in Everything Else

The Working Classes

As regular readers of my blog(s) are no doubt sick of hearing by now, I grew up in Ashington – once, allegedly, the largest mining village in the world. Although class consciousness didn’t really rear it’s ugly head until I flew the nest and headed off to university, I grew up within – but was never really part of – a predominantly working-class culture.

Again, as regular readers will testify, I’m fundmentally against the idea that middle-class ideas and values are ‘better’ or ‘worse’ than those of the working classes. I’m as willing to parody the hypocrisy, two-facedness and pious platitudes of the former as I am to take the mick out the latter.

I’m currently near the end of reading V.S. Naipaul‘s Magic Seeds. I feel a little cheated by not having realised before beginning that it’s really the second instalment of the author’s Half a Life. Until about a chapter ago I really couldn’t understand why Naipaul, who has a reasonable but not outstanding style of writing, has been so lauded and, indeed, has been a recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Now I understand. I make no apologies for the following lengthy quotation (which spans just over a page in the book). Suffice to say that, whilst I have sympathies in this direction, my views are not quite as harsh and right-wing as Roger, who says at one point in the novel:

“Weddings are such a carnival these days. I went to a wedding not long ago. At the other place I go to. We’ve pulled everything down, we’ve changed the rules on everything, but the ladies still want weddings. It’s especially true on the council estates. Council estates are blocks of flats or houses built by a municipality for the poor of the parish, as they used to be called. Only, the people there are not poor now. Women there have three or four children by three or four men and they are all living on benefits. Sixty pounds a week a child, and that’s just the beginning. You can’t call that a dole. So we call them benefits. Women see themselves as money-making machines. It’s like Dickens’s England. Nothing’s changed except that there’s a lot of money about, and the Artful Dodger is doing very well indeed, though everything is very expensive and everyone’s hopelessly in debt and wants the benefits increased. People there need to take one or two holidays a year. Not in Blackpool or Minehead or Mallorca now, but in the Maldives or Florida or the bad-sex spots of Mexico. They need hours in the sky. Otherwise it’s not a proper holiday. “I haven’t had a proper holiday all this year.” So the planes are full of this trash flying about and drinking hard, and the airports are packed. And every week the papers have twenty pages of advertisements for holidays so cheap you wonder how anyone even in Mexico can make money out of them. The wedding we had to go to was for a woman who has had three children by a club cook she lives with off and on. Usually a cook, but also off and on, on especially festive nights, the club bouncer. The thing was the most horrible kind of socialist parody. The top hats and morning coats on the weekday scroungers. It’s what the battered women want for their men on wedding Saturdays. For themselves they want the long white dresses and veils to hide the bruises and black eyes of the love that comes and goes, what they call relationships. On this particular wedding day the beaten-up children, fat or scrawny, normally fed on sandwiches and pizzas and crisps and chocolate bars, were dressed up and displayed and were to be fed on even richer foods. Like young bulls bred for slaughter in the bullring, these children are bred sacrificially and in great numbers for the socialist benefits they bring to a council house. They are not really looked after, and many are destined to be molested or abducted or murdered, providing then, like proper little gladiators, but for three or four long days, socialist excitement for the burgesses. I told you once that the only people here who were not common, in the way of being false and self-regarding, were the common people.”

Anyone else recognise the above quotation as a nail being hit (perhaps a little too firmly) on the head? :-p

  • http://campionleadinglearning.blogspot.com/ Peter Slack

    Anyone else recognise the above quotation as a nail being hit (perhaps a little too firmly) on the head?

    No. It comes across as lazy and mean spirited to me, displaying a lack of empathy dressed up in an elegant literary style. As it (presumably) comes from the mouth of a character one could charitably assume that Naipul is not uncritical of these views. Certainly Dickens was never so dismissive of the working class / underclass of his day.

  • http://www.podesta.org.uk Ed Podesta

    “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” Romans 13:9