I was thinking the other day about the comment on my post about the kind of anti-elitism that exists in England where it’s not okay to be educated or to be intelligent, especially by people who generally are.
It’s quite weird to me that nobody thinks anything of intelligence except for middle class people who don’t want to be middle class. And then it’s like a social stigma. You become an outcast because you’re either proud of your education or you’re too clever to disguise it. I speak, by the way, as the first person in my direct family tree, to have a degree. I definitely wasn’t the last but I’m proud to be first. I’m also proud that two people in the next line up got theirs by grafting at night school. Whilst there are teachers and the likes back in the annals of my family history, my grandfather worked in a factory, as did my Nana and I couldn’t be more proud. I was the first person to properly go to university. Again, I wasn’t the last, but it was a good feeling.
But the other day. somebody English said ‘Ooh! You can sew too!’ in a catty way when I was picking up a bag of cushions that need a seam – as if I were over-endowed with too many talents. Sewing is now a middle class thing to do as a hobby, of course. You don’t sew stuff because you’re too poor to buy nice clothes but because you’re ‘crafty’.
“Yes. My nana was a couturier. Well, she was a machinist in the factories in Manchester.” Couturier is the French and sounds so much more glamorous. She is a fabulous machinist, as is my mum. My mum’s embroidery and beautiful sewing is something I can only hope to have picked up a little of over the years. They know fabric. Fabric is their canvas. I grew up surrounded by pincushions and cotton, poking belts right way out with a knitting needle. I still wear three of the coats my Nana made me. She made them twenty years ago and they still look like they are brand new even though I wear them all the time.
And the best thing about my family, about my school, is that they made me very proud of who I am. No, I don’t have the best of brains, and I’m not being humble. I’m a B grade girl made good. I work hard. I’m the B grade girl who gets an A by a process of attrition and hard work. My first Masters assignment was a C. The next was an A. I try hard and though I’m not blessed with talent, I’m blessed with determination and enthusiasm. I get there in the end, especially when I’m nurtured. Good teachers get As from me. If you don’t have faith in me, I wither.
So having worked bloody hard all my life at my own brain, I’m proud of it. I’m still working on it. I’m proud of my graduation picture. I’m proud of my certificates. I did lots of stuff at night school. I was working on a photography course at the same time as my Masters and I’ve added another couple of A levels to my repertoire since I left university. And I worked hard. Some years, I was working as a teacher, writing, marking and doing assignments all at the same time. One nightmare day, I was doing a huge presentation for 120 head teachers, had my third Masters assignment to hand in and then ran off to set up my final photography exhibition. I left the house at 7am and got back at 11pm and did the same the next day, too.
So when someone anti-elitist, anti-intellectual, comes along, I get all angry. Why shouldn’t I have qualifications? And, if I have, why should I hide them? I like learning. I’m a geek. I like speaking French, or reading things in Italian or Spanish or Portuguese or English or Dutch. Danish is next on my list of languages to look at. I work hard at French and English too. I still read French grammar books and can spot dreadful subjunctive errors and abuses in the papers. I still do exercises in French and think about French and I’m interested by it. And I’m not going to apologise for it or pretend I don’t, or intimate that people who can speak more than one language are some kind of genius (two thirds of the world manage perfectly well with two, three, four or even five languages).
Sometimes I like to talk about Samantha Brick and the Daily Fail, about celebrities and about pop music. Sometimes I like to talk about where the world comes from or what happened at the Nicene Council meetings, or why the Virgin Mary became a Virgin for Life or find out. Sometimes I like to go to the opera or the ballet. Watching all Shakespeare plays is on my list of things to do before I die, but I still watched several seasons of Big Brother. Just because I can conjugate pouvoir in the imperfect subjunctive doesn’t mean I don’t swear like a navvy. I might read the Booker Prize winner, but it’s usually heavy going and I prefer murder mysteries. I loved Great Expectations over Christmas, but I love Grimm too.
Yet I sometimes end up feeling I’m something of a freak when I happen upon anti-intellectuals who feel so insecure they’d rather attack my learning as some kind of bizarre side-show trick I do and who think buying nice clothes at Whistles is the natural state of affairs and I’m weird because I don’t do that. Any more. That’s what freaks them out more, I think. I can Clarins, Lancome and Dior with the best of them; I have Planet suits and Russell and Bromley shoes. Sometimes, just sometimes, catch me in the right light and I look a bit like them.
But it makes me feel like Cady in Mean Girls.
If you’ve not seen Mean Girls, it’s about exactly what it says. Mean Girls. Mean Girls who will say “Vintage. So adorable!” when they see you in an old skirt and then turn to their friend and say: “That is the ugliest fucking skirt I’ve ever seen…”
They’re the girls who say “We don’t have a clique problem at this school” when they’re the clique.
They are the girls who will say “I’m sorry that people are so jealous of me. But I can’t help it that I’m popular.” and interpret any non-sycophantic behaviour as jealousy.
And no matter how much they bitch, they always finish with “Love Ya!”