2007 - 2022

The Social Distance Between Us

The Social Distance Between Us is the new book by Darren McGarvey which looks at the myths of elite rule and meritocracy and asks simply: ‘If all the best people are in all the top jobs, why is Britain such a fucking bin fire?’ In an exclusive for Bella the author reflects on the contradictions and irony of his own recent success.

Author’s Note: The following article contains the original (since omitted) preface to my forthcoming book The Social Distance Between Us: How Remote Politics Wrecked Britain. This section was removed in the final stages for reasons of brevity; with an already lengthy introduction I felt frontloading the book may inhibit the sense of urgency I wish to rouse in all who read it.  

It was at the height of a long, hot summer in 2018, in an overbearing corner of central London, that my life as a fully paid-up member of Britain’s lower classes ended abruptly. The morning after winning the Orwell Prize for my ‘brutal’, ‘harrowing’, ‘unflinchingly honest’ memoir about poverty, it occurred to me that I could, for the first time, afford to travel home to Glasgow in first class.

Upgrading to first class eliminates entirely so many of the discomforts, inconveniences and frustrations associated with a standard train journey and should have felt somewhat exciting. Instead, I was gripped by a sense of hypocrisy. After all, hadn’t I made a bit of name for myself calling out the pampered and comfortable middle classes, insulated, as they often are, from poverty’s unpleasant effects? Is first-class travel not simply one of the many mechanisms available to them by which they are able to hermetically seal themselves off from the experiences of those further down the food chain?

Having walked away from the Royal Society of Arts only the night before, safe in the knowledge that I had secured the medium-term prosperity of my young family, and exhausted from being ferried around London for three days, I reasoned that I had earned the right to celebrate my success. That I should treat myself. Travelling in economy for five hours is not the hardest thing in the world to do, but the minimal personal space and seating, which seem tailored to create restlessness and discomfort, become even more unbearable when you know those in the front three carriages of the train suffer no such indignity. Finally, I could experience public transport as they did, rather than resentfully squashed in the train’s lower, more congested, carriages.

Yet the undeniable thrill of feeling I was finally moving up in the world, was tinged with a sense of betrayal. I immediately attempted to quieten this nagging resistance by further rationalising my decision. 

‘I deserve this, I’ve worked hard.’

‘It would give me time and space to get my work done.’

‘Train tickets are already pretty expensive so what’s the difference if I pay a bit more?’

‘It’ll be great research for the book. You can do a fashionably meta preface, conveying to readers the excruciation of knowing you are, on paper at least, becoming middle class.’

As I scrolled manically through the various upgrade options available, while checking  over my shoulder worried someone in the café would see me – like anybody in London cared – I looked and felt guilty, sensing I would soon pass through a crucible from which I would emerge profoundly changed. That success, moderate as it was, had already begun corrupting me. 

Perhaps I was being hard on myself? It is, after all, completely natural to want to travel in a quieter carriage where you can open a packet of Monster Munch without elbowing someone in the face. It’s also totally reasonable to do so if you can afford to. The conflict came not from possessing the means to travel in first class but from the awareness that most of the other passengers on the train did not. My conscience bothered me because I knew that by paying more to opt out of the unpleasant ‘standard’ experience, I would place another wedge between myself and the people I had for years tirelessly attempted to represent in my work – the working class, the poor and the vulnerable. 

As I boarded the train, hoping desperately that I would not bump into anyone who knew me, and took my place in first class, it became immediately apparent that many of my fellow travellers were not burdened by this tedious internal conflict. They seemed accustomed to commuting in relative comfort. I took my seat, placing my headphones over my ears to block out the chat of my racing mind. ‘My life will never be the same,’ I thought to myself. Then, perhaps typically, around two hours into the journey, the train drew to a sudden halt.

After about ten minutes, when no information was given as to why we had stopped in the middle of nowhere, passengers became agitated. Staff were despatched to first class to reassure us. The train had become so over-crowded that people from standard class began to filter through. Complimentary water followed, but only for those with first-class tickets. It was odd to observe how quickly order on the train was compromised simply by coming to a standstill.

