You need more than hum­mus to have class

Daily Mail - - sandra Parsons -

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.

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