but I must strenuously disagree with your assessment of Bertie Wooster's fate in a society with more mobility: do not forget that his inherited resources funded the services of a gentleman's gentleman with a conspicuous fullness to the cranium that bumped up his hairline by a few centimeters.