After 30 minutes, I was left with no choice but to make the perilous journey to the shop in coach C, feeling this was a situation only a bag of enamel-pulverising Haribo could remedy. The automatic doors closed behind me, leaving me in a no-man’s land between first class and economy. In front of me, passengers were sitting on the floor, outside the toilets. An unpleasant waft of sewage permeated the air. I had visions of being pelted with eggs and tomatoes as I regressed further down the train and entered the first of a succession of over-crowded carriages and what felt like a deleted scene from Children of Men.

I had only been travelling in first class for a matter of hours and it appeared that I had already forgotten how awful the rest of the train can be when something goes wrong. Everything seemed lower down. The seats were visibly smaller, the people crammed together looking stressed and uncomfortable. Bags and cases too big to fit in the designated storage areas were stacked up precariously in whatever space was left beneath tables or behind seats. Exhausted parents bribed young children with chocolate and mobile phones to calm them, while other passengers decided to begin the party early, breaking out beer cans and bottles of wine, much to the frustration of their sober fellows. One man blasted 50 Cent’s Get Rich or Die Tryin’ from his mobile, wearing no headphones, mouthing every word. Another proclaimed to a distracted friend that he had ‘never seen the big deal about golf’, though clearly considered it a big enough deal to annoy everyone in the vicinity by talking loudly about it. 

The comforts of first class are all well and good. Even more so when the train breaks down. But when you’ve travelled alongside those in the standard carriages and know something of the fuss they can kick up when legitimate frustrations stir and begin to boil over, the complimentary gin does little to calm the dread. I began to worry that, in the end, I might pay rather more than the price on the ticket for a superior seat at the table. 

I no longer suffer financial insecurity. Not like I used to. If ever I worry about money, it’s only because I have become used to its consistent supply. Even when things feel tighter, opportunities and support are just a phone call or an email away. I’m healthier and happier. My horizons have broadened. My children enjoy a quality of life that I never had. I have turned down more opportunities in the last few years than most people are offered in a lifetime. And even when adversity strikes, I possess the material and emotional resources to absorb or mitigate it, not simply for myself, but also for people I love and care about.

The year preceding the pandemic was, perhaps, my first real glimpse into the parallel universe inhabited by those who travel in the first class carriage of British society. I have tasted that comfort, legitimacy and prosperity, and, to my surprise and occasional shame, have grown to rather enjoy it. 

Still, the degree of separation from poverty and hardship remains slight. I can never truly be middle class because the vast majority of my social connections, family, friends and acquaintances, still inhabit that world from which I have been temporarily spared. That world where one misstep can turn your life upside down. People I know and love continue to suffer great difficulties. Family and friends have been laid off, returned to prison, fallen into the nightmarish torment of addiction and alcoholism, been struck with ill-health – both mental and physical – and become homeless. Some have even perished, by accident or by suicide.

Like many of you, I do my best to support people and causes I care about, but every act of compassion and generosity seems somehow undermined – not by the inability of those struggling to lift themselves up, but by a society comprised of systems, processes and institutional cultures which push them down and hold them there, in spite of their best efforts. A society which is so keen to cater to the needs, aspirations and assumptions of the well-to-do, that those at the bottom have begun to suffer even more acutely than usual. 

Given my recent good fortune, I remain all too aware that I may no longer be capable, try as I might, of authentically channelling the struggles faced by increasing numbers of individuals, families, and communities. I am also very conscious that I lack any formal academic training and am not the most learned person. Then again, knowing very little appears no obstacle for politicians and commentators, who are either toxifying my newsfeeds with their puerile observations or being paraded on my television screen day-by-day, broadcasting their ignorance. 

I feel that the three-year period throughout which I have been largely insulated from poverty has already blunted my senses and narrowed my field of vision. Though I remain hopeful that if a certain Eric Blair – who adopted the alias of George Orwell in an attempt to purge his Etonian heritage – was able to shed some much-needed light on the issue of inequality, poverty and class in Britain then I – someone who has lived it – may yet purge my survivor’s guilt by contributing something of value to the ongoing debate.

