Upstairs Downstairs – where’s your head?

CaptureMy paternal Grandmother, long dead, used to work “downstairs.” You know what I mean – big country house, think Chatsworth. Upstairs were the landed gentry. Downstairs were the servants. We’re probably talking 1930s and 1940s. Through the war. It was a symbiotic relationship that probably worked, at the time, and sort of.

When I was a teenager…

…my Gran cleaned houses in Bearsden. Let’s say it was 1980. One of the houses she cleaned was near my school gate. I jumped over the fence one lunchtime to go and see my Gran. I think I had convinced her to remove a fiver out of my post office savings account that I was going to blow on a Mitre 5 – the football de nos jours.

The lady of the house (born c. 1900 I’d say) was there when I knocked. She asked me what I was going to do after I left school. I said I was going to University to study Chemistry.

My Gran told me…

…later that the lady had expressed huge and unwelcome surprise that someone related to her cleaner could scale such heights. In fact she doubted it could happen and thought I was probably making it up.

My Gran was shocked herself that I was going to University. She was genuinely distressed when I stayed on to do the PhD. She told me it really was time I got a job so that I could look after my mother.

I remember reading some feedback about me…

…at an ICI assessment centre. Say around 1991, Wilton, Teesside. Three day event. Hard to pass. One of the assessors, a man whose ancestors were probably upstairs people wrote (knowing it would be read by me) that there was “something of the barrow boy about Mark.” Now I have no problem with barrow boys but I suspect this was not a full-on complement. But the twits had to pass me. The worm was turning.

A few months ago I took my boys to peer through the window of the Maclaren dealership in Knutsford. They make supercars at superprices. We were not the only gawpers. There was a greasy smear across the length of the plate glass window at about three feet off the ground. Little boys with sticky fingers.

Me and my boys pushed open the door…

…and walked into the empty showroom. We were treated like kings. The boys got free posters and other stuff of immense value to boys. Photos were taken. Chats with the staff were had. I could be new money you know.

We were in there for twenty minutes. I could see the envious faces of the wee boys outside whose father’s had insufficient nerve to push the heavy door open.

The same thing worked a few miles away at the Aston Martin dealership in Wilmslow. They could not have been nicer. They were upset that I wouldn’t accept a test drive.

The world has changed.

It wasn’t so long ago in this sceptered isle that you could tell with high accuracy if someone had money and education by the way they dressed and their accent. This has largely broken down.

But there’re a lot of people who know their place. They limit themselves.

And as for the people who think they know your place – they are rapidly going the way of the dinosaurs.

So where’s your head – upstairs or downstairs?

4 Responses to Upstairs Downstairs – where’s your head?

  1. Keith Plumb July 16, 2013 at 11:04 am #

    I remember being chucked our of a wine tasting many year’s ago when I turned up with my student mates. Nowadays I buy plenty of wine but never from posh distributors.

    They forgot the basic rule that students often earn plenty of money later in life and their tastes are malleable at that age and can be turned onto your products.

    Tough luck Mr Distributor!

  2. Ian Brodie July 16, 2013 at 11:05 am #

    Your Gran cleaned houses in a Bears Den? Blimey. You Scots are even tougher than I thought.

    Good food for thought Mark. Despite living in a mining village my gran always used to vote Tory with the cheery phrase “the toffs know best”. I wonder how many of us have a little voice like that still going on in our heads? Except instead of toffs we substitute various figures – celebs, experts, rich people.


  3. Robert Sloss July 16, 2013 at 11:18 am #

    The voting thing is about tribes and not about policies.

    I suspect that things have not changed as fast as we all like to think. Despite all this talk of equality of opportunity social movement has decreased in the last 30 years and not increased and this is true for the home of the “Free”, the US.

    Where Mark is right is that it is harder to see who is who because of the ubiquitous nature of casual clothes, though my daughter tells me in Exeter the Ra’s (as she refers to them!) do have a uniform.

  4. Ian Brodie July 16, 2013 at 12:06 pm #

    Robert – the voting absolutely had nothing to do with policies, you’re. My gran had this inbuilt belief that rich people (or in particular, the landed gentry) were better than she was, so they should be trusted to run the country.

    You’re right too – all the data shows that in the UK and US there is less social mobility than their used to be. Yet paradoxically, certainly in my experience, there is less deference to the rich and powerful. The World Values survey over the last 25 years has tracked this too – significant decreases in deference to authority in almost every country and an increased willingness to protest or complain.


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