Friday 24 January 2014

Classy Schools and Careers

Only desperate pleading won Shirley Williams six months at the local primary school and a brief reprieve from boarding school. (LRB Dec 2013)

A world of nurseries and pinafores which felt like "the snuffing out of every spontaneous impulse". (Architect Alison Smithson on her Edwardian-style upbringing)

When he appointed me in 1988 John Major said me, him and the filing clerks were the only non-Oxbridge Treasury staff. (@PeterWanless)

Writer Tim Lott’s daughter doesn’t quite understand “that one only goes to a faith school in order to get better exam results, not to actually sign up for a medieval worldview.”

If anyone in the news went to public school, journalists are determined to make something of it. OK, with the government they’ve got a point, but David Walliams? Interviewer Robert Crampton of the Times marvelled that Matt Lucas, from a “deprived” background, was sunny and relaxed, while Walliams – who had been to a public school – admitted that his childhood hadn’t always been happy and he suffered from nerves and angst.

Upwards all think they should be a writer, artist, actor or musician. As talent is rare, they work “in the arts” or the media. If they can’t get a media job, and decide making their own chutney will never pay, they want to lead informative walks around London.

Without capital there was no means of making a start [as a novelist]. (Arthur Calder-Marshall, The Magic of My Youth, writing about the early 30s.)

Middle-class Upward parents are furious that after all their piano lessons, activities and private tutors their children are "obsessed by” pop culture heroes and heroines – who are working class kids who have achieved instant fame on a chav talent show. The pop culture heroines have probably put in gruelling years at stage school, or are naturally talented. But the Upward parents want to push the line that their kids must work hard 24/7 if they want to achieve anything.

Gap years are now too expensive (higher uni fees), also middle-class kids can’t afford to waste time. Instead they are going on mini-gaps of three months (as we used to before it all got so competitive).

Relatives will always ask young people at university “And what job does that qualify you for?”, but the Upwards still send their kids to uni to get a general education, while lower-middle-class Teales train as dog groomers and fantasy artists, or set up their own interior design practice. Working-class Definitelies become tattooists and nail technicians. Middle class kids become ballerinas, not dancers in musicals; conceptual artists, not fashion illustrators. In the 50s, they were never allowed to learn to tap dance.

Writer Penelope Fitzgerald’s husband got a job “issuing train tickets for the Lunn Poly travel agency. It was low-paid and menial, far below what either had expected: ‘I’m not going to pretend anything about my job,’ Edward says in [her novel] Offshore, as his wife realises ‘in terror’ that he will ‘never get anywhere’.” LRB Jan 2014

James Hawes’ typical character realizes that working hard and playing by the rules will never get him the family home in a nice area the middle-class children of the 70s took to be their due… the children of the rich he thought of as friends at university are from a world whose admission price he cannot afford. “You have to go and be an accountant or a schoolteacher.” [Now this character is as likely to be a young woman with] a degree that was next to worthless because so many of her contemporaries had one too. [If she wants to work in the media, she has to do work experience:] a refined version of slavery. (Waiting for the Etonians by Nick Cohen)

More careers here.
More schools here.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Laughter and Mirth: "Writer Tim Lott’s daughter doesn’t quite understand “that one only goes to a faith school in order to get better exam results, not to actually sign up for a medieval worldview.” --- brilliant! encomium moriae

  3. A friend's husband - who was himself a serious & talented musician - used to shake his head at the mothers' chatting group, who were all swapping names of good piano teachers and Early Years Rhythm Classes. 'You should be getting them tutors in salesmanship and executive jargon and management systems' he used to say. "much more to the point, talents they can use and sell and make a living from.' of course he was joking really, but still... you wonder sometimes.

  4. But isn't university a marriage market? Young ladies still need to learn "accomplishments" so that they can make a "good" marriage (marry a rich man).