In my debut book, Poverty Safari, I attempted to animate much of the data around the impacts of social-deprivation by sharing my own experience of growing up in an alcoholic home in the eighties and nineties. In a desperate attempt to eschew the pitfalls of a standard misery-memoir, my lived-experience acted instead as a Trojan-horse, smuggling in social-commentary and political-analysis wherever I deemed it relevant, to lend some context to the behaviours, attitudes and adversities so often associated with working-class life. It was not written with the intention of becoming commercially or critically successful – it was aimed mainly at local left-wingers and charities – but it’s chaotic publication in 2017 quickly altered the course of my life. I effectively became middle-class overnight – on paper at least. 

There are few things more ironic than becoming financially comfortable off the back of a book you wrote about poverty. Despite the perks, there looms an unspoken but palpable threat this prosperity is conditional. That the opportunities and security I enjoy depend upon my willingness to play the role I have been designated – the diamond in the rough who talks about poverty – and may be withdrawn should I fail to conform to the prevailing attitude that Britain, despite its imperfections, is a fundamentally just country – something I do not believe. Yet, the gravity of the centre ground bears down upon me. How easy it would be to chalk my radical beliefs up to immaturity and use my children as an air-tight justification for taking everything I can get, like so many have done before me. Maybe I will at some point. But not this year.

Given that I have been commended so frequently by the great book-buying public, over the last few years, for my ‘brutal’, ‘harrowing, ‘unflinchingly honest’ accounts of poverty and social inequality, a mischievous part of me wonders how middle-class readers might respond to becoming the subject of my analysis, as opposed to the poor and downtrodden. Would they, having subjected themselves to sustained criticism, still find me ‘fair-minded’, ‘even-handed’ and ‘magnanimous’, as they have my musings on the working classes? Or is their generosity contingent on my serving up a gritty but in-the-end feel-good, ‘lived-experience’ page-turner, which does not disturb their moderate sensibilities?

I’ve spent the last two years travelling the country, attending events, making documentary films and appearing on television panel shows. I’ve gone from living on a relatively modest, often low income, to being in the top 9 per cent of earners in the UK. The financial security of my family is now frighteningly dependant on appealing to what I regard as Britain’s prevailing ‘middle-class consensus’. It has therefore suddenly become counterintuitive to say or write anything that may offend, insult or antagonise this most lucrative demographic, though this concern has not yet been overpowered completely by my immutable sense that something is very wrong with our society.

I’ve spoken in packed venues across the country. Performed my own one man shows at the Edinburgh Fringe. Been paid a month’s wages for one hour’s work. And felt the seductive draw of fame. I’ve bathed in rooftop jacuzzies, stayed in plush hotels with complimentary umbrellas and endless mood-lighting configurations. My life has changed immeasurably, to the extent that merely speaking factually about it may sound to some like I am insensitively tooting my own horn. But even when I get temporarily drunk on an inevitable delusion of grandeur and overestimate both my importance and ability, I have still not strayed far from the world I left behind. Things have gone well for me, but my view into that other world remains largely unobstructed.

I’ve sat on cold pavements in the bitter winter with beggars, asking them why they would rather wander the streets than live in supported accommodation. I’ve pleaded with alcoholics with wet-brain to give sobriety one last shot before they end up dead – and read their obituaries in the paper weeks later. I’ve stood in a freezing flat with a single mother as she read me the GP letter confirming the dampness and the cold in a council-provided temporary accommodation was causing her one-year-old’s respiratory problems. I’ve walked a frosty cemetery with a recovering heroin addict as she laid flowers at the graves of her entire family who perished from drug overdoses, and who are mostly buried in paupers’ graves because she can’t afford the headstones. 

I’ve wandered the backstreets of popular English seaside towns, in the richest county in the UK, and found living conditions unworthy of dogs, where poor governance – and not immigrants – represents the singular threat to local culture and social cohesion. I’ve sat with youth workers at their wits end as diversionary services are cut amid a surge in gang and knife violence, walked with prison wardens who know the criminal justice system is broken and spoken to officers in the probation service who could have told you five years ago that privatising it would only create more social and financial cost further down the line.

