…to put in a class
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.
Being unable to bring himself to look beneath again, Oscar satisfied himself with tabulating Henry’s observables – his violin lessons, his crustless sandwiches, his set of coloured pencils, his neatly covered exercise books, his two apples and an orange, and his collection of scarves which were worn year round. Suppressing his only instinct: shouting “you complete bastard” at Henry every time he saw him, Oscar had to depend on his wits – perhaps Henry wasn’t a complete bastard, perhaps Henry was more than his observables, perhaps he was merely being a parody of himself, perhaps he was being ironic, perhaps he threw his two apples and one orange into the river on the way home, perhaps he was allergic to crusts… but so much for such perhapsings. And as far as perhapsing Henry into something other than he appeared, Oscar’s wits were too scattered and dissolute.
It was clear, on broaching the subject with him, that Henry was completely ignorant of what goes on in the homes of the rich and famous, just as he was wholly ignorant of what goes on in the homes of the poor and uneducated, but he was more than a little knowledgeable regarding what goes on in the hum-drum middle of the road suburban four bedroom semis of the middle-middle-classes. But Henry’s awareness of such knowledge has been lost in the whirling of his mind.
Henry wouldn’t be at all smug regarding the depth of this knowledge of the behind-closed-doors-middle-middle-classes. He would be in fact deeply ashamed of his origins in these middle-middle-classes, so he lived 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, not that class, no class, any class but that class, certainly not middle-class, middle-middle-class or any such class as that, any class such as any class which permits the existence of a class above it, and so no class at all, whatsoever, in fact and that’s it.
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, as well as 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.
Once Oscar had allowed Henry to bask in his own youthful arrogance and ignorance, just as he had begun to do two years and three months beforehand, they could feel free to 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 are ineffable. But what they weren’t, or what they thought they weren’t, was of following:
Sub-class: the people who live 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”, “borrow” and “lend”, “ordinary” and “mundane”, “hard” and “difficult”, “itch” and “scratch”. 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 such as “wanker”, “love” and “bastard”.
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 disentangled from the intricate web of 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. Timothy Davies declined to be interviewed. Tracey Willets pointedly ignored them both. 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.