Neil Smith

3 weeks ago · 3 min. reading time · visibility ~100 ·

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Classy man.

I’m drinking an Americano while I wait for my daughter’s ballet class to end. As I sit and sip on this pleasant Irish day, the thought occurs that this moment probably represents ‘peak middle class’ in my life so far. Ballet didn’t feature much in my youth or indeed, at all. There may have been ballet schools in the nearest big town but no one I knew went to such a place. 

I grew up working class. No ifs or buts. Throughout my childhood I lived in a succession of council houses except for the time when my parents moved their young family to the Highlands and we lived in a rented caravan.  I was an inmate of three local state schools for the length of my juvenile education and the idea of seeking any kind of private education would have seemed alien to us. School wasn’t something that came in a ‘pick n mix’ option, you just went to whichever was closest. My parents both had to work a selection of service jobs and ‘comfortable’ was an aspiration rather than a reality.

Our village was a popular tourist destination and so I had access to cheap swimming, golf, ice skating and skiing amongst other activities as I grew up. These were often supplied through school as part of the PE curriculum or via after-school clubs, and because of these activities I would suggest that the local area had a greater than average proportion of working-class golfers, working-class skiers, working-class tennis players and so on.

Due to this exposure to a range of activities I became obsessively sporting especially with regards to skiing. I went out every weekend in the winter and most days after school. Trudging repeatedly up a local hill was a small price to pay for the joy of the descent and the more I skied, the less I wanted to do anything else. Nothing came close to the feeling of cruising down an empty slope on a remote mountainside or crashing through moguls with limbs flying in all directions like some convulsing ragdoll. The sub-zero addiction brought me into contact with people from around the world who had set up in the Scottish Highlands for one or more seasons and they, in turn expanded the range of possible life choices for a boy from the back end of nowhere. It was certainly a broader range of career options than my school guidance teacher was willing to discuss.

When the time came to leave education therefore, I chose heart over head and decided to eschew university and forge a dynamic career in the outdoor sports and travel sector or, to use slightly less LinkedIn phrasing, became a ski bum and went off to get paid for overacting on snow. I worked in several countries and more than one continent with people from many walks of life, mostly but not always, from wealthier backgrounds. No matter the surroundings and the company I kept though, I was still comfortably working-class in my head. Years later I belatedly went to university and amongst the predominantly middle-class student population I remained, mentally a working-class boy. Throughout my life, in fact and despite my nomadic existence where I was called upon to blend into different cultures, I have had no doubt that ‘working-class’ was exactly what I was. 

Until now, when I feel that things are no longer as cut and dried as once, they were. 

I work in retail and live in rented accommodation but I have a degree and my daughter goes to dance and horse-riding lessons. Away from the day job I write articles for pleasure and profit and continue working on a book and while Alan Sillitoe and John Braine were part of a working-class wave of authors in the post-war period, writing and the arts generally, seems to have reverted to being an area dominated by the privately educated and AB classes.

I have no doubt that a cleverer man than I would be able to produce all manner of data to pinpoint exactly where I stand on the socio-economic staircase but to me something that was once very simple now seems a bit more complicated than it was and my ruminations on the subject have alas left me no clearer than before I started.

So, I will finish this short post with a question about your experience of class and identity. How do you see yourself socially and has this changed since your childhood?

Having failed to provide a clear answer in these reflections I will hope for further enlightenment from the public at large.

In the meantime, there is definitely time for another Americano.

group_work in beBee Writers and in 3 more groups

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Neil Smith

2 weeks ago #13

Pascal Derrien

2 weeks ago #12

I am way off geographically and socially from the caravan i used to live in…. however I know where I am coming from though 

Renée 🐝 Cormier

2 weeks ago #11

Neil Smith

2 weeks ago #10

Renée 🐝 Cormier

2 weeks ago #9

Neil Smith

2 weeks ago #8

Renée 🐝 Cormier

2 weeks ago #7

I think one of the beautiful things about being Canadian is that we don't really give a shit about what kind of family you grew up in, your education or your social status. Education is a viable option for most people and opportunities are not relative to your social status. I grew up in a middle class family and never felt inferior to anyone with money. Neither do I feel superior to those without. I have nothing to prove.

Neil Smith

2 weeks ago #6

Ken Boddie

2 weeks ago #5

“The working class can kiss my arse, I've got the foreman's job at last!”🤣

Class and identity? Great question, Neil, but not sure if I can totally lift the fog created by so many of society's socio-economic shackles, both real and imaginary. Suffice it to say that I, like you, was brought up in a Scottish working class home, with both parents working and living from pay packet to pay packet. A fluke of circumstances, however, was to open a chink of light on the possibilities for change, when, at the tender age of eleven, I did surprisingly well in my 11+ exam (as it was called back then) and I attended private secondary boys school, with all fees paid for, courtesy of a bursary from the local Council. This introduced me to a wider range of pupils from varying backgrounds, not just pecuniary, but also those who attended the boarding section of my school and who were mostly from overseas or England (the latter being on a par with overseas, in my mind, so small was my world then). The college I attended had a heavy association with the local university, and so it was no small chance that a large proportion of my class mates either went on to study engineering (like me) or medicine at Aberdeen Uni (we called it ‘varsity’ back then). My exposure to kids (most boys and young men) from a variety of backgrounds did me in good stead for communicating across all levels of socioeconomic shackle labels, and, although I considered myself working class in my teens, I was soon subliminally influenced into believing that class is not determined by monetary value but by education and how we decide to benefit from it, learning to turn problems into opportunities.  If we grab each momentary chance with both hands, as they arise or as we recognise them, and become used to living outside our comfort zone, then class in effect becomes irrelevant. This was to become even more obvious when I moved to Australia, where class is much simpler and ‘tall poppies’ full of pseudo self importance are keenly cut down by quick tongues and sarcastic, even caustic, Aussie wit and banter.

I'd quite forgotten how complex the class structure used to be in UK, or at least back in the day when I was growing up and being educated.  Somewhere in my library of books at home I'm sure I still have ‘Class’ by Jilly Cooper, who I seem to remember covered this subject quite comprehensibly and in a “witheringly funny” manner a few decades ago. I'll need to dig it out and read it again.

Neil Smith

3 weeks ago #4

John Rylance

3 weeks ago #3

When opportunity knocks quickly grab it 

Neil Smith

3 weeks ago #2

My parents were working-class and I am, as well. Forty + years in the insurance industry and owning my own insurance agency for 10 years provided a decent living. I met and worked with many nice people and got to travel a bit. The insurance industry has become very automated, which I enjoyed learning more about computers, but the thrill of underwriting a risk lost its luster. I am retired now with no regrets. 

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