What am I? On being “upper working class”

I don’t particularly believe in the class system and I’ll tell you why: I don’t really have a place in it. I was brought up just outside Croydon, South London. My mum didn’t work during my childhood and my dad worked hard to support us – my mum, my brother and I. When I was about 10 my dad lost his job and we struggled. It sounds so daft but although I had a very happy, idyllic childhood with two loving parents, we didn’t have much. I never had Pokemon cards, they were a waste of money. We waited to find a Tracey Island in a charity shop. Most of my clothes were from the charity shop actually, that or George of Asda. I know it sounds silly but I always felt different from my friends: they all watched Cartoon Network on their digital TVs (this was the 90s remember, no Freeview boxes in those days), played with their Gameboys at break time and went on holiday to “abroad” – I didn’t leave the UK til I was 15. That’s not to say I wasn’t happy: I was. It’s just that I got free school meals at a school full of kids with their Dexters Lab lunchboxes full of Mini Cheddars. Before you all sneer “oh woe is you, no Gameboy? How did you ever survive?” let me reiterate that I am grateful for what I had and I know there are plenty of others with far less than I had. Anyway, I digress.

My parents got me in to a comprehensive high school 3 miles from home in central Croydon. My dad was working for a big company up in town and my mum became a dinner lady at the local primary. I thrived at high school. I made great friends and had a wonderful time but although it was highly selective on the grounds of Christian belief, the school went downhill once they were forced to admit community places. I left with average GCSEs. At A level I worked my arse off. My boyfriend was extremely supportive and I excelled all expectations, gaining a place at Royal Holloway, University of London against all the odds.

Upon arriving at RHUL I became acutely aware that I sounded different from my peers. I made a conscious effort to enunciate and not drop my t’s. I was in receipt of a full maintenance grant and bursary as by this point my mum had stopped work to battle the cancer that eventually claimed her life. It was at this point that I noticed a rhetoric that only the supposed middle classes went to university. You must be middle class Laura, you’re here aren’t you?

Am I middle class because I worked my ass off to get here? Do you immediately become middle class the second you graduate? Am I middle class because I blog and have done well in education? I don’t know. This is why I struggle with the class system. I don’t feel like I have a place in it anymore.

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4 responses to “What am I? On being “upper working class”

  1. Never sure where I fit in either. I’m pretty much middle class, but not middle class enough to relate to a lot of typical middle class stuff which I see as ‘upper middle class’. We never had much money, charity shop kid too, endless things 100000 sizes too big I’d ‘grow into’. I remember my sister got a present from a friend which was a dress from Gap and we were all ‘omg from gap it’s so posh!’ (once got something there in the sale I think and kept the carrier bag for ages! oh the weird things you see as social success as a kid), my parents are both working class but graduates (back in the days of free uni places as they keep ranting at the tv) but my dad chose to be a vicar and thus you get put in the odd social position of everything assuming you’re dead posh (ie miss marple type vicars and cucumber sandwiches etc ) but you’re skint and have drunks turning up on your doorstep in the middle of the night and setting fire to the garden. Mum taught part time which didn’t bring in much. Where I grew up in south London (wandsworth) was always a mix, some very wealthy media ppl in the nicer houses, but it’s now super posh I just don’t recognise it (been in Liverpool for over 10 years, it started to go really upmarket after we left)
    I suppose I always thought I was middle class, and I am really, but meeting some people who are I suppose very middle class who I think of as ‘posh’ , I feel so ‘common’. I guess my dad’s job meant I saw more of the ‘real world’ too. It’s confusing. I suppose I’m stuck somewhere in the ‘social mobility’ minefield.
    Though both me and my sis went to comprehensive school (I missed most of it due to illness tho) and got just as good if not better degrees than the posh cousins who went private :P

  2. Jo

    I found your blog by googling something like ‘the problem with being working class and having middle class friends’ because most of the people I know come from at least a ‘lower middle class’ background, some much posher than that, and I feel ever so slightly ‘square peg in round hole’ most of the time, and think I might have upset someone I really like by being a bit ‘brash’ this morning – & she is one of the posher middle class-ees! I too don’t like the idea of the class system and wish I could say that I’m free of it and don’t recognise any boundaries but that makes me want to choke on my tea and biccies actually cause I’m only just managing to do degree-level study at the age of 44 and have never reached management level at work. I suppose my ‘problem’ arises when my background – culture, assumptions, familiar ways of interpreting situations or expressing myself and suchlike – is basically different to the person I’m talking to, trying to relate with, and I end up feeling like maybe we don’t quite truly get one another. My husband comes from a very similar background to me – dad worked in a factory, mum was ‘housewife’ (as they were then called) – but his parents read broadsheets, watched the beeb (ITV was looked down on!) and he was encouraged to go to university. He’s now a manager & we own own home (his parents never did) – so he thinks that I’m middle class cause he thinks he is now… but I think I fall somewhere in the gap between… so your blog and the response to it, above, are very reassuring and I enjoyed reading them – cheers!

  3. My older sister lived exactly the same and is firmly middle class, partly due to the fact that she applied herself to becoming so and being clever and cultured it made it easy. You would never know she was from a little working class town on the edge of Manchester, well known for being a rough place.
    I myself, never went to uni but am self educated and despite my intellectual bearing, my blogging and love of culture and knowledge, I would still class myself as working class.
    It was obvious from college, the middle classes round here are a world away and not likeable. At my college, the working class kids had there own hangouts, the toffs had theirs and for some reason most of the Asian kids had their own hangouts too.
    I suppose that’s the key, its who you associate with, where you live and who you are. Personally I’m happy to be working class, even if I dress like a middle aged accountant and read endlessly.

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