I’ve chased down councillors to get vulnerable women, pondering sex work as a means of survival, into safer accommodation, and even – perhaps unethically – threatened one local authority that if they did not locate suitable accommodation for a young man who was suicidal I would go after them the next day in the paper. And I’ve sat in utter heartbroken disbelief as a man with Tourette’s syndrome and serious mental health problems, grieving the loss of his friends to suicide, began convulsing on the floor after I asked him about what it’s like to go through the DWP’s personal independence payment assessment. Sadly, too many in my tax bracket only bear witness to this nightmarish social reality through the media they consume, if they even glimpse it at all. They remain so far from the action that even where they would earnestly wish to bring about change, they often don’t know where to start.

Post-industrial Britain is in the grip of a feverish malaise. A ravine cuts through us, partitioning winners from losers. The powerful from the powerless. The vocal from the voiceless. The deserving from the undeserving. I find myself caught in the middle between a simpler existence, where all I need to care about is my own family and securing their quality of life, and the world I have only just escaped, characterised by ill-health, social deprivation and a dangerous dearth of opportunity. The irony of making a few quid from writing a book about poverty is not yet lost on me. Nor is the fact that in that love letter to Britain’s underclass, I cautioned those on the sharp end of poverty against unrestrained and toxic anger, when the truth is, I have never been more furious than I am right now.

If ‘brutal’, ‘harrowing’, ‘unflinching honesty’ is what you want, that is exactly what you are going to get.

 

You can pre-order a copy of the book right here: The Social Distance Between Us – Darren McGarvey (smarturl.it)

Help to support independent Scottish journalism by subscribing or donating today.

 

Comments (31)

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  1. Tom Ultuous says:

    Great read Darren. We’ll forgive you for the first class travel provided you don’t turn up here next week
    https://www.racingpost.com/news/latest/suits-socks-and-sandals-royal-ascot-dress-code-and-what-you-need-to-know/561043

    While that’s always been a “rub our noses in it why don’t you” event it’s going to be particularly the case this year. All the worse that it follows so soon after the royal rub our noses in it. What is wrong with people? What’s keeping Le Terror 2? As I’ve said before, if Mari Antoinette** had been a British PM when she coined “can’t they eat cake” she would’ve been voted in for another 2 terms (at least).

    ** I’m sure I read somewhere she didn’t say it.

  2. 220609 says:

    A curiously self-indulgent piece; a meditation on celebrity, and how it disrupts the celebrated’s preferred self-identity, on which that celebrity has been built; and a parallel meditation on the lack of meritocracy in ‘a society comprised of systems, processes and institutional cultures which push them [those struggling to lift themselves up] down and hold them there, in spite of their best efforts.’.

    I wish Darren well in his penance. May he succeed in whatever disciplinary or devotional practice he adopts to purge himself of his ‘survivor’s guilt’.

    There is also little risk of offending, insulting or antagonising the lucrative demographic on which his celebrity depends; Britain’s prevailing middle class consensus can’t get enough of its poverty porn.

    1. BSA says:

      Why is it self indulgent for him to examine the contradictions of his situation ? He is entitled to his demons. He is not a celebrity either. He is a successful author. Maybe you think he should never have written anything at all and left us all a lot poorer. As for your lofty dismissal of the middle classes and the lucrative poverty porn – why didn’t you just call him a whore ?

      1. 220610 says:

        ‘Why is it self indulgent to examine the contradictions of his situation?’

        Well, that question kinda answers itself.

        I haven’t read any of Darren’s books or seen any of his TV shows or chat-show appearances or attended any of his gigs on the political stand-up circuit.. But the lifestyle he describes in his article is that of a celebrity, is it not?

        And is poverty porn – or any other exploitation of vulnerable people (including Darren with his ‘demons’ himself) for entertainment purposes – not to be deplored?

        1. I mean pleading complete ignorance of a subject before pontificating about it is some feat … if you literally don’t know anything about a subject maybe take a wee pause for breath?

          1. 220610 says:

            I was commenting only on what Darren wrote in the article above and the issues to which it gives rise; not on the ‘subject’ of Darren generally, of which – as I say – I know precious little.

    2. Ally JG says:

      220609, I think you have misread. DM’s next book turns the porn studio lights onto the middle class themselves. A kind of “see how they like it” move.

      “a mischievous part of me wonders how middle-class readers might respond to becoming the subject of my analysis, as opposed to the poor and downtrodden. Would they, having subjected themselves to sustained criticism, still find me ‘fair-minded’, ‘even-handed’ and ‘magnanimous’, as they have my musings on the working classes?”

