Status Mobility

the front cover of the book "Watching the English" by Kate Fox

For my last book club meeting, we read Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour by Kate Fox. We then had an absolutely brilliant conversation about all sorts of different matters, and I’ve continued to ruminate on it since.

One thing Kate Fox talks a lot about is class (in the socioeconomic sense, rather than the “she’s a classy lady” sense), because it pervades every aspect of English culture. Thus, we talked about class at our meeting, and I ruminated over what was said, as well as what I’ve gathered already from 7 years of living here in Dampland.

For decades, the message has been put out there repeatedly (via media, ministers, storylines in popular shows, etc) to the rank and file English citizen that class is no longer such a consideration, such a thing as it once was. This … could be true, I suppose. Many times, the message has been carried to the extreme of saying that class doesn’t matter at all: this is blatantly false. However, if you repeat something often enough, people tend to believe it.

Kate Fox points out that class has nothing at all to do with occupation or income, unlike pretty much anywhere else in the world. My understanding of class in the US, when I arrived here, was that income alone pretty much determined class, so this was a total brain fuck to comprehend. My understanding of the US system has become a bit more nuanced since then, but occupation and income play a HUGE part of class in the US, regardless.

Contrast that to here in the UK, Kate Fox tells a story of an upper crust person being identified despite living in a council housing apartment [projects], etc. Class here is a host of nuances of things like which words you choose, how you say them (including at what volume), how you decorate your home, how you maintain your car, how you hold your fork and knife, how you eat peas, how you entertain yourself, what sorts of things are appropriate to buy in what sorts of shops, how you roll your sleeves up, and so on. It’s sometimes very subtle, and hard to explain (though Kate Fox has made a great start), but an upper crust person can be discerned from the opposite end a mile away because of these things – even if they live as neighbors in a tower block of apartments.

Historically, in the UK, class was passed generationally, and you could never rise too far in class yourself. You could pull your children up some, and they could pull their children up a bit more, but it took generations. Famously, in the US, we love our rags-to-riches stories – and the accompanying lower-class-to-upper-class transitions that goes with them. In the modern world, we would all love to believe these transitions, this pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps, are possible for anyone if they work hard enough (and have lots and lots and LOTS of luck), and certainly that idea has creeped into England as a thing they’d like to think of as true: that class mobility is a thing that can happen, and isn’t that hard, and doesn’t have to rely on generations to pass for it to transpire. After all, this idea appeals to their sense of fair play, which is a HUGE part of English culture.

However, as nice as it’d be, I don’t think it’s true. I think class is too much about nuanced habit that you pick up from your parents for it to be something you can shed so easily. You can train yourself on new habits, and take elocution (speech) lessons for the verbal part, but you will lapse sometimes, and your lower-class roots will show. What a way to live.

However, to say that occupation and income don’t have anything to do with class … just doesn’t feel quite right, or it didn’t to me on book club night. So I mulled over this, and I realized: occupation, particularly, gives status. We like to think there’s class mobility mostly because we want to think of people being able to have a higher status than what they were born to, if they desire. But people do have status mobility, which is entirely separate from class and class mobility.

Imagine: on a construction site, you could have a foreman, and his son swinging a hammer at whichever nails he’s told to. Both of them are working class, but the foreman clearly has a higher-status job than the hammerer. However, the hammerer could be a 20-year-old doing this on his summer breaks from school (uni) where he’s becoming a doctor (MD). Once he completes that and becomes a doctor, a GP, etc, he’ll have a higher status than his dad the foreman. But under the English class system, he won’t really have a higher class, I reckon. The polite, politically correct brigade will probably come try to “correct” me on this and tell me he will, but he’ll still have most of those same mannerisms he had when he was being raised by his working class parents, or at least some of them. He won’t be conscious of all of them, in order to train himself out of all of them. Those nuances will be picked up, I reckon subconsciously, by others around him, who will peg him with their class radar as working class, despite being a doctor. His children will pick up more of his affected mannerisms, and less of his working class root mannerisms, and thus be gradually lifted up along the class lines, just as in the olden days.

