social class

  • Mwah! One kiss or two?

    (Photo by Guido Fuà)

    In England, when I grew up, kissing or not kissing women on the cheek was a class issue. Lots of people think the English don’t do the kiss on the cheek. Not true. The posher you are, the more kissing there is. It’s so French and sophisticated, see? 

    Among my mates, it was simple: no one ever touched the opposite sex, prior to a full snog, let alone kissed them on the cheek. 

    Then I went to university, like a fresh-faced extra in The Line of Beauty

    A good friend took me to the nightspots of Fulham and Chelsea, and I discovered that I was expected to kiss every girl I was introduced to. It was extraordinary. 

    One cheek or two? 

    I made a total hash of it, and did one-and-a-half. 

    This inept action left everyone awkward and unsure of my intentions. Was I using the opportunity to go in for the kill? Or was I so put off by their first cheek that I couldn’t bear to fully kiss the other one?

    This is the part of the blog where I say: Obviously, over time I got it down pat. Nowadays, I’m a natural with the ladies… [Is that coughing I can hear at the back? Hey, come on, pipe down!]

    Intimacy is, as anyone who’s lived a long time will know, fraught with dangers. 

    Alas, such sociable cultural fun might just be one of the casualties of Covid. But a nostalgic part of me hopes this awkward British institution will live on.

    Like this? See what I can do with a cucumber

  • Being Middle Class Man

    Young man sitting on a bench with a glass of whisky in front of a Union Jack British flag
    Is male and middle class the ultimate turn-off? (Photo by Gregory Hayes)

    I love Grayson Perry. Who doesn’t? All but the most unsalvageably entrenched blokey blokes must love him for everything he has done to open debate about gender – particularly being a man – and identity. 

    But how much of what Grayson has done – has been able to do – is rooted in his working class identity? Yes, he dresses in women’s clothes. Yes, he questions the most basic assumptions about male culture. But he’s still an honest, straight-talking bloke from solid working roots. 

    The legitimacy this identity engenders often seems to hide in plain sight. It reminds me of the way Billy Bragg – another boy from the ‘wrong’ end of London with the accent to back it up – can deliver English folk music with an authority lacking in even the most hallowed middle class revivalists. 

    Of course, there is some slippage. 

    Some no doubt view both Grayson and Billy as class-suspect. In Grayson’s gender-bending analysis and Billy’s love of olde worlde folk, they could both be seen as working class boys now long since consumed by middle class airs and intellectualism. 

    Pity Middle Class Man

    Everyone hates the middle classes, as the joke goes, even the middle classes themselves. Yes, they are a comfortable place to be born and to live, but they are eternally unloved. Which makes Middle Class Man the hardest to crack. 

    Does Grayson’s accessibility as a working class man make his bold forays into questioning social norms more palatable, under the cover of class legitimacy? Could a middle class version of Grayson Perry have broken down as many barriers as the real Grayson Perry? 

    Would we have bought it? By we, of course, I mean the Great British Public (GBP), that toughest of critics. Never mind the male gaze. The GBP gaze can be withering. 

    Spare a thought for Middle Class Man – fighting to remake himself, despite his eternal lack of credibility, even in the eyes of his peers. Lumbered with maleness and middle classness, he needs all the help he can get!