Having recently finished reading “Watching the English” by Kate Fox – a very entertaining, if sometimes worrying, read – I seem to have become slightly obsessed by class. As a result, I was interested when strolling round Waitrose to see that one aisle proudly boasted that it contained napkins – very upper-middle class (or above). I now know that only the denizens of Pardonia would use the word serviette in a futile attempt at social climbing, even though both words come to us from Old French (I’ve always felt this blog could do with a little more etymology!).
My own class indicators are somewhat confused – varying from upper middle class to deep into the working class (though I am very obviously not upper class – this blog alone would provide proof, as an earlier post used the word posh where a toff would have used smart). I blame the parents (mostly mine, obviously, who came from different social classes), Radio 4 listening and my magpie-like tendency to gather up any particularly shiny word or pronunciation and add it to my repertoire for this rather weak class anchoring. I suspect my factory-setting would be lower middle class – but I can often pass for rather higher up the social scale among the anthropologically ill-informed.
Last Sunday, I found myself at King’s College Chapel listening to Verdi’s Requiem (this was not as a result of blacking-out earlier, but is merely a rhetorical flourish). I was ‘comped’ into this concert (my first comp anywhere – isn’t free stuff nice!) and was seated right at the front, only three seats from the Mayor and only one seat from the Principal ‘Cello. Indeed, as I was led to my seat, I did worry that I would be expected to sing (luckily, for all concerned, my fears were groundless). I have previously mentioned my reservations about the acoustics of KCC, however, these are significantly improved when one is sitting almost in the orchestra and the music packs the sonic punch of the Verdi Requiem.
Over the course of the evening (which did extend rather beyond the concert and involved quite a lot of red wine), I kept encountering the same chap who seemed very insistent that my name was Sebastian. I kept correcting him, but to no avail – eventually, he accepted that this wasn’t my name, but felt that it should be and so continued to use it.
Now, I can understand his position as I have been known to rename people myself (and not just by the more normal substitution of a nickname for the one recorded by the State). When I first entered the world of full-time employment, I worked with a chap whose name I can no longer (and mostly never could) recall – to me he was (and always will be) an Ian and I fail to understand how his parents could have chosen any other name for him. As a result of this certainty, I could never remember his soi-disant real name – as it would just be over-written with Ian every time I heard it. At around the same time, I provided mathematical support to a pair of apprentices who were named Julian and Gavin by their respective parents – though I always called the latter, Sandy. Luckily for me, he was far too young to understand the allusion (as, of course, am I) and so I never felt the rough end of his nunchucks (he was heavily into one of the more violent martial arts at the time).
Despite my own tendency to rename others, I’ve never really thought of myself as having another name (other than various nicknames) and had certainly never seen myself as a Sebastian (should I start carrying a teddy? For the avoidance of doubt, I refer to the cuddly toy rather than the item of lingerie). However, the name does have rather a nice, upper class ring to it (and re-uses my existing initials) so perhaps I will adopt it to ease my way into the upper echelons of society. If nothing else, its application shows that I continue to punch above my weight class-wise, at least on the basis of a relatively brief encounter. I suspect my true nature would start to bleed through should I ever have to go the distance…