I still think the constant cry of ‘out of touch!’ from politicians is a cheap shot. I still get annoyed at the suggestion that just because someone has never gone hungry themselves or known real want, it must follow that they can not understand, empathise with, imagine or learn about the problems facing the poor, even though they have chosen to go into politics and been elected to office. Of course there will be some who are blinkered or ignorant or choose not to care, but it should not be said simply because someone’s parents were middle class or chose a private school.
I was going into town on the tube. According to a recent tube map showing average property prices per square foot in the vicinity of each station, my home is in one of the very cheapest places in Greater London. I’d sat down and begun reading my book, and didn’t look up till I got to Gloucester Road, the first zone 1 station on my route. A man was standing quite close to where I was seated; his coat was right in my face, and greatly to my surprise the first thought that struck me was ‘That coat looks expensive’. Which is peculiar, because I have a lot of friends who talk about ‘the cut’, ‘the fabric’ or ‘the finish’ of clothes (not to mention labels) and I am always mystified by it. (I’m not very discerning in regard to clothes, and couldn’t care less.) Looking about the carriage, I felt like someone on Candid Camera who comes back from the loo to find everything in her office has been moved. It was staggering how all the people I could now see just LOOKED RICH. Next stop, South Ken. Some tourists (naturally enough, because of the museums) and they all appeared well heeled, too. Mostly office workers, and some yummy French mummies, and they all seemed… groomed. I realized for the first time and with an incredible jolt, that the people I get on and off with at my station, just don’t have that gloss. I’d never noticed before. (Not sure where I fit in.)
In similar vein, when I drive through my old neighbourhood, which previously just felt normal (and I’m not talking about Mayfair, The Boltons or Hampstead), I start to feel awed by the money. The buildings, the cars on the street (though it has to be said, alongside the vans of my new neighbours, there are also huge Mercs), the very window boxes, painted woodwork, hedges! They reek of money. They feel smug. It’s been less than a year since I moved, and already I feel uncomfortable when I return. Not because of the memories, though there is that, too. More: how medieval peasants might have felt on entering a cathedral. It makes you feel inadequate, at least it does if you are that way inclined. And it makes me think. Because I AM one of those people who is middle class, and privately educated, and Oxbridge. And I always absolutely hated the sense of entitlement I saw in some people when I looked about, regardless of ‘class’. Now I know that you can have a veneer without even knowing it, and how easily a change of circumstances can dissolve this, at least partly, without conscious effort.