Not that any of it matters, mind. The thing I instantly concluded upon re-reading this book was that class is a construct, like the UK (which is four separate nations under one flag, but not really a unified country), and that none of it really matters, in the end.

Jack O’Lanterns!

We greatly enjoy carving pumpkins. Every year we carve pumpkins throughout October – we start as soon as we spot them in the shops, carve some, throw them out when they get moldy, and then carve some more, mostly keeping jack o’lanterns in the house for the whole month. This year is no exception. Here are the ones we’ve done so far.


Our first set

Our first set

We’re fairly traditional for our first set, usually.


We had problems with our second set of pumpkins. I got two regular-sized pumpkins (“large”, they call them here; a bit on the tidgy size, I say). Before we carved them, I saw these two baby pumpkins that were just so adorable, I picked them up for the heck of it. They took about five minutes to do the boring part of the carving (getting the guts out and all that), so if they have these again next year, I might try to foist them on the WI as a starter carving thing. I wasn’t sure we’d carve the little ones, or just keep them whole as decoration.

Then when we sat down to carve the larger ones, the first large one was rotten, through and through. The second large one had a spot of rot in the top, just next to the stem, but I’d seen that when I got it at the shop, and I actually got that one for free – I reckoned it’d be coming out anyway, so it’d be fine. And it was! The other one, that gave no sign of being off, was. Bizarre. That’s been our only rotten pumpkin, out of something like 60 since I’ve moved here.

No matter! We had plenty of pumpkins. So I carved the larger one, and Chris carved the two smaller ones. The one on the far left had several small bits all around it that were rotten and needed to come out, so he devised this carving (which wrapped around, a bit) to do that. You can’t tell it from the photo, but the larger pumpkin was quite knobbly and bumpy, so I was inspired to do a witch.

Our second set

Our second set


Chris' pumpkin from the third set

Chris’ pumpkin from the third set

For our third set, one of the pumpkins I chose was this short, wide, one. I did get the joy of seeing “Devil pumpkin” on my receipt, because they’ve decided to call these “Red devil” pumpkins, but upon carving them, Chris eyed up the normal-shaped pumpkin, and the more frisbee-shaped pumpkin, and declared that I could figure out what to do with the devil pumpkin. So I gutted it, and then eyed it and eyed it for a long while.

Eventually, I decided it needed a design that wrapped around (so yes, this is one pumpkin, just different sides) to make better use of the shape. Something or other inspired me to do a pacman-themed one. Then we set it on a turntable, so we can spin it around easily. 🙂

My third one (it wrapped around)

My third one (it wrapped around)

Mist-shrouded valley

I went to see a friend of mine for WI business today. She lives in a fantastic place, overlooking the Charlesworth valley across to Manchester. Stepping out at about 4pm, I saw a mist-shrouded valley, the sun peeking through – it was all very surreal, like a painting, or a movie. My snapshots don’t do it justice, but I thought I’d share anyway.



Carrier Bag Charge Backlash

Following on from yesterday’s post, I thought I’d share some of what I turned up online about the reaction to the carrier bag fee, because it is a mix of amusing and gobsmacking.

The Telegraph put together an amusing list of tweets:








And from Eight incidents that prove the English public have lost their minds over the carrier bag charge, we have these gems:


A man got banned from Asda for fighting over the carrier bag charge

Yes, really. The Sun reports that Asda customer Delroy Hilton felt like he was “treated like a dog” by staff who allegedly tried to force him to pay for his plastic carrier bags.

He claimed that while trying to carry his shopping to his car in a basket from the shop, a worker emptied his goods onto the floor.

He paid at a self-service checkout at the store in Sheldon, Birmingham, but did not want to pay for a bag.

