…to put in a class
Henry might be completely ignorant of what goes on in the homes of the rich and famous, just as he is wholly ignorant of what goes on in the homes of the poor and uneducated, but he could claim at least some knowledge of what goes on in the hum-drum middle of the road suburban four bedroom semis of the middle-middle-classes. But he doesn’t claim; Henry’s claim to such knowledge has been lost in the whirling of his mind.
Henry could say that he is an expert in the area of the behind-closed-doors-middle-middle-classes. Not that he would be at all smug regarding the depth of this knowledge. He would be in fact deeply ashamed of his origins in these middle-middle-classes, so he lives in denial, always lived in denial, and will live there for as long as that state will accept him. This state of denial is the rock on which he built himself – ego, id and superego. Henry is, was and always will be, a self-made man of no particular class.
Henry’s middle-middle class upbringing was just as pathetic and embarrassing as any other middle-middle class upbringing. And it was circumscribed by the same hollow values: worship of the self in all its forms; respect for the magnolia furniture covers in the living room; washing your own plate, cutlery and cup; the value inherent in money, cars and bricks and mortar; and the importance of retaining obscure facts through writing them down and filing them carefully… each of which Henry had taken to in turn… not necessarily proving their hollowness, but just taking them for a walk through the shit.
At school, where Oscar had watched him from afar, Henry seemed to be quite the middle-middle-class well oiled, well turned out and well-spoken young man in a chunky jumper and sailing shoes. He was full of the jumble of middle-middle-class empty ideas, ideas which he voiced in convoluted sentences which would be dissipated in the thinnest of air. When Oscar made so bold as to approach Henry and accuse him of being an empty headed fool, he got to know the real Henry, the Henry beneath the emptiness and the shirt collars and the squeaky voice, the beating heart of a human being, the raw visceral collection of blood and guts, the breathing, groaning, bag of emotions, the… it is sufficient to say that Oscar closed the lid on all of that as quickly as he could. But this glimpse beneath didn’t fully sate his curiosity.
Not wishing to look beneath once again, Oscar satisfied himself with observing Henry’s observables – his violin lessons, his crustless sandwiches and his collection of scarves which were worn year round. Suppressing his only instinct: shouting “you bastard” at Henry every time he saw him, Oscar had to depend on his wits – which usually let him down; should a tiger should pop out of the bushes as he walked across to the cafeteria, and should his instinct not be in working order, Oscar would have been eaten up long before his wits were of any use – perhaps they would be of some comfort to him as he was being digested… but so much for such perhapsings. And as far as sparring with the dull wits of Henry – Oscar’s wits were too scattered and dissolute. Oscar and Henry could do little else but poke fun at everyone else in the hope that they were something else entirely.
What they were, or what they thought they were, is less easy to define than what they weren’t, or what they thought they weren’t. Because they were nothing in particular. But they were not, in their opinion, many things in particular. They had no defining characteristics. Though they were, at that point in time anyway, fundamentally the same kind of person – these fundamentals were ineffable. But what they weren’t, or what they thought they weren’t, was of following:
Sub-class: the people who lived beneath bridges, in railway tunnels and in foreign countries. Eating squirrels, dogs, cats and their own children, they rarely venture out into even the cheapest supermarkets. Distrustful of other people and of themselves.
Lower-lower-class: uneducated, poor and dangerous. Like fighting, drinking and masturbation. Not adept at the art of conversation. Struggle with abstract ideas. Familiar with the sound of their own names, concrete nouns and certain brand names.
Lower-class: educated to a very basic level, recognising the shapes of letters and having some understanding of the arbitrary link between these shapes and meaning. Claimants of unemployment benefit. Make up the bulk of the crowds in crowded places.
Lower-middle-class: could read and write but struggled with subtle distinctions between words, such as the difference between “sick” and “vomit”, “ordinary” and “mundane”, “hard” and “difficult”. Metaphors are beyond them.
Middle-class: a catch all term for everybody who can hold a pencil, write their name and turn on a television. A term robbed of meaning long ago by its over-application – a danger which should be guarded against in the application of other terms (the terms “wanker”, “bastard” and “writer” are likely to suffer the same fate).
Middle-middle-class: formerly of the afore-mentioned class, this amorphous, straggling mass of easily forgettable individuals is corralled here simply from a lack of interest in their defining features. Drink tea, cup-a-soups and £5 bottles of red wine. Their children eat beans by the bucketful. They have been known to die of apathy. Struggle with long sentences.
Upper-middle-class: complete bastards who look down on everyone else, including those above them. Have mastered the arts of reading, writing and watching television. Drink £20 bottles of red wine. Read literature, buy cheap art and fuck each other’s wives.
Upper-class: have more money than the preceding class and less money than the succeeding one.
Upper-upper-class: own castles, islands, whole countries and bidets. Bathe in asses’ milk. Have sex with close relatives. Don’t know that beans are normally consumed in a watery tomato sauce.
Oscar and Henry’s classification of the members of society took up the whole of a double French lesson. They allowed themselves a brief titter when they were done. Henry was the one to suggest that they needed to test their classification system. Oscar was the one to suggest the befriending of certain lower-lower-class, lower-class, lower-middle-class, middle-class, middle-middle-class, upper-middle-class and upper-class individuals. Neither of them knew any people from the sub-class or the upper-upper-class, so those classes were summarily disbanded and wiped from society.
Struggling in the application of their classification system to real people, they had given the whole thing up by the end of the school day. However, the exercise did have the advantage of hiding in a fine spray of complete bullshit either’s classification – which would certainly have been that of the middle-middle-class.