      1. Ally JG says:

        It’s also potentially making very good use of his changed circumstances.

        Actually, I reckon he’ll have had to work through all the survivor’s guilt stuff he talks about above, through writing the book. This is only a preface, remember. He’s just presenting his torments here as the beginning of the story.

        I look forward to reading it to find out.

        1. 220614 says:

          Is that right? About halfway through his article, a mischievous part of Darren wonders ‘how middle-class readers might respond to becoming the subject of my analysis, as opposed to the poor and downtrodden’. But, as far as I know, this scenario remains hypothetical; it’s clear from his publisher, Penguin’s, sales pitch that his BBC Radio 4 Book of the Week remains poverty porn for the consumption his of middle class customers.

          Just to be clear: ‘poverty porn’ = ‘any type of media, be it written, photographed or filmed, which exploits the poor’s condition in order to generate the necessary sympathy for selling newspapers, increasing charitable donations, or support for a given cause. It is also a term of criticism applied to media that objectify people in poverty for the sake of entertaining a privileged audience.’ (‘Poverty porn? Who benefits from documentaries on Recession Britain?’ Joseph Rowntree Foundation. August 23, 2013.)

          But I’ll tak a daunner owre ti Dumfries and hae a swatch at a display copy of his new book in Waterstones when it comes out to see if his analysis does indeed objectify his middle class readers as opposed to ‘the poor and downtrodden’.

  3. SleepingDog says:

    Are the passengers in lower classes subsidising those in first class, is perhaps a relevant question I would have asked. And from thence…

    Not sure where you were going with “living conditions unworthy of dogs”. Grrrrr.

    As analysis, it lacks an international dimension. The British Empire has an infamous history of yonder awa’. If we import half the food consumed here (by farmgate value), what does that say about the social distance between Britons and their life supporters? And does being deprived of life-supporting roles contribute to the social malaises described here?

  4. Roland says:

    Authenticity aside, you can maybe just accept the decent pay checks for being a damn good writer and communicator. They are few and far between. The addiction series on bbc is very good for addicts of all classes !

    I recall a book (1990s?) called Lords of Poverty about well intentioned folk getting scooped up into the international gravy train ostensibly representing and aiding the world’s poor.

    In my 50 plus middle classed years I have only once traveled 1st class – so long ago it was…

  5. Niemand says:

    I saw your Fringe show, 2019 I think and really liked it Darren and seen you on TV and though that good too. Not read the books.

    You face a dilemma many before have – how to carry on doing what you do when the success it brings washes away the rationale for doing it in the first place. Plenty of musicians from the wrong side of the tracks who hit fame have been there before. Rogers Waters kind of addresses it in The Wall but I find it insufferable because the art then becomes about him and this is the worry here – no-one really likes someone who gets on in the world but then moans about the pitfall of success.

    I enjoy your stuff and the voice you have given to unheard people and their suffering and the important things you reveal have real value, but do I care about you? No, not really but I don’t mean that in a callous way, I just don’t know you to feel much, but if you become too preoccupied about your identity then it will get in the way of what you are actually best at. You can no longer live the world fully that you come from and that you write about and you’re gonna have to get over that and get over yourself at the same time.

    Alternatively you could simply write and explore something totally different – maybe your focus on the gross inequalities of this island has had its day. Can you re-invent yourself? One of the hardest things to do is to look at what one thinks one’s identity is, and think right, fuck it, it’s a not fixed, it’s a chimera and I am now going to be someone else. But people do it and sometimes they get a whole new lease of creative life.

    1. Adrian Roper says:

      My advice to Darren is to not let his success create a major gulf between himself and the less successful (ie ordinary) people of his country and his origins. Live in a place where there’s a big social mix. Rich and poor all using the same shops and pubs. Help to create or sustain such places. They exist and need defending.
      And only travel first class if you have a very good reason – such as celebrity harassment.
      I have only traveled first class once in a 67 year life. I was waiting happily enough for a seat in the ordinary carriages when someone I knew in a rights-lobbying quango invited me to join them. It was Paddington and they took me through a discreet door to the first class waiting room. Waiter service and free fancy sandwiches. A social distancing mechanism. Never again.