After the incident, he was asked to leave, and the next day was told that he was banned for using foul language and being abusive towards staff.



By Mercury Press

By Mercury Press

The supermarket Tesco had such trouble at one shop with people stealing its “bags for life” that they actually security tagged them. (source)

(Many retailers have these bags for life: they’re usually about 10 pence, and you use it til it wears out, and then return it and they’ll replace it with a new one. They’re plastic, though, so you can’t toss em in the washing machine.)


Another Tesco location “said a third of their baskets had been stolen in just a week,” so they started security tagging them, too. (source)


This post makes it look like I’m a Telegraph reader, but in truth I don’t really read any of the national newspapers. I just end up clicking from one story to another to another, and today somehow I started on that site. It’s the local news I keep up with – hence Glossop Events.


That disclaimer aside, I’ll close with a little food for thought, from an OpEd by Jemima Lewis:

But should consumers alone be punished? It was the supermarkets that got us hooked on plastic bags in the first place. Not so long ago, all bags were “bags for life”. My grandfather lugged the same straw basket to and from the local Safeway every day for 20 years; and when that fell apart he bought another one, just the same.

He knew the capacity of his basket by heart, the way a cat knows its fences. If he couldn’t fit it into the basket, he didn’t buy it. This made him – his entire frugal generation, in fact – irksome to supermarkets. If these stores were to persuade customers to buy impulsively, to succumb to the lure of the two-for-one, they needed to make it easier for them to carry the extra booty home.

Giving away free, single-use plastic bags was central to the success of the supermarkets. It helped train a generation of shoppers in bad habits, and ushered in a new era of convenience, greed and waste.

Supermarket profits have come at a heavy cost to the planet. Isn’t it only fair that they’re the ones who should pay the price?


The New Normal

I’m suddenly normal. It’s a very strange feeling.

FoxTrot by Bill Amend

FoxTrot by Bill Amend

To be sure, I’m only normal in one teeny, tiny respect, but you see, I didn’t change anything to achieve this. I didn’t alter myself or my habits; I didn’t move elsewhere; I didn’t suddenly gain a new circle of friends and acquaintances. And yet, literally overnight, one aspect of my life has gone from me being the weirdo to suddenly me being normal and completely accepted.

On Monday the 5th of October, England caught up with Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, and instituted a £0.05 charge (today, that’s $0.077) for each single-use carrier bag issued in a shop – well, about half of them. There are a raft of exceptions: small shops don’t have to charge (but might choose to); bags only containing certain items, such as unwrapped food, raw meat and fish where there is a food safety risk, prescription medicines, uncovered blades, seeds, bulbs and flowers, or live fish don’t need to be charged for; and so on. The official guidance is here.

The government did this in the name of the environment – it wants to see less litter, it wants less bags made, it wants to spend less cleaning up the litter, etc. The charge, mind you, is NOT going towards the litter cleanup cost, which is my quibble: in true English style, it’s mostly supposed to be donated to charity – whatever charity that particular retailer chooses. The £0.05 includes our 20% sales tax (vat), so 4.17 pence is available for the retailer, and 0.83 pence goes to the government. The retailers “are allowed to deduct only ‘reasonable costs’ from the 5p fee. These include the cost of ‘changing till systems’ and ‘training staff’, but not the money used to purchase stock.” ((source))

Photo by DttSP

Photo by DttSP

I’ve long hated the accumulation of carrier bags; I find fabric bags much nicer (less noisy, for a start, and able to be washed in the washing machine). They make these great ones that can be folded down very small, and I’ve kept at least one of these in my purse (handbag) for years. Sometimes nothing but plastic will do – especially to get the bread home dry when it’s raining – so having a certain number has always been useful. But you end up with masses if you’re not careful. Even having my own bags, even trying to use them, I’ve had shop assistants insist on thrusting bags at me whether I wanted them or not so often, that I’ve had to purge periodically. Thankfully, I found great outlets for my bags – the torn up ones went to Ocado, one of the supermarkets I use, which I was reasonably sure would actually recycle them. The usable ones would go to my friendly local farmer who delivers weekly to me, or to the charity shop in town that’s always so grateful for them. But yes, thrusting a bag at the customer was so habitual that I couldn’t stop many shop assistants, and I ended up with quite a mass of these to sort about once a month.

