Taking one’s holiday in England is not the done thing – at least, it’s not the done thing if you’re middle class. Even holidaying in a cheap and ready Greek resort is more acceptable within English bourgeois mores; the whole concept of the “holiday” means by definition almost, an escape from England.
This is nothing new, either. George Orwell wrote in the 1930s about how the upper middle class English all had summer homes in Scotland. To have one in England was practically an admittance of destitution. No, what has changed over the last half century has been where the English working classes have spent their get aways, which has moved steadily from seaside towns in Albion to resorts on the Mediterranean.
Which brings me to Great Yarmouth, where I find myself having a mini-break at present. The reasons for this are partly situational (flying with small children is a complete nightmare) and oddly, partly very middle class (work is too busy to go anywhere further away or for longer). To be clear, I’m not in Great Yarmouth in a hotel – I reside currently in a caravan/quasi-Butlins family park.
Most of the other people staying here are working class, as you’d expect. Being in amongst a majority working class environment reminds you of something quite important: working class English people are in fact really rather similar to middle class English people. The biggest differences are these two: middle class people like to escape from Englishness (thus the Mexican-Thai fusion restaurants), whereas working class people are very comfortable with and within their own culture; middle class English people like 80s music ironically, while working class English people enjoy 80s music irony free.
Dress code wise, at least on holiday, mostly the same. This brought back home Owen Jones’ book “Chavs”, in which he postulated the theory that the “establishment”, that nebulous conspiracy he pins most of society’s woes upon, was involved in a plan to demonise (his word) the entire working class via the chavs phenomenon. But the word “chav” was not only not meant to apply as a blanket term to all working class people – I think working class people cannot even be chavs at all. Thinking about it, the word applies to a group of underclass, as in non-working class (E on the socio-economic spectrum) individuals who wear shell suits, have poor taste in jewellery, and spend their waking life doing a very, very, very, very bad impression of a stereotypical African-American.
Now, the media ganging up on a group of underclass folk is arguably worse in many respects than attacking the working classes, so Jones had something there when he wrote the book. It is a common thread with Marxists (starting with Marx himself): a good nose for a problem, but often a poor diagnosis of the actual forces at work leading to very bad solutions proposed.
It’s a lot more politically tricky for someone on the Left, having a go at the demonisation of those who do not work, as opposed to the supposed scapegoating of those who do. In fact, it was Jones’ beloved working class that was most vocal in the denunciation of chav culture, such as it is, an insight that would be helpful should those on the Left wish to understand why so many ex-Labour voters plumped for UKIP in May.
Anyhow, I’m not spending my entire mini-break thinking about why Owen Jones is incorrect, promise. Mostly enjoying the sunshine and feeling happy that my own children will grow up feeling comfortable around other cultures – but also cost within their native one, and all sides to that, as well.
I haven’t drunk at the well of Owen Jones’ wisdom, but I gather the word “chav” ggoes well beyond its intended meaning and, when used by middle-class people, includes any working-class person, especially if poor and/or northern.
Admittedly I’m not socially or economically middle-class, but I probably am culturally (if that makes sense) and I had a holiday in Shropshire early this year and I do think these staycations are, or are starting to be more socially acceptable than, say, a caravan site (not that there’s anything wrong with staying there if you use it as a base and avoid the “entertainments”). I couldn’t afford to go overseas anyway, but I certainly advise getting to know one’s near abroad (it was less than 2 hours from home).
It is all very complicated really. But I do like Bournemouth.
Teresa :Lewis says
I have read that book and while I don’t condone the behaviour of what is described as chavvy I think the book is about the demonisation of the working class. Owen includes the so-called underclass in with the working class and white collar non professional workers and so do I. Stop using the term underclass. Chav is just a youth tribe or sub culture and the default one at that so if you don’t decide to become a goth, emo, pagan hippy or geek it’s easy to get sucked into chavdom. But it’s also a state of mind and I’ve seen chavvy behaviour in rock fans who dress in black as well. Chavs can be upper, middle or working class. Prince Harry was chav-like at one time. Celebs set the standard for chav dress and behaviour and they’re not poor.