The internal struggle one undergoes regarding self-image when trying to 'reconcile a working class background with the pseudo middle class status conferred by a university education' has been discussed endlessly. In fact, I bet some universities actually run a module in it. It's an adorably liberal dilemma that implicitly perpetuates the notion that working class people are unread, inarticulate and ignorant with great tenderness and charm. The clash was never a big issue for me, though. I was from working class Wolverhampton, I went to study history, I met my first upper middle class person - his name was 'Jeremy', he came from Surrey, and he collected SS memorabilia: everything, clearly, was precisely as I'd imagined it. I gained a degree, but absolutely no desire to reach a point in my mid-thirties where I could say, '...well we always go to this delightful little place in France - honestly, the villagers practically consider us locals now.' Comfortable with myself as a working class graduate, I signed on, and that was that.
Then, suddenly - about fifteen years later - I'm walking my children to school and Second Born calls to First Born (who's racing ahead of him through the park), 'Jonathan - not so fahhst.' My knees buckle under me and I have to steady myself against a (fortunately never used) dog waste bin. It's not the first occasion that something like this has happened, but for some reason this time it hits home. I realise that I've been in denial. I've heard First Born tell his younger brother to, 'Get off the grahhs,' and yet put up a psychological wall. I've quarantined my ears, so that they were unable to infect my brain with the knowledge that my children were blatantly saying, 'garahhge,' instead of 'garidge.'
You're unlikely to believe this, but Wolverhampton does have 'posh areas'. However, we don't remotely live in one of them. Our boys simply go to Quite A Nice School. It isn't like the school I went to - that's to say, those children in the catchment area who actually bother attending don't spend every break time fighting each other with hammers - but it's not Gayhurst. Somehow, though, all of my children's friends appear to be entirely snot-free young lads totally wired on politeness and Received Pronunciation. It's eerie and disconcerting. I'll be asking a nine year old boy if he wants to stay for tea, but be unable to prevent myself shuffling awkwardly as I do so - uneasily aware that the kid is not only enunciating more effectively than I am, but is also far, far better dressed too. Instead of 'Sam', it's all I can do to prevent myself from addressing him as 'Mr Endean'. I've noticed that I'll often - overly often - introduce myself to First Born's school friends as 'Jonathan's father.' I now realise that this is because I want to make it clear to them that I am Jonathan's father - not 'the help'.
But, I have to reiterate, the cause of the problem doesn't lie solely with the school. Seductive as it always is to blame the teachers when confronted by a group of children behaving in a disturbing and unfathomable manner, I can't honestly abdicate all responsibility. One must look to the family too, and it's quite clear that something in the home environment is at least partly to blame for my two young boys going off the rails. I mean, in the house, insulated from their genteel peers and shielded from the persistent, pounding, state-sponsored refining influence of their classrooms, my children - my children - can still be seen to EAT AT THE TABLE, instead of off their laps in front of the TV! Where the hell did that come from? It's like a knife in my heart. They are slipping away from me. They prefer fresh, unsweetened orange juice to proper raspberryade made in the traditional way from nothing but pure sugar and E numbers: it's like standing here watching my own cultural apocalypse. They think spaghetti is boiled and added to a sauce rather than hoop-shaped and on toast for God's sake. What has become of my heritage? Where can one find a continuation of me in them? Who will shop at Matalan when I am gone?
Am I the only parent to be experiencing this trauma? Is no one else out there buffeted by feelings of alarm and disorientation as they watch, powerlessly, the gentrification of their own genes? Perhaps we should form a support group: we'll meet the first Thursday of each month - you bring the Sunny D., and I'll make some crisp sandwiches.