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.

Book club & Buxton

Continuing to tell about my super-busy week…

Thursday I read a book, and then went to my book club meeting that night. I’m one of these people who can very easily slip into another world while reading even a halfway-decently written book, and some of the worlds that bookclub books are in are quite depressing (I’ll never understand this trend in writing), so I’ve found it easiest to binge-read the book as quickly as possible, as close as possible to the meeting itself. Then I can come back out of the world more quickly, and shorten any suffering the book brings me.

Thursday: Book club …

Yes, I know, all that sounds ridiculous. But I really, really enjoy the company of my fellow book club members, and it really does make me read more, so it’s not completely insane. Anyway, I needn’t have worried this time: this book is a weird one, and no genre fits it. They’ve printed “memoir” on the cover of my copy, which might be closest, but it’s rather hodge podge, really. The hodge podginess means that it doesn’t transport any reader to another world, and it isn’t depressing. It’s interesting, and I may read it more slowly another time.

Book club went well, as always, and I managed to catch up with a friend afterwards for a bit of a chat. Wednesday’s glorious sunshine and warmth had disappeared, and the temperature had plummeted perhaps 30 degrees (f) before the sun went down; I’d been inside all day completely unaware, so I left the house very poorly-dressed for the conditions. Thankfully, I’d arranged a lift there, and a friend drove me home so I didn’t shiver me timbers! 😉

Friday: Buxton …

Since Monday was a bank holiday (federal holiday), Chris decided to take Friday off work. He wanted to go to Buxton, since it’s ages since we’ve been – I’ve just checked: it was October, yeesh. So, off we went. No fair or farmers’ market this time, so we were all leisurely and took the 11am bus to arrive in Buxton by Noon. We prefer to avoid the 10am bus, because it gets absolutely packed (after 9:30, buses are free for pensioners nationwide), so we usually opt for the 9am or the 11am.

A vaguely disturbing owl we found in a shop. Owls are everywhere - you can see some more in the background here.

A vaguely disturbing owl we found in a shop. Owls are everywhere – you can see some more in the background here.

We didn’t get rained on, thankfully. We wandered around a bit, window shopping mostly at this point. After awhile, we were hungry, so we went to the imaginatively-named The Slopes (a park comprised of … flat! No, it’s actually slopes.) to eat the sandwiches we’d packed. We discussed the cast iron frying pan we’d seen, and decided to buy it. We’ve been in desperate need of a new frying pan for ages, and I’ve been kicking myself for not getting the Lodge cast iron one I’d seen at a particular shop in Buxton ages ago. I’d hunted high and low online and couldn’t find a single cast iron pan anywhere within the UK. This is enamelled cast iron instead of plain cast iron (the enamel is on the outside only), but it works well, and that’s what matters!

Then it was time for my eye exam, so off we trekked to that. I’d tried one of the opticians in Glossop a few years back, but had such a lousy experience, it’s put me off ever using that chain again. Bad, grouchy service in and of itself would have simply led to me trying a different local optician; this place lacked the testing equipment I was used to, and I thought that was representative, so I concluded I’d have to just make time to go to my eye doctor when I was in the US. I like very few medical people, but my eye doctor is wonderful, comprehensive, and always on the ball.

A distinctly disturbing dish pattern.  Can't decide which is worse; this or plain white.

A distinctly disturbing dish pattern. Can’t decide which is worse; this or plain white.

Then I got this ad through the door, a booklet affair, telling me all about Specsavers, another optician chain. The booklet told me they have at least some of the testing equipment I’m used to, and it had a coupon for a free eye exam, and a location in Buxton, and we were already planning to visit Buxton soon, so I decided to give it a go and see.

Holy cow, it was wonderful! They had all the testing equipment and then some, so were able to assure me that my eyes are healthy and there’s nothing to worry about there. Moreover, every single member of staff I dealt with was amazingly friendly, helpful, and patient. After spending a decade on the other side of the counter, I have incredibly high standards for customer service – because it’s just not that hard to give a shit – so anytime one person measures up, it’s a notable occassion. Four different people all measured up amazingly this time – I should’ve bought a lottery ticket! So yes, highly recommended. I’m thrilled that now I needn’t worry about that when back in the US!


My prescription’s changed a fair bit from the glasses I’m currently wearing, so I’ll do something about this, but the optician told me contact technology’s come a long way in the decade or more since I gave up on them, so I’ve decided to give contacts a go again. Means I’ll have to make weekly trips down to Buxton for a bit until we find contacts that work for me, so it’s a bit of a pain. Ho hum. I do miss some things about contacts, so hopefully it’ll be worth it. Think I’ll start that process next week.

We looked at glasses for awhile before we left the shop. I noted down some of the numbers of the ones I liked best (never go without glasses, even if you wear contacts full time). I’ll start with the contacts and see if they work; if they do, I’ll get one pair of glasses. If they don’t, I’ll get the two-for-one with one pair of glasses and one of sunglasses.


We wandered around a bit more, including our delight at all the random stuff our favorite shop, Lomas, finds to sell. Some of my favorites this time were the clips only of name tags like these, loose brads, and some truly eye-wateringly patterned Wellies. Chris didn’t want the Tweety Bird or Taz socks – I don’t know why!

We poked our heads into the Buxton Museum and Art Gallery, where we found some thoroughly abstract paintings (read: paint splatter) in the changing exhibition room. We were amused at the visitor log, and found ourselves agreeing with the person who wrote, “This is shit.” I told them to put something interesting up.

We timed it well to catch the bus, not having to wait long, and happily both buses were on time (what luck with that – one of the largest reasons we quit going to Buxton was the utter unreliability of the buses), and neither was crowded at any point. Win! We passed this on the way home:


I snapped a photo to show the Americans following this blog what a “porch” is in these parts (it might be different elsewhere in the country, I don’t know). On the left, you see the “porch” being added to the house, and on the right, you see a completed “porch.” Sometimes these are made out of glass, though that’s rare. Sometimes these are built into the house, taking a chunk out of the living room. Either way, it’s generally about that size, regardless of the size of the house, and people don’t sit on their “porch,” but rather they stick things in it, ie: “If I’m not home, leave it in the porch.”

It is, of course, not a porch at all. Chris and I have taken to calling it a vestibule, which sounds silly and makes us giggle, which I recommend to all. 🙂 A porch is meant for sitting on, in rocking chairs, preferably, or on swings, with a nice tall glass of iced tea, watching the world go by or the sun go down. Ah, the good life.