Friday, March 17, 2006

Notes from Chingford

How does Dostoevsky start Notes from the Underground?

I am a sick man .... I am a spiteful man. I am an unattractive man....

But enough of great literature. Let's see what Nick has been on about.

Middle class ressentiment. It's the fuel the powers the Daily Mail (now as in the 1930s) and Nick is clearly pitching for a job. Life is just fine if you are a single mother on a council estate with ten different children by ten different fathers. Similarly if you are part of the mediocracy that controls Channel 4 or the BBC. And what about those fat cat managers that preside over the public sector? (Overpaid and idle! String em up!) No, the really deprived are the children of the middle class whose lives have turned out to be just a little bit disappointing and who can't afford the things they read about in the colour supplements and who might, just might, have to take jobs as ... teachers or accountants [the shame of it!] rather than as producers at the beeb.

[Actually the teachers and accountants bit might be a quote from James Hawes, but since Nick's webmaster can't be bothered to indent or otherwise distinguish quotations, it is hard to tell.]

One sentence I puzzled over:

Part of her grievance is due, no doubt, to the selfishness of the consumer society that writers for the New Statesman denounce so regularly.

Does that mean that she really has a grievance? Or is Nick saying that her sense of grievance has been artificially nurtured? And does he approve, or not?

And note the dig at the greens:

Conservationists act from the highest of motives when they defend the green belt and don’t think for a moment that they are denying families affordable homes.

Other than that, there's much to commend: public sector child execs do get paid to much, Seumas and Kirsty Milne might not be where they are today if their dad hadn't been DG of the BBC, houses cost money, and balancing careers and kids is hard. What a shame Nick can't communicate those things any more without giving off the nasty smell of middle-class self-pity.


Blogger Backword Dave said...

Well done, Captain. I thought about having a go at this one, but you've done it superbly. I agree with "there's much to commend" and it's a better written essay than the ones he's been writing for the Observer and the ES. But the dig at council estates and single mothers is unworthy of the Staggers; it's pure John Redwood.

He's very good at saying that a class of people "don't think for a moment" as if it's not possible that at least some of them did and rejected Nick's objection. (Some supporters of the Iraq war *did* think they may be supporting the bombarment of civilians and especially children, and some of them decided that the cost, on balance, was worth it.)

And I agree about the self-pity. Which is a little odd, because I'd have thought one of the more comfortable jobs in journalism was being a columnist on one of the Sundays. Comfortable as in "not especially demanding" and as in "pretty well remunerated" to boot.

I've got a James Hawes somewhere, maybe I should give it a shot. (I think I bought it because he lives in Cardiff. Also, it had a girl on the cover.) Nick was careful (unusual for him) not to say that Hawes was "only modern writer I can think of who uses middle-class fury at the privileges of the rich" in *some* of his plots. There are amongst others, The Swimming Pool Library by Alan Hollinghurst and What a Carve Up! by Jonathan Coe.

3/17/2006 11:24:00 AM  
Anonymous rioja kid said...

"Location is everything, as the estate agents say, but in London, the south-east, Edinburgh and, increasingly, Leeds and Manchester, good homes are way beyond their means."

Where, then, are the middle classes actually living these days? I presume they actually have a fixed abode.

Or maybe it's just that the houses aren't good enough. It's odd that, as projected by Nick, middle class revolt is almost ludicrously overspecific. It's not "split up the money" versus "keep things as they are. it's "provide me with an extra bedroom and a faithful husband. Oh, and a school which chooses pupils by competitive examination which my child might not in fact pass".

I thouhgt that the council estate remark was telling. The older Nick would have been able to write about the proletarianization of the middle classes without assuming that there was no-one below that level already other than a feral underclass. he may even have pointed out that they have certain intrerests in common.

Nick: that stuff on the shelves at the supermarket. D'you think it just materialises out of thin air?

3/17/2006 01:54:00 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

This assumption that it's the middle classes who have lost out most from the abolition of grammar schools, and thus who have most to gain if they are restored, surely rather nails the common belief that it's the only way up for the working-class, doesn't it?

3/17/2006 03:08:00 PM  
Anonymous evil bourgeois bruschettaboy said...

Nick's point is just fucking bollocks by the way. I am about as far into the upper class as it is possible to reasonably expect to get (I am writing this post from the business class lounge in the Bahamas, thankyouverymuch, and I expect a column next week on the inequitable fucking injustice of British Airways' policy of overbooking the first class section and bumping passengers down into coach). I got my job through a perfectly normal middle class channel and it did not involve nepotism. The two guys I have most recently worked for both left school at 16 to work in insurance offices and did chartered accountants' exams later through evening school. The only way Nick could possibly be right would be if there were literally no good jobs in the world that were not at either the Guardian or the BBC.

3/18/2006 02:47:00 AM  
Blogger Chris Williams said...

I found _A White Merc With Fins_ a sublime work of pure genius, once I got past the overly-hooky opening page. On the other hand, I got to page 50ish in _Rancid Aluminium_ and ground to a permanent halt. YMMV.

3/19/2006 07:10:00 PM  

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