I always thought I was middle class – I have a degree or two, I’ve been a college lecturer and a film producer. I’ve never made a lot of money but I thought that even though my dad was a factory worker I wasn’t working class.
How wrong I was!
I’ve just been helping a friend with research for a book about bullying in public life. We went to a posh corporate office block London to interview the head of a “think tank” about how he’d been pushed around by his political superiors.
We sat in the cafe in the huge glass and marble atrium of the building and I realised just how far down the lower orders I actually am.
My goodness he was posh! From his accent to his stiff upper lip and his hand stitched suit he was through and through ruling class. And knew he was.
But he’d been badly treated by people even posher than him – you know old Etonians and Bullingdon Club chaps.
He’d been promised jobs, lied to, set up with TV interviews where he’d been trashed instead of the person really responsible, etc etc. And he really wanted to talk about it and shop them in his turn.
But all I could think about was the lavish space we were sitting in and how many unnecessary but stylish flights of steps there were, all slippery with polish and teeming with youngish go-getters like him, frantically networking and scared to smile in case it wasted their time. No place for an elderly stick user!
While we talked he ate one of the cafe sarnies – a bright red beetroot wrap with hot smoked salmon – spectacularly chi chi. There was NO ordinary bread in the place, that’s how posh it was.
In my youth I would have wanted to sink into the ground on account of being so outclassed and apologise for my Midlands accent. But I looked at him – he’s not a pretty boy, his lower teeth are crossed, his hair is thinning and he’s a bit chubby – and I started feeling sorry for him.
Unfortunately for him when I asked how he felt about all the unpleasantness he’s been put through he failed my humanity test – he said: “I just got angry”.
My theoretical real human would have known that the older lady in front of him might judge him more kindly if he talked about his emotions at being betrayed so thoroughly. But he didn’t.
Not sure the upper crust does emotions.
He then said he had to pop off for an interview with some European TV company and if we hung around he’d tell us more. And could he leave his big bag with us.
“Is that your best suit?” I asked – it looked like a suit bag.
“No, it’s my trousers. I’m taking them to my tailor to be let out as I’ve put on weight.”
I don’t know anyone in Thanet who says that except as a joke.
So, he trusted me with his trousers and I went off to explore the lavish corporate loos.
More marble, very heavy doors, fancy hand-wash and thin toilet paper (meanies!). And not an accessible lav in sight.
I enquired as I left about wheelchair access and the porter – wearing a uniform that rivalled the Coldstream Guards – said “Oh we do but the lift’s out of order.”
“I’ve mended your trousers” I quipped when he came back.
He just looked puzzled. I don’t think his mum ever mended anything.
We dutifully recorded his story and I think he felt better for telling it, but as we walked back to Victoria station, past the homeless preparing their doorways with cardboard and searching the bins for supper, I did wish he could swap just one night with one of them and see what real misery is.
Instead he took a cab to his West End tailor who was staying open late for him to bring in his trousers.
Please contact me via firstname.lastname@example.org if you’ve been bullied in public life and tell me your story.