Up Front by Emma Hart

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Up Front: The C Word

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  • Angus Robertson,

    I am currently on the brink of taking the solemn vows of the middle classness - a first mortgage. And maybe someday I'll reach the realms of the upper middle classes - a second mortgage. But all the time I keep thinking what if I just keep renting, then I could have a sweet F6 Typhoon.

    But the other day I came home, and parked outside the neighbours' house was a huge shiny Holden Monaro with a personalised plate that said "FD H8R". It gave me a warm glow, followed by a trickle of cold remembered fear. It might be a mixed blessing, but it's something I hope I never lose.

    If you place a polite note under the windscreen wipers they'll move the eyesore before it degrades community values.

    Auckland • Since May 2007 • 984 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    I warn you, I'm already 1% done.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10633 posts Report Reply

  • Isabel Hitchings,

    My mother's family straddled the class barrier for a couple of generations. My nicely middle class grandmother caused some scandal (in pre WWII, rural England) by marrying an illegitimate farm boy and so my mother grew up in a series of houses slightly posher than her parents could really maintain and going to Grammar school on a scholarship. Mum went on to marry a young entomologist and emigrated to the colonies where, after a couple of years working for DSIR and doing rather nicely, Dad packed it all in to become an artist.

    By the time I was born Mum was working part time as a children's librarian and Dad was struggling to make a living as a craft-jeweller so we were cash poor but time rich and I grew up surrounded by books and interesting people. Sometimes we didn't have a car but I never really noticed that we were poor until after we weren't anymore.

    Christchurch • Since Jul 2007 • 719 posts Report Reply

  • Idiot Savant,

    How often do people beg you for money walking around NZ?

    Too often. And more often in recent years.

    Stopping people from needing to beg is one of the things we're meant to have a government for. And if it won't do it, then what bloody good is it?

    Palmerston North • Since Nov 2006 • 1711 posts Report Reply

  • Christopher Dempsey,

    I'm not sure of my class these days - one-off oddball seems to fit - but I just dont have any empathy whatsoever with the sort of people who reguard themselves as being way superior to - and uncaring of- any worker.

    Growing up in a very poor rural area certainly exposed one to a few home truths; poor Maori in dirt-poor ramshackle houses will give quite a bit of money (in relation to their income) when collecting for World Vision or some other worthy Christian charity. Rich people in the same neighbourhood gave well, little in comparison to their incomes.

    And having been in some shit jobs myself I always emphasize with the cleaners, cooks, orderlies, bus drivers, waiters and other basic job sorts of the world. They are WAY more important than me so I always thank them when I get the chance. A clean toilet at work is important so always thank the cleaners. Likewise using the bus to get to work. It's amazing how many people forget this basic truism.

    Parnell / Tamaki-Auckland… • Since Sep 2008 • 659 posts Report Reply

  • Lucy Stewart,

    I don't think population size