The time Chris and I went to Stalybridge Handmade Market, which was a lovely market of individual artisans who’d made the stuff they were selling (our kind of market), I confounded them all when I told them I didn’t need a bag. They were all so intent on giving me their bags – paper bags, these, which are even less useful to me – and all I could see was waste. All I could see was that them having spent money to buy these, for me to turn around and put them in my recycle when I got home, not even having needed them in the meantime, since we’d brought bags. But they were so crushed, it was like stepping on a puppy! I couldn’t make heads or tails of it.

When I could forestall them, I often had the sense that they were humoring me. “Oh look at her, fiddling with her bag. Guess we’ll put up with it this time.”

But the English are a thrifty lot, and £0.05 per bag seems too steep most of the time, so overnight, bringing your own bag suddenly became okay. I was no longer getting a feeling of being humored, anywhere. Dealing with my bags (fabric bags are floppy, that’s the downside, but after that report I read about the germs in reused bags, I refuse to use non-washed bags) was suddenly just part of the transaction.

I suddenly became normal!

It’s very weird. It’s nice to suddenly not have this slight power struggle going on, or the extra chore of sorting out my plastic bags once a month. I’d rather just pay a bit for the odd plastic bags I do want – that’s a far more cost effective use of my time, really. So yes, nice, to be sure – but crikey, it’s weird. So long as I don’t turn too much normal, I suppose.

Tribalism; Improving the Natives’ World

Ah, tribalism. Where would we be without it?

It’s tribalism, of course, that makes us socialize ourselves and others to live according to certain accepted values. It’s so we can tell who’s US and who’s THEM.

These things are usually so engrained, so deep down, that we don’t notice them consciously. We generally notice them when we have reason to fight against them. For example, I’m told that serial killers don’t generally believe that they’re bad people; they believe that they’re doing a good thing, in whatever way. They tell themselves whatever story they need to, in order to have that be their reality, rather than the one we see, because they had to fight against the norms our tribe imposed upon them, and they could only go so far with that. They generally can’t accept “I’m a bad person” – but they can accept a twisted version of what they’re doing.

To accomplish this socializing of THEM and US, however, society relies on mores that get engrained in us without question, and turn into things we can elicit shame with.

When we don’t live up to these mores, we then feel inadequate – the whole of consumerism, naturally, preys upon this: “You aren’t happy enough with life? Buy this thing, and you will be!” Because it’s so convenient for companies trying to sell us things to use this tactic, we constantly get conflicting messages about what we should do to be happy – we should be thin, we should have a bit of meat on our bones, we shouldn’t care about size; we should be married, we should be single; we should have children, we should not have children; and so on. We can’t win, no matter what we do, so we end up feeling constantly inadequate if we don’t armor ourselves from this onslaught.

Photo by DttSP

Photo by DttSP

All of that is well known, and not really what I’m here to write about. We went to see Michael Palin recently – he’s a famous world traveler, as well as a comedy writer and actor. He did a little Q&A from the audience, and someone asked him if he keeps in touch with the people he’s met on his travels.

This question almost always pops up when someone talks about their travels, no matter how large or small the audience, in my limited experience. Nevermind that Michael Palin has traveled extensively and so keeping up with the people he met along the way would be several full time jobs on its own. I’m always boggled and annoyed by this question, and as I let it roll around my head over the next few days, I realized what I think is going on more deeply.

Leftover from Imperialism, there is an expectation of going abroad and improving the lot of the natives. There’s definitely the knowledge that Imperialism was filled with nasty effects and side effects, so this isn’t at all obvious, but I think what’s happened is that the attitude has shifted from the government going out to improve the world to individuals and charities improving the world.

