There’s a bit of a presumption sometimes in the media and generally in society that certain behaviours exist almost innately within social classes. One of these is that middle-class people are generally polite and tend to guard what they say so as not to offend anyone. While another is that working-class people will say the first thing that comes into their mind regardless of the consequences.
Now, to be fair, I’ve seen plenty examples of both in action, but as with any societal generalisation this varies wildly from person to person. Having worked in a vast collection of jobs over the years I’ve observed at first hand plenty of middle-class insensitivity, and a similar amount of working class charm and restraint. But there’s one story I was reminded of recently that showed where some of these traits can actually be quite useful.
You see the problem with caring too much about what others think is that it can often mean people don’t speak out against stuff they should. Now, if it’s life threatening then I have faith in the British that they will intervene, but if it’s just annoying then I fear our silence could well be deafening. A kind of ‘oh, I’m sure he’ll stop in a minute’ or ‘don’t look, and maybe she’ll go away’ attitude can often be spotted by the wily observer of British culture, no doubt linked to our national sense of reserve and stiff upper lip to endure all things. But now and again someone will address to nere-do-well and call them to account for their transgressions, and they will be carried away on the mental shoulders of the observers, a hero of great renown. Such an event is the one I mentioned earlier, and which always will remain in my heart as the true soul of British sense of fair play and mutual respect.
A friend of mine was working as a runner on a film set years ago, and during a break while on a location shoot members of the crew went to eat at a greasy-spoon cafe (or Diner). Among them was a producer who obviously liked that title a little too much. For most of the time that they ate this self-important figure bellowed into his mobile phone – making a mockery of the term personal-call. Sitting behind him was a small group of builders, no doubt loading up on food for the graft ahead. Having had enough of the pontification one of them turned around and addressed the producer with a statement along the lines of –
‘Oi, mate. Can you keep it down?’
Offended that this oik would dare to address him directly the producer lowered his phone stared at the man in disbelief and retorted with –
‘Do you know who I am?’
But rather than collapse under the weight of class brow-beating the builder replied in a simple and wise way –
‘I don’t care who the fuck you are. You’re ruining my breakfast!’
The producer’s class immunity shattered, he quietly turned off his phone and entered into the shame-halls of everybody’s minds.
To the builder it may have been nothing out of the ordinary, but to us mere mortals he spoke the truth and did it with dignity, bravery, and a slight hint of aggression. These moments are to be savored, and through this blog I want to keep his legacy alive, and encourage any of you out there who see such things to do the same.