At the chalkface: On the cusp

Written by: Ian Whitwham | Published:

Ah, but true love rarely runs smooth. It’s not that simple. Class can ruin everything. Will Charlie feel the pull of his roots? Will he have to betray them?

His name is Charlie. He’s in 11th year, top stream. He’s White working class, whatever that means. He doesn’t know anymore. Things keep shifting. The received and condescending wisdom of all other classes seems to be that he belongs to the one which must shunned and avoided by any means possible.

Charlie grew up on an estate with his mates. It was tough and tribal. You know – desperate parenting, no fathers, no books, no bedtime stories, the wrong food and not enough literacy or love. Many of his mates larked about in primary school and were sunk by the sixth year.

Charlie learned to look after himself. He did the usual things. He played football under Westway, went to Loftus Road with the Rangers Boys, sang the anthems behind the home goal, joined the Dale Youth Boxing Club, before it was burned down, did wheelies on a baby-bike into incoming traffic and listened to ferocious sounds in his bedroom.

So far so stereotypical...

Then, in the 10th year, he has Ms Jupe for English. She’s really good. She gets him. She listens to him. She takes him seriously. She sees he’s very bright. She doesn’t want to change the way he speaks, just the way he writes. The class do Animal Farm. Wow. A revelation! She suggests he reads 1984. It is a lightbulb moment. He goes to the top stream. He starts to leave his mates, who mock him. They still sit in low streams, blanking lessons.

Charlie starts to disown his mother’s culture. She don’t talk proper.

Then he meets Lily. Lily’s in the 12th year. White middle class, whatever that means. She reads books. She plays piano. They listen to Regina Spektor.

They go to the fair on Shepherds Bush Green. He wins a teddy bear on the coconut shy. The coconut’s illegally stuck to the stand. No matter. He knocks it flying, wins the bear and gives it to her baby sister. Ah. Lily swoons. He’s tough, handsome and sensitive. She’s deep, gorgeous and a laugh. And she couldn’t care less about his accent.

“We’re just like Romeo and Juliet,” she jokes. They’ve been together for six months now. They’re the best thing they’ve ever known.

Ah, but true love rarely runs smooth. It’s not that simple. Class can ruin everything. Will Charlie feel the pull of his roots? Will he have to betray them? And his mother? Has Ms Jupe saved him? Has Lily? Will she return to the middle class?

Must he return to the working class? There’s always a price to pay, a penance to be exacted, if you try to escape it. Surely he should aspire, shouldn’t he?

  • Ian Whitwham is a former inner city London teacher.


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