Well chase me aunt fanny round the gasworks, Kate Winslet’s working class! Don’t be fooled by the accent, she’s actually a pickled onion-munching pauper, and gosh darn-it does she want us all to know. I know I’m a bit late coming to this one, but as it’s finals-time I’ve taken up residence in the British Library under a mountain of intellectual expectancy. Which is a terribly middle class thing to be doing, isn’t it? Kate, have mercy on me.
Though actually, I should be showing some sisterly support for the Oscar-winning star, because she set out to highlight a point I’ve been trying to stomp home for the past three years: that a nice voice don’t necessarily mean a nice bank balance. Yes, burdened myself with an accent that’s a little more Port-Out-Starboard-Home than P&O ferry, I completely understand where she’s coming from (the ghetto of Reading, apparently). People hear the twang, and assume trust fund. If I had a pound for every time I’ve found myself in a conversation at uni where it was just assumed I went to public school, I’d have enough to buy a Cheltenham Ladies’ hoodie. Or a pony.
But is it really about money? Of course not. Kate’s defense of her ‘working class’ upbringing was, after all, based on holidays in Cornwall and 10p pocket money a week from her struggling actor parents. But what’s more middle class than Cornish holidays? Or struggling actors? Or making sure your children know the value of a penny chew? Or, if we’re honest, er, banging on about being poorer than everyone thinks you are?
The hilarious bit, you see, isn’t picturing La Winslet down Mecca Bingo, or tucking into a Findus crispy pancake with this week’s Take a Break in hand. What’s funny is the way she, like everyone else nowadays, so vehemently rejects any association with that smug tribe of houmous-eating, welly-wearing, theatre-going, Waitrose-shopping wannabes we call the middle classes. She may not be afraid of impaling herself on a cut-glass vowel, but God forbid the world might think she knows her way round an aga.
So I ask, whatever happened to the Hyacinth Buckets of the world? After decades of previous generations pruning their shrubberies into submission to make it into the hallowed middle ground, suddenly we’re all desperate to be salt-of-the-earth again. Flee the middle classes, you squares! Find a great-uncle who was a cobbler, and milk it for all it’s worth! We don’t want to be middle class because ‘middle class’ equates to pretension, draughty windows, olive oil-tasting parties and children named Octavia. But then ‘working class’ means TV dinners, package holidays in Magaloof, casual violence and children named Aiymeee, doesn’t it? Or did Holiday Showdown teach me wrong?
You’re throwing your unspecific class-neutral breakfast at the page right now, I know, but bear with me. There are the subdivisions to talk about. Because being lower middle class is a very different thing to being middle middle class, darling. It’s the difference between Delia and Nigella. Or Debenhams and Harvey Nichols. Or laminate flooring and stripped-down hardwood boards. Lower middle is quite a comfy place to be, I reckon, as one who’s probably been sitting in it for 21 years. We still get to watch Britain’s Got Talent non-ironically, and we don’t ever have to wear a Barbour jacket or go to Nepal to find ourselves.
So yes, class is tricky. It must have all been so much easier back when it was down to top hat vs bowler hat vs flat cap – now all the headgear’s exclusively the preserve of trendster fourteen-year-olds, and nobody knows how to define it anymore. Or, obviously, if it matters an iota.
Some believe the best indicator of class is which newspaper you read. So I’ll take this opportunity to say: Herald readers, you’re in a class of your own.