Sunday, 27 May 2012

Three Posh Boys

You may be familiar with my podcast series Getting Better Acquainted. It's a weekly show where I have conversations with people I know, from my closest friends and family to someone I might one have met at a party. It's a growing portrait of the lives and interests of people in 2011/2012. It's limits are the sphere of my extended radar, but within those limits it's a very diverse and interesting piece of work. I feel comfortable saying this myself because in many ways the work seems to be making itself and I am it's servant. And also because in championing this show I am really championing the people on it. As one of the taglines I use puts it "there are lots of shows about famous people this one is for the rest of us."

It's available on to download for free through iTunes, or from the Soundcloud account. You can also stream it directly to the internet on the soundcloud account. And  you can stream it directly to your smartphone using the free Stitcher Smart Radio app.

The show has gone to places I didn't expect it to, it's taught me many things I didn't know, and it's not something my past self would have expected me to make. But at the same time looking back I can trace the development of this show in a the stuff I've made before. I just didn't realise where it would lead me.

This week is the third week in what I've come to think of as the GBA Posh Boy Season. My teenage self would've expected the work I'd make in my 30's to be class conscious but he wouldn't have dreamed it'd be challenging the stereotypes we have of posh people. But he hadn't grown up yet and didn't understand that it's always the people part of the statements that matter. The word that comes before; posh, poor, old, black, gay, disabled etc... isn't irrelevant of course, it has an effect on the situation, but the important word is people. We always have that part in common. We are all people.

Since Getting Better Acquainted is a study of the people I'm acquainted the presence of "posh" guests demonstrates that I've already got over some of my inverted snobbery. Arguably, since I'm middle class, that inverted snobbery isn't mine to own anyway. But that snobbery was - is - there because I felt it keenly when growing up. My parents weren't wealthy middle class, my dad was in fact a pensioner for nearly all my life, I went to state schools all over the UK . My dad lived in a working class area of Coventry for some of my formative years. My last and longest school experience was in Cardiff where I went to a well mixed comprehensive school. My best friends there were working class. I worked then, and have continued to work for most of my working life, in working class estates. My dad is a socialist who made documentary films about miners for the coal board. My mum is a socialist, was a nurse and then became a social worker. So I've got a complicated view of class.

 It get's even more complicated if you consider my mums parents who were upper middle class. In fact  my Grandfathers family were pretty much upper class. Whereas his wife came from working class Yorkshire stock, and she was aspirational to the point of betrayal, changing her voice for her new class. Generally speaking as a teenager I had a negative view of the "haves". I was enraged to discover I was related to Sarah Ferguson (The Dutchess of York at the time.) As a teenager I had real guilt about that part of the ancestry. I felt like I was descended from the enemy. But they weren't the enemy. They were just people.

It isn't that I've let the middle/upper classes off the hook. I still believe passionately in the need for a redistribution of wealth. I know that the wealthy and super rich need to stop having all the power and freedom. Many people lack context for those who have different lives than them. We currently have a government who have no real knowledge about the lives of most people in the country, why should we expect to make policy that is in their best interests. Many of us are safe and ignorant inside our bubbles, they just have really small bubbles.

But none of that means that "posh people" are all the same. Or even that they are that wealthy.

Over 3 episodes on GBA I lined up 3 examples of people might be called posh.

 Henry (who went to Harrow).

Richard (who went to a grammar school).

And Radcliffe (who went from public school to a Soho skip and managed to climb halfway back up again).

I suspect none of will live up in anyway to the expectations we have of people who we give that label to. Or at least not in many ways.

Richard was perhaps the first person I considered to be posh that I became friends with, and now he's one of my best friends. He's also probably the least posh of the three examples but for me he really represented a change of view. The sort of change that having a friend or family member who is gay or black or whatever can have on someone with prejudices in those areas. Seeing that Richard was (and is) a great guy altered my understanding.

Henry I discovered to be posher than I'd realised during the course of our conversation, but then I met him through music, and their is no class in the rehearsal room, there is only the notes or beats that you are playing. Music is a great leveller. Also I met him after my prejudice had lessened.

Radcliffe is from a different generation of poshness and has climbed all around the class system, I met him after he'd been through all of that and come to a still place. He may still have the accent but no one can accuse him of not knowing what it is like for people at the bottom, he has been homeless, he has been to prison, he has been a crack addict. I met him through true story telling and he is a man with important experience to share.

All three men acknowledge in some ways the privilege of their backgrounds in these conversations, and in the way they live their lives. That makes a difference I think. That makes it easier for me relate to them and for them to relate to me. But in these three very different conversations the main thing that stands out about all of them to me is their humanity. I like these men.

And it isn't easy and hasn't been easy for them all the time. In fact Radcliffe's story is partly about the disadvantages of privilege and class. If class is partly about confidence, as me and Richard discuss, then his story complicates that idea in an extreme way, whilst at the same time possibly confirming the theory.

We don't live in a classless society. Far from it. But it's really important to keep remembering that it isn't as simple as some diagram of demographics or a strict code of class -ificiation either. We don't fully fit into the system that's grown around us. Henry and Radcliffe weren't typical public school boys. Richard may be the kind of boy your Granny would want you to marry, but he's apologetic about it! There's no such thing as typical. Things are always more interesting and complicated than we think. In fact Henry describes some experiences where as a teenager he was attacked for his class. They are resonate with different examples of teenagers being attacked for things they have no control over.

Class is a hard thing to understand partly because it isn't static. We move around within it. None of the people in these conversations are defined by their class. They are much more than their class. As we all are. That doesn't mean class isn't a problem or doesn't have a massive influence on character. But it isn't everything. And it isn't simple.

I released these episodes in sequence for a reason, because they compliment and contrast each other in rich and interesting ways. And the reason I could programme them as contrasting episodes is that the minds and lives of these three posh boys (or three posh men as they all are now) are so very different from each other.

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