    2. Niemand says:

      Just listened to Darren with others on Start the Week (R4), all talking about poverty and similar. It was good, each person had something valuable to hear. What I find with Darren is though he talks about being angry (and his latest book reflects that, he says), he does not come across as angry in the sense of hostility but more righteous and desiring to be understood, listened to. This is good since it makes him approachable and people are much more likely to listen. But it also makes him more likely to be on R4 and acceptable to the middle classes generally.

      It’s the old question – do you try and change from the inside or the outside? Success is more likely from the inside, though would never be as radical, but there is also danger of absorption, something Darren talked about in terms of the left not really being serious about changing anything big. But he must also be thinking about himself.

      Now listening to him reading his latest book – Radio 4 ain’t a bad station really, arguably one of the best of its kind in the world. I applaud Darren, the reading is excellent,, and despite what I said above I’d keep going, you are having an impact, and just accept the personal rewards – you’re a rapper and they don’t have shame about success. There is no reason to become ‘absorbed’ so you become ineffective, that is up to you.

      1. 220613 says:

        But is he saying anything that BBC Radio 4 listeners don’t already know and enjoy wringing their hands over?

        And where’s the virtue in being acceptable or non-threatening to the middle classes generally? We should be offending the sensibilities and threatening the security of the oppressor class rather than appealing as ‘victims’ to its conscience.

        As we learned from the Black Power movement, only the oppressed themselves can liberate the oppressed from the oppressor and the treacherous embrace of ‘endorsed spokesmen’.

        1. Niemand says:

          The ‘acceptable’ to the middle classes bit was actually more of a critique.

          Darren is a writer and performer so arguably he is not at the forefront of any change. That has to come from elsewhere. His role is highlight and bring home the issues. If you really want to be active in making change happen you would become a politician or some kind of lobbying activist.

          “only the oppressed themselves can liberate the oppressed from the oppressor and the treacherous embrace of ‘endorsed spokesmen’”

          I mean this simply isn’t true is it? Women got the vote ultimately through a change in the law, for example. Much wider representation of ethnic minorities and woman on, say, R4 has come about through policies of the BBC. And so on.

          1. 220614 says:

            Indeed, Darren isn’t a politician or a lobbyist; he’s an entertainer who writes books and makes TV shows for the consumption of middle class audiences, who endorse him as some kind of articulate spokesman for – or voice of – the lower classes.

            And women did get the vote through a change in the law. But the law had to be dragged kicking and screaming to that change by the agency of those women themselves. They didn’t get it through the benevolence of their oppressor class.

          2. Niemand says:

            You said ‘only the oppressed themselves can liberate the oppressed from the oppressor’. Women did indeed kick up the fuss but it was the so-called oppressor that had the power to change the law, and did so. The women also had powerful ‘endorsed spokesmen’ speaking for them to help persuade those with the power.

          3. 220615 says:

            I can’t think of one suffragette whom the patriarchy endorsed in the same way that the ‘middle classes’ have endorsed Darren as a spokesman for the ‘lower classes’.

  6. Paddy Farrington says:

    A great read, thank you. I hope the new book does well. Keep using the very special abilities you have developed: they really do make a difference, and your voice is needed now more than ever. As for the first class travel, just sit back and enjoy it (not sure about the rooftop jaccuzzi though).

  7. AudreyMacT says:

    Now too much of nothing can make a man feel ill at ease
    One man’s temper rises while another man’s temper might freeze
    In the day of confession we cannot mock a soul
    Oh when there’s too much of nothing no one has control
    Say hello to Valerie say hello to Vivian
    Send them all my salary on the waters of oblivion

    – Zimmerman

  8. Ian S says:

    Darren, broadening perspective, increased awareness, accumulation of experience. Regardless of path, they come with age: unavoidable.

    The people on the train, they can’t care that Monster Munch are easier in first class. For them, just another long train journey. Blah etc.

    Eric Blair believed in injustice. You do too. Your perspective has changed because you have moved somewhat, socially. You are still you.

    I believe in you. I believe in better than dog eats dog. Thank you for expressing your own wishes theretofore.

    Best wishes etc.

