You need more than hummus to have class
ACCORDING to a quiz devised by a market research company, if you shop at Waitrose, eat hummus and know what Prosecco is, you are posh. Ditto if you like to drink Earl Grey tea, have an Aga, call your evening meal ‘supper’ or spend more than £10 on a bottle of wine.
As you have only to say yes to three of these in order to be classed as posh, I suspect many of us are several stops above the social station we thought we occupied.
Gauging someone’s class, interpreting complicated and subtle signals to decode their origins and their station, is a peculiarly British pastime.
It takes years to become proficient, for the signs of class are not always as obvious as we might like to think. I know at least one woman whose clipped pronunication makes her sound as though she went to Roedean when, in fact, her origins are humble and from what she considers to be very much the wrong part of Essex.
Growing up, I found myself confused about class. I spent much of my childhood in Germany, where my father ran British Forces Broadcasting. We were provided with a vast house overlooking the Rhine; there were embassy cocktail parties and grand dinners at the Officers’ Mess.
But all I knew was that none of my friends, who were based in Army quarters on a camp, lived in houses like this, and I was embarrassed at being different. When we came back to England, it was to the same small house my parents had bought when they first married, and now I had the opposite problem — it was smaller than almost all my friends’ homes.
But, of course, class is nothing to do with the size of your house — although it is very much to do with the way you look after it. As a young reporter, I went to grim estates all over the country while covering stories. Many houses would be grimy and unkempt, with filthy curtains and front gardens piled with junk. But there would always be some with pristine flowerbeds and sparkling windows: working
I’VE lost count of the people who’ve said Britain’s Got No Talent. Well, maybe I’ve got No Taste. But I thoroughly enjoyed the whole series.
class with the emphasis on work.
Later, I met people far grander, from senior politicians to those whose homes actually were estates. Such people pride themselves on their exquisite manners, but in my experience those manners are extended to you only until there is someone more career-enhancing they want to schmooze in the room.
Indeed, one of the smartest people I know — public school, Oxbridge, aristocratic background — is a master at paying attention to you only for the 30 seconds it takes to spot someone more useful over your shoulder. As he flits away, you are left feeling a toxic mix of resentment (how rude) and despair (I’m unimportant and dull).
SOI’ll never forget being at a birthday party where one of the star attendees was Michael Portillo. He arrived, chatted with the host, scanned the rest of us dismissively, and left. The whole exercise took no more than four minutes.
It took me many years to learn it, but real class is about manners, character and integrity. It means maintaining that integrity even when that is difficult, embarrassing or dangerous. It does not mean sneering at those less socially or intellectually confident than you.
In the past 50 years, the British economy has surged. As John Prescott once said, we are all middle class now, and in monetary terms that is surely true. A recent survey showed that Mr and Mrs Average drive two cars, holiday in Spain or Florida and live in a house called The Cottage. They probably also know what Prosecco is and are partial to a cup of Earl Grey.
But I don’t think we can call them or anyone else posh, let alone classy, until we have seen the warmth of their welcome, the sincerity of their manners and the depth of their character.