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Saturday, 7 April 2012

Today in Tesco I didn't see a Toff ...

Nor any other day and even though it's in Hove actually.

But there's a Toff on the front page of this week's Private Eye: Mr Cameron. There's no doubt about it. He's a Toff.

How do I know? I have only once heard Mr Cameron speak when I watched a TV Election debate. He struck me as a man who had been coached in public speaking. But it isn't his voice which makes me think he's a Toff. It's his face.

A few months ago, I researched my family tree, something I had until then resisted. It's an outsider approach to one's own origins. But it proved illuminating. I went back through thirty dead people: my two parents, my four grandparents, my eight great grandparents, and my sixteen great great grandparents. That already took me to 1800. I decided to stop there.

Though there are a few gaps and uncertainties, the main story is clear: all these thirty people were born in southern England, no further north than Oxfordshire but spread across to Somerset in the west and Cambridgeshire in the east. The men were manual workers, mostly unskilled - agricultural labourer, brewer's drayman, school caretaker - but a couple were skilled: millwright and compositor. The women were mostly respectable and literate; some of them worked outside the home, as millgirls and shop assistants.

None of them married Out or Up nor were they notably mobile Up or Down: my father became a shop keeper renting a lock-up shop and that's as much mobility as you get. There was no social mixing and so no genetic mixing. When I look at old family photographs I can see my face and it's a face which fits comfortably in Tesco. Unless I dress up, I can pass comfortably as some cheery Bus Pass geezer.

I haven't researched Mr Cameron's family tree but if I am right, then his ancestors will be people who did not marry Out or Down. They preserved a physiognomy which you can see on TV but not in Tesco, in the House of Lords but not in Hove.

There was once some upward career mobility in England - I went to university and went Up a lot more than any of my thirty ancestors. But there was never much enthusiasm for social mobility and New Labour ended it, pushing the school system towards social segregation under the camouflage of "faith" .

And career mobility did not really disturb the lines of physiognomy - nor of dress sense and personal style - which means that a customer in Tesco doesn't look like a customer in Waitrose, still less like those who do not have to do their own shopping.

1 comment:

  1. Top of the upper class is, of course, the Queen but no one - apart from republicans - strongly resents her wealth and position. That's because she appears essentially to be benign. But Cameron uses his power to featherbed his chums and oppress the poor. Hence he is resented, and tarred with being a toff.