We have one man in town who spends his days taking supplies to Bosnia – he comes home to Glossop, gathers clothes, medicine, all sorts, and drives his Land Rover over to war-torn Bosnia to deliver it. He sleeps sitting up in his vehicle to cut down on expenses. We have another couple who, I think single-handedly, is supporting a school in Kenya – including paper, pencils, food, money to pay the teachers, uniforms for the kids, etc. And there’s the Winnie Mabaso Foundation, which was started by Winnie Mabaso in South Africa (though not as a foundation), and took off from the work of one Glossop woman, mostly (now there are more people involved). Certainly improving life abroad by individuals and charities is a much-lauded, often-done thing in this society.

So, I think the expectation that the traveler improve the lot of the people they’re visiting became one of those deeply entrenched expectations — so deep as to be unconscious. One way to be seen to do this is to keep in touch with them, so as to try to do something (send them supplies, perhaps) once home in Britain.

I challenge my British readers to not dismiss this out of hand – think about it. I could be wrong, but if I’m right, it’s something so unconscious you won’t necessarily see it at first. That is the way with many tribal things. Not all are as obvious as “Thou shalt not kill.”

Photo by DttSP

Photo by DttSP

The Peace of Wild Things

I’m currently in the throes of trying to clear out my various inboxes (email, paper, etc) and bits of paper that have piled up around. Amongst them, there is this poem my friend Mary shared with me that I really like (which is exceedingly rare, as I generally hate poetry that isn’t made into song), so I thought I’d share it with yall.

Photo by DttSP

Photo by DttSP

The Peace of Wild Things

by Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me

and I wake in the night at the least sound

in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,

I go and lie down where the wood drake

rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things

who do not tax their lives with forethought

of grief. I come into the presence of still water.

And I feel above me the day-blind stars

waiting with their light. For a time

I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Spectrums of Feelings

I just want to note this here about spectrums, after it came up on facebook.

A friend shared this article recently, summed up by this meme:

stephen fry depression why

This spurred quite a lengthy conversation, after one of her friends took great issue with handling depressed individuals with kid gloves, among other things. I’ve just read about the dangers of handling people of any stripe with kid gloves (fascinating read; focused on college students, but I’m sure you can see the translation to nearly any population), which I saw the point of. However, I’ve also been depressed and had to weather the ceaseless “Why?” storm, so I let these two percolate in the back of my mind, as I do.

For now, this is what I’ve concluded.

Many things in life are getting eroded of their value – migraines are my favorite example of this. Migraines are considered merely “bad headaches” by many, for example. Migraines and headaches are two entirely different things, as anyone who’s ever actually had a migraine – and most people who’ve even so much as seen someone else suffer from a migraine – can attest. Headaches themselves come in a variety of guises: there are mild, moderate, severe; there are different sorts that feel different (tension, sinus, dehydration, etc). There’s a whole spectrum of them. But we don’t, in common parlance, say “I have a really severe tension headache.” Too many of us choose instead to say, “I have a migraine,” even though that’s wrong. So it gets stuck in common knowledge as “really severe headache = migraine.”

Likewise, I think we’ve had the same thing happen with “depression”. Somehow, we’ve tacked depression onto the sadness spectrum, so “depression” has become “very sad” to many people. It is not.

That said, since this is what’s embedded in our cultures, I think what happens is the automatic, unthinking response to the “I’m depressed” revelation has become “Why?” — because sadness has a cause, so therefore if you’re “very sad”, then that has a cause, too.

For example:

  • Your loved one dies
  • You don’t win the raffle or the lottery
  • Your place of employment goes out of business, and you lose a job you love
  • You have a crappy holiday
  • You have a fight with a friend
  • You lose a friend
  • You lose out on the house you wanted to buy because the chain fell through
  • You aren’t pregnant this month (but maybe next month)
  • You can’t afford to see a group you like in concert when they come through your town; etc.

