Saturday 9 April 2011

The Squeezed Middle

Dear Caro, I had lunch recently with my cousin Rowena (she used to be Rachel, I can’t understand why she changed it). She lives in a ghastly ranch-style 50s house outside Haslemere in a “close” of other houses exactly the same. They don’t have fences round their front lawns, and Rowena has a clump of pampas grass in the middle of hers! The house has a cat-slide roof and a chimney built out of boulders. We really don’t have much in common. Love, Samantha

Samantha: Apparently everybody – 71% – thinks they’re middle class now apart from the 24% who think they’re working class. There was some survey recently… (BritainThinks, April 2011). So why is “middle class” a term of abuse? And Ed Miliband calls us the “squeezed middle” and Nick Clegg says we can have mobility too… I’m confused!

Rowena: Well I think mobility is a marvellous idea! I intend to save money by moving down the social scale.

Sam: Downsize! Simplify! Declutter! We’ll holiday in Cornwall…

Rowena: Prestatyn – the caravan park.

Sam: …an unspoilt fishing village. And I’ll rip out those awful eighties kitchen units and just have a wooden table and a dresser. And make all my own bread…

Rowena: Did I show you my lovely kitchen I got out of a skip? Genuine 50s budgie blue!

Sam: And we can eat peasant food – polenta, rocket…

Rowena: How about British peasant food?

Sam: Bath chaps? Melton Mowbray pies?

Rowena: Bacon rolls with brown sauce, chips with everything – have you seen my deep fat fryer? More tea?

Sam: I don’t suppose you have any Earl Grey?

Rowena: Sorry, only got PG Tips.

Sam: And we can swap our clothes with friends – or update them with bright embroidery – or buy French children’s school overalls – there’s no need to follow fashion – find a style that suits you – dress for yourself…

Rowena: I’m getting all my clothes from Primark now. And the kids love the local secondary.

Sam: The “kids”! (shudder) But what about university?

Rowena: They’ll be much better off learning a skill –

Sam: Stone masonry? Textile restoration?

Rowena: Hairdressing, plumbing. And I think Gareth has a talent for designing video games.

Sam: Gareth! (shudder) I thought you called him George at a Humanist naming ceremony.

Rowena: Oh, we’re Catholics now! First Communions are soooooo tacky!

Sam: (shakes head sadly) I still don’t understand why “middle class” is an insult. And somebody called me “terribly English” the other day – I don’t think he meant it kindly.

Rowena: Cheer up – have some more tea – genuine Melmex camping ware from ebay! Don’t you just adore melamine?

Sam: Maybe I'd better be off to the station - don't want to miss the 4.50 to Waterloo.

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