Not for the first time, I read a happening journalist decrying 50+ year old white guys the other day, with a commentary on the under-achievement of white, working class youth in another article. As I hawked my novel Where’s Sailor Jack? round literary agents, too many of them appeared to share that mindset. They were young, female and metropolitan.
I’m white, male and 70+. My grandparents were manual working class with my parents making modest strides into the lower middle. None of my grandparents, male or female, would have had the vote before 1918, which I think has some relevance to the rest of this piece. I was born in 1945 as the war finished to a rationed world in a northern village, living in terraced house with an outside lavatory. I use that word not because I’m posh but that I still can’t bring myself to say ‘loo’. It represents to me people further into the middle-class than I was, although I know that to others it’s ‘naff’ for entirely the opposite reason. Sadly the word ‘bog’ no longer seems to have any currency. My early years were not hardship, just much less materialistic than what has followed, and they were soon to be an asset. Grammar school, Oxford University and a good, lucrative career came along, and now a prosperous retirement.
For people my age, the sixties seemed to be the first time when the lower class had a real shout. I didn’t expect it to be the only time. Men prospered more initially than women in Harold Wilson’s white hot heat of the technological revolution, with science and engineering at that stage their preserve. The big liberal issue was racial intolerance and the white lower classes were soon accepting of this agenda, evidenced by interbreeding on a significant scale. The sexual revolution just appeared to happen as other constraints were abandoned. Women’s equality lagged civil rights by nearly a decade. The lower class exuberance and energy of the sixties scene was mainly male with the pop groups but Dusty, Cilla and Twiggy were in it.
When women’s lib did arrive it always seemed to me more middle class than what went before it. Since then, for the working class, the last fifty years have seen intelligent jobs in engineering all but disappear and their culture in music, the arts and literature be taken over by the metropolitan blob.
So much so that while white, working class, male under-achievement can be argued to be the biggest social problem in the country other perhaps than terrorism, there is little pressure to do anything about it on either side of politics. Do you think that the centenary of universal male suffrage will get many fanfares?
I ended up self-publishing. The story including not only some business but also science and religion without the necessary sneer was palpably a problem for the agents I tried. In these areas, they all seem to be insufficiently well-read to know how trite and intellectually weak the present orthodoxy is. I can understand that Larkin’s 1963 doesn’t count as the start of the modern age for them the way it does for me. Despite our modest beginnings, they rightly think that my cohort have taken more out overall than we’ve put in. But that does not apply going that bit further back. My parents had the depression and the war to contend with; my grandparents had both those, plus another much worse war and the black hole of a social structure from which there was little escape.
All voices raised against the prevailing group-think are made to seem reactionary. I don’t believe anyone could fairly make that critique of my novel. Present thinking is good for neither social continuity nor cohesion. A voice old enough to have known and liked Victorian grandparents which accepts that many older people today are doing too well and that today’s young, at least those without affluent parents, are getting as bum a start in life as their great-grandparents did, should be heard. It’s time these class considerations got a look-in and not be out-trumped by race and gender equality. Am I turning into a Marxist?