These are all causes of sadness, which will last for awhile, and then go away. Some will last longer than others; some will be felt more deeply than others; thus, sadness has a range, a spectrum. But instead of settling for “a little sad”, “moderately sad”, “really sad”, “deeply sad”, etc, we throw “depressed” in there, as though it belongs. It doesn’t.

Anyone who’s had any kind of brush with depression (in whatever capacity) knows that depression is an entirely different beast than sadness. There often isn’t a why, or a straightforward why. It’s not the stuff for a casual conversation with your friend who’s only treating it as another verbal handshake ((Verbal handshakes are those things you just automatically say, like “How are you?” “Good, you?” and “Cold, isn’t it?” “Aye, but at least it’s not raining.” These things that we don’t give thought to before, during, or after.)) — it’s the stuff for sussing out with someone who’s trained in depression.

The healthy mind’s verbal handshake, or throwaway comment, is the remark that the depressed mind might obsess over for days. “Am I really depressed? Am I just using this as an excuse for being lazy? I don’t know why I’m depressed…” It’s perfectly normal to not know what tangled mess is going on that’s wrought the depression – it’s not something as simple as your puppy having died, or else that’d be sadness. But the more we keep asking this ridiculous “Why?”, the more we keep alive the myth that it is something simple, that depression is a form of sadness — and the more we keep people from getting the help they need.

My painting

I’ve been meaning to share this here. A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine treated me to a day at The Laughing Badger in Padfield, an art gallery that has regular workshops – we were there from 10am to 2:30pm, and Sean, the owner, served us all lunch, and we did some art. We did paintings in the morning, and drawings in the afternoon. Aside from my friend and I, there were three others there for the day, and a couple of people dropped in just for breakfast, and a couple of others dropped in around lunchtime. Those who stayed all day go every week, and it was certainly laid back and friendly enough to see wanting to do that.

Neither my friend nor I is artistic – we can’t draw very well – and there wasn’t a great deal of instruction given, it being mostly a club atmosphere of people coming every week and just using whatever art supplies tickled their fancies. It’d be great for having a go at a method without having to buy the supplies, and the cameraderie and food were good. So anyway, Sean sketched an outline of some rocky, craggy islands in the sea and left us to sketching them onto the boards and then painting over that.

Seeing some silver paint on the table, I decided to make the orb in the sky a moon, and so here’s what I came up with:


Not a masterpiece, but not bad for a first attempt. It’s a-okay (and it’s a positive gem next to the drawing I made).

Sean passed by at one point and saw what was forming, and he said, “You have a darkness in your soul.” Heh. 😉

Once I got it home, Chris pointed out that the colors go with the ones in the bathroom, so now all I need is a frame, and it can go there!

Labor sectors

Much ado is made these days about the demise of the manufacturing jobs and the rise of the service industry — in both the US and the UK — so much so that I always believed that the factory jobs were once the majority of the jobs out there (again, in both countries). I’ve just found this tidbit in an infographic from the ONS ((the Office for National Statistics, the government body charged with compiling statistics for England and Wales — Scotland deals with its own, and Northern Ireland seems to just be ignored most of the time)) , which has put that belief into a tailspin:

Source: ONS

Source: ONS

Apparently, starting in 1841, right smack in the middle of the Industrial Revolution’s hey day, the service industry jobs were just about neck and neck with the manufacturing jobs! Actually, it’s harder to see in that graphic because of the decline in agriculture & fishing jobs, so here – I’ve pulled from the data they’ve made available to create this:

Indeed, it wasn’t until 1921 that the census picked up marked differences in these two sectors, in England and Wales. Of course, today’s situation is a drastic difference over, say, the 1950s and 1960s, to be sure. But it was never inverted from what it is today, with factory jobs outstripping service jobs massively. Interesting.