Friday, 12 November 2010

The Upwards

The upper middles (represented by Gideon and Samantha Upward) are the smallest group, but we're always hearing from them because they work in the media or academia. They think they’re the most important — almost the only — people in the country.

Because they’ve never had huge amounts of money they have always valued cultural capital: education, taste, appreciation. Unlike the Stow-Crats, who have the confidence gained by titles, ancestral estates and a public school education, Upwards have to struggle all the time to keep their position on the class ladder, and remind themselves how much they matter.

They define themselves largely by what they are not. They don’t drink Nescafe or go to Alton Towers or have a French manicure. Mrs Upward (Samantha) is really sorry for those South Sea Islanders/Indian castes whose entire lives are hedged about with taboos.

They are self-righteous, and love being holier-than-thou about recycling (though recently – 2009 – some have started sneering at people who recycle as if it was a religious rite). They think buy-to-let investors deserve to go bust because they're just too greedy. They don’t like “consumerism” and “materialism”, but this really means “chavs buying chavvy things” – it’s all right for them to buy Boden clothes and Cath Kidston fabrics.

Though they're not rich, they're comfortably off. Despite this, they're sure they have "nooooo money!" and enjoy pinching the pennies. On holiday, they seek out deserted beaches so that their children can't spend money (on junk food and plastic tat).

They’re suspicious of enjoying anything for its own sake (blame their Protestant ancestors). They call fattening desserts “decadent”, as if sticky toffee pudding was the equivalent of a three-day Roman orgy. And lying on a sun lounger with a glass of white is “how very sybaritic!” The Romans probably despised the Sybarites for having too much fun.

They are the most snobbish group. They used to talk about people being “not quite quite” or NOCD (not our class dear), or more elaborately, NQOCMD (not quite our class, my dear). They are more circumspect these days and refer to “ordinary folk”, or condemn phenomena as “suburban”. Though a few years ago (2005) the broadsheets broke out in a rash of sneering about “chavs” - lumpenproletariat in Burberry baseball caps. Any manifestations Upwards don’t approve of are condemned as “common”, though they rarely use the word. It’s one of the many things of which they do not speak.

Their parish magazine is the Guardian – it supports socialism, peace, freedom, democracy and diversity and is by far the most snobbish upmarket newspaper. Samantha (Sam) and her friends had a wonderful time in the 80s pretending to be academics and writing articles about the semiotics of caravan parks and looking down on practically everybody for suffering from “bad faith” and falling for the capitalist plot that is popular culture. Apart from some major gains like the Equal Pay Act and the criminalization of rape within marriage, 80s feminists made little mark and lower middle class values prevailed. Now looks matter, you have to make the best of what you’ve got, and everybody aims for a job, a partner, children and a home instead of faffing about trying to raise anybody’s consciousness or change the world.

Upwards love the working classes - as long as they’re far away or long dead or in another country. They recreate Parisian workers’ bistros, but shun the local greasy spoon caff. Upwards call working class people “the local community” and patronise them within an inch of their lives.

Upwards listen to Radio 4 and 3 and shop at Waitrose. They recycle, watch nature programmes and news, visit museums, turn vegetarian, go to university, read the broadsheets, buy organic. They go to the opera (Samantha loves the costumes, spectacle and story) and the legitimate theatre. They secretly yearn to be famous, but for winning the Booker or presenting Grand Designs rather than going on Big Brother. They are CoE, Catholic or recent Quakers. They vote Labour, Liberal, Green and Monster Raving Loony.

Prof. Higgins said that an Englishman can’t open his mouth without making another Englishman despise him. Class hatred lives, but it’s the poor old Upwards who get it in the neck. “Posh” and “middle class” are terms of abuse constantly flung at the Upwards by people who mistake them for Stow Crats. If you want to sell a classic serial, you have to tie yourself in knots explaining that it’s not middle class really even if it is about people with servants who don’t have to work. Upwards bleat that their ancestors never personally ground the faces of the poor or sent any small children up chimneys or down mines, but nobody listens.

There’s a very bohemian member of the clan who has changed her name several times: Moonglow Gardenchild in the 60s, now Arkana Nightshade. Her garden is full of weeds (she says it’s a Flowery Mead). She grows plants that were used medicinally in medieval times. Her partner has built them an ecohouse on stilts. Her children are Autumn and Icicle (they rejected River, Summer and Leaf as overused) and would get bullied if they weren’t being home-schooled. As it is their friends call them the “Deadly” Nightshades. Arkana holds Gambian drumming workshops in the barn and gets all her furniture out of skips. The Nightshades trade in cool. They are really the worst snobs of all, moving into Hoxton and Brick Lane because “it’s the real London”, pushing up prices and replacing car-repair workshops with galleries flogging conceptual art. The French call them bobos - bourgeois bohemians. But as, somebody said, “Le bohemien, c’est une forme de bourgeois.”

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