  9. florian albert says:

    John Harris has a, mostly enthusiastic, review of Darren McGarvey’s book in today’s Observer/Guardian. He highlights the story of Michael, a homeless man living in Aberdeen. Michael went to England for three weeks to visit his family and came back to find himself evicted from his council house.
    The problem is that is that it does not ring true. Specifically, it comes across as only part of a story.
    Scottish councils have a well deserved reputation for being bureaucratic and insensitive. Nevertheless, they would not evict a tenant simply for going away for three weeks. Clearly, there is more than Darren McGarvey is outlining. It is hard to avoid thinking that the missing details may explain why the council acted as it did.

  10. Ben Yorkston says:

    Love the details.

    You play a good game bro.

    A shame some people know it.

  11. Joshu's Dog says:

    Surely the poor in the UK travel by coach and not train, and in fact, the truly poor don’t travel much at all.

    The kind of ABC1 income stream we’re looking at here seems to tell us less about what it means to transcend the working class experience and more about the profitable hustle that is successfully courting mainstream media institutions.

    1. 220613 says:

      I remember sitting upstairs, in the cigarette fug of a crowded 16, in the late 1980s, as it sat at the lights at Broomhouse crossroads, waiting to turn right down Saughton Road North towards Corstorphine, and a wee boy clambering up onto the front seat above the driver, surveying the entire top deck, and saying in a loud voice to his dad “Are ALL these people too poor to have a car?”

      But you’re right: ‘lower class’ folk would be more likely to get a coach back to Glasgow after being fêted by UCL at the RSA. Last time I went down in London, I paid £36 to go National Express from Carlisle. The same journey would have cost me £71 (standard) by train. Nae contest!

  12. Wul says:

    I heard you on telly once Darren, saying that people often say to you “You are very articulate…” but what they don’t say is “..for a guy from a housing scheme”.

    This annoyed me because I have often thought that you are a very articulate and lucid writer and presenter. Period. Not for a guy from a scheme, but compared to all the other writers and presenters out there. You are very good at what you do. Keep doing it. No-one else is speaking from your corner and people need to hear what you have to say.

    1. Niemand says:

      It’s a really good point. It is kind of self-defeating to always see yourself as second class because of your background. And I agree, Darren is just good at what he does regardless. I always liked Mark E. Smith’s idea of the ‘prole art threat’ and his unashamed idea of the articulate working class being so on their own terms.

    2. SleepingDog says:

      @Wul, I enjoyed Darren McGarvey’s Class Wars on BBC Scotland, which provided some interesting insights, but (if memory serves) I got the sense it was working too hard to generalise from the presenter’s Glasgow background, which does not very well apply even elsewhere in Scotland:
      https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000s7hd
      Throughout history, some people on the lowest rungs of social hierarchies have been well-educated and articulate, whether Greek slaves prized as tutors and secretaries by rich Romans, or apprentice printers, or Ottoman administrators, and so on. As Francis Green and David Kynaston wrote in Engines of Privilege: Britain’s Private School Problem, fee-paying education had been through much of modern UK history typically poor quality, and noted complaints of poor-quality classical education, large class sizes, ‘pervasive brutality’ peaking in early 19th century, debauchery, vice, drunkenness and bullying. Sports were used to build the officer class, competing in houses, enabling bullies. 1930s Eton had 3x as many classics masters as science+history combined. British aristocracy have hardly been models of articulacy as a class. The luxurious estates of many fee-paying British boarding schools with their multiple theatres are quite recent developments.

      Nowadays, where workers are more likely to be information workers, or work in the service industries, there is less utility for thick regional accents. Edinburgh seems to have been an early favourite for call centres because enough available workers spoke a clear version of English that could be understood nationally (and internationally). Presumably Glaswegian accents became exaggerated for reasons which might not apply today, tomorrow, or in different parts of the world. A bit more intersectional analysis might have uncovered women’s roles as storytellers, family historians and trainers of the next generation’s.

      I was struck by the claim in the BBC documentary series The Secret History of Writing that our original phonetic alphabet was likely created (once and only once) in some migrant camp by a polyglot collection of miners.

  13. Derek says:

    Book Of The Week on Radio 4 this week (didn’t hear it yesterday).

    1. 220614 says:

      You can catch up with it on BBC Sounds.

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