Sunday, 16 October 2011

Sheep In Wolf's Clothing

Earlier this week me and OH went to the funeral of one of his old mates, A. He and A were friends as adolescents. A had been in the year above him at school but they hadn't mated up until Jim left and went to work at the same garage as a trainee mechanic. Then they and a few more young men played football, fished, drank and went to dances together. A had been one of the good looking ones, a girl magnet and Jim the one you took home to mother.

Their friendship continued through National Service and after when they returned to civvy street. A was married and had two sons by the time I met him. I was never really an intimate friend of him and his wife, they seemed older and different, but we would go out to the local working man's club on a Saturday with them. This continued until I became pregnant and that put a stop to that. 

We then moved out of the district and continued with our lives. I had two children and returned to work. Then tragically A's wife died and he became more involved with his family. We would see him from time to time but the intimacy never returned we'd all moved on.  Ten years later A married a young widow and to all intents and purposes lived a happy life.

The last time we saw him was at Jim's mother's funeral three years ago he looked older but seemed ok we chatted made loose arrangements to meet up some time but that never happened. Then last week we heard of his death and we both agreed we wanted to attend his funeral and that's what I wanted to talk about.

When we arrived at the local cemetery chapel there were already crowds of people there. We both looked around for a familiar face but none appeared. By the time the cortege arrived there must have been a hundred people and we were ushered in to standing room only. The service was not a religious one and in fact only the Lord's Prayer was said. The rest of it was a mixture of anecdotes and music but it captured the man and at the end there was a round of applause for a life well lived. All of it was very positive and we were pleased we'd attended. 

But it was a strange experience, a sort of dislocation? We had been surrounded by a working class community to which we no longer belonged. So when we returned home, we spent some time talking about A and some rather vivid memories we hand of him but then we talked about how our lives have changed over the years. I realised that I had felt like Rita, Willy Russell's eponymous character in Educating Rita. I 'sing another song'. Jim was just in a state of disbelief and then started wondering if he was the last dinosaur standing?  

I think we have experienced an evolution of sorts. A, though a prosperous business man was still living the same life but with more money. Whereas we, mainly through my growing up and late education, have experienced something different. I stress the 'different' I don't mean better. He had clearly been loved and as far as we know he was content. We on the other hand have a rich cultural life and often don't feel contented? Is it because although I sing a different song I no longer have a place of belonging? I'm perhaps neither fish nor fowl. No longer really working class but not really middle either. This discomfort serves me well in my work. I am adept at empathising. I get it from the different perspectives. Where it serves me less well perhaps is when I am required to socialise. I then, to misquote, feel like a sheep in wolf's clothing? 


  1. I can relate to this - at an early age I went to a public school - a scholarship girl who had won her place based on merit, rather than my parents ability to pay. The Chasm between my roots and the world I was living in was vastly different, Lords and Ladies and even the odd princeling.

    My own background was of a Yorkshire working class mining family on my Father's side (he was the first one to go to Grammar School and then University)and my Mother, who by the standards then was even lowlier - she was brought up an orphan in Barnados.

    Being the eldest of a large brood, I couldnt help but notice the difference between my own background and circumstances, and the wealthy posh children I found myself amongst.

    Frequently, I was reminded of my place - and frequently I demonstrated on the sports pitch and the exams, that class/money/status counted for nothing as I collected various prizes for various achievements.

    Within my family, what I refer to as inverted snobbery abounds ( the desire to be seen as working class etc), as does real snobbery, siblings who are the archetypal nouveaux riche looking down on other siblings.

    Personally, I have never felt I fitted in anywhere, and it had nothing to do with class, wealth, or education. I don't care about these aspects in other people either. I've lived on the Streets, and I have earned more money than it is decent for one person to earn, and I firmly believe the sooner we start treating each other as equals - poor and rich alike, so that there is no looking down noses at one another, and no politics of envy, the better place the world will be.

    Me - I am in a class of my own :oP

    Athena x

  2. I can understand where you are coming from with this. Not for me personally - my parents were what people might call 'working class made good'. A bad phrase in 2011 but one that resonated in the 1950s. My ex council house mum married 2 bed privately owned terrace dad & they moved from Bradford to Manchester in the early 1950s as dad got a job that paid an extra £1 a week.
    By the time I arrived on the scene, dad had just bought his own business, mum gave up her job in a pharmacy to look after the baby, and we lived in a semi-detached in south Manchester.
    They brought me up to believe anything was possible & got me into a CofE secondary school when I was 11. Or maybe mum did? She was slightly more academic than dad but both had left school at 16.
    The first hint I got of dad's discomfort at 'moving out of your class' was when he was relieved I'd not managed to go to Uni & had gone & got myself a job.
    Mum was always happy as long as I was happy & through my journalism & PR career enjoyed some of the trappings that came my way. At one point she had a flirty conversation with the actor Paul Nicholas!
    They both travelled quite a lot, including the USA & Russia.
    But since mum died, I've come to realise just how much dad is out of his comfort zone when placed in a situation he perceives as 'above his station'. We took both of them to Rick Stein's restaurant for his 80th birthday &, looking back, he exhibited the classic signs of being out of his comfort zone as it was 'posh'.
    It's a great shame as it's affected where we can take him - his insecurities can turn into bad manners....
    Meanwhile, I'm sick of the way class still infests society. If pressed, I'd say I'm working class. But by working, I've ended up with a lower middle class life ;)

  3. It's strange I do not feel intimidated professionally or in discussion groups it is only socially. I'm sure some of it is about having the poor man's version of the uniform at school but I do also feel our class identity is formed as children. I have several academic friends who feel the same identity confusion.

  4. i have met plenty of upper class, moneyed,miserable a***holes in my time who i would not want in my orbit,likewise i have encountered plenty of working class folks who don't seem to like to see people getting on!

    That's life i guess ?

    What is most important is a life well lived and by that i mean being happy or maybe content is a better word.

    So wherever you are on the class scale as long as you are happy and don't judge others then surely that is fine.I think making comparisons between one life lived and another is nigh on impossible

  5. Dear Anonymous I don't doubt it's possible to be happy irrespective of class. I was simply articulating my discomfort at sometimes feeling fish nor fowl? You sound quite emphatic about what you think so perhaps you find it difficult to understand my wobble? I agree a life well lived is what counts. Thank you so much for taking the time to comment :)

  6. and thank you so much for your response x

  7. Enjoyed reading this, came across the link on twitter, thought it was an open and honest insight, reflecting the path of many peoples lives.
    We all want to fit in, we all want to belong, it's not where you start off in life, is where you end. Some people want to change, some are happy with their lot in life. Loved it, thank you for sharing x