Thursday 23 January 2020

Family is a classy affair when you're in the middlle

I got into fights as a child, but my kids can identify pasta types. A middle-class Eilis O'Hanlon admits defeat

Most of the toys that really take off with children are low-tech, cheap and simple
Most of the toys that really take off with children are low-tech, cheap and simple

Eilis O'Hanlon

It's hard to say when I first became middle class. Or when I first realised that I'd become middle class, to put it more accurately.

My children are definitely middle class. They're the sort of pampered little darlings who, blindfolded, can easily tell fettuccine from tagliatelle, and who get nervous when driving through 'rough' areas and beg me to lock the doors lest the locals decide to launch an attack, like shuffling zombies in a George A Romero film. Usually these areas look perfectly fine to me, but that's what you get for raising bourgeois kids.

Nothing shocks them more than hearing tales of my own less-cosseted childhood. Like the time that I was informed I had to be at a pre-arranged place and time to fight another girl, 
and how it never even occurred to me to tell anyone, let alone not turn up. 
I duly trotted along to my fate and had the head kicked off me. I'm still not quite sure why. Still, I didn't tell anyone. If that happened to my children, they'd call in the UN and never leave the house again.

In the years since, I became respectable. I got a nice, middle-class job, and a mortgage. I ate rocket salad with shaved Parmesan rather than gravy chips. I watched documentaries rather than soaps. But there is nothing wrong with that. I've always agreed with the fictional socialist Prime Minister in 
the TV drama A Very British Coup when asked if he intends to abolish first class. "No," he replies, "I'm going to abolish second class." The best of everything is good enough for the working class, too. And I very much saw myself in that mould.

Growing up in Belfast in the 1970s, I was vaguely aware that there was something called the middle class. Some girls in school had fathers who went to work in suits; they took piano lessons and holidayed on the continent. But they were alien creatures. Somewhere along the way, I must have realised that I was now one of them.

But I never really knew what that meant until recently, on holiday, when I suddenly decided that I'd like to go for a cycle. "Off you go then," said Himself. "No," I said, "I meant we should all go together, en famille."

Then it struck me. Oh God. I've turned into one of those people. Mr and Mrs Perfect with their perfect little two-point-four children, who all have badges they won at the school debating club and turn up their perfect little snotty noses at ill-mannered oiks who don't know their gouda from their emmental. These are the identikit clans that I'd so often seen cycling around in a neat line - father bear at the front, mummy bear at the rear, the children arranged in descending order according to exam results, to instil in them the importance of education.

How I've always hated them. They have an overpowering aura of smugness that can be detected for miles. I hoped I'd escaped the same fate, because I was always too anti-social to host dinner parties, and I'd rather eat my own face off than go 'glamping' at Electric Picnic; but middle classness will out, and now it had outed itself as effectively as a vicar turning up in fishnets 
at Gay Pride.

What can I say? I like cycling. I 
think - yes, I know this is the classic 
middle-class thing to say, but I'm going to say it anyway - that it's good for you. I've also brought up my children on organic vegetables, board games, BBC Radio 4, and trips to museums. So sue me. The one thing that saves me from being a permanent resident of a cul de sac in Bourgeois Central is that I still keep falling down when it comes to making everything sickeningly perfect.

I dragged them off for a family cycle alright, but it ended in everyone being in a thoroughly bad mood as we sweatily pedalled past Mr and Mrs Smugsville and the Smugettes having a smug picnic and realised that we hated the whole lot of them - and ourselves most of all, for trying to be like them. Society might be able to make me hideously middle class, but it can't make me like it. I take what comfort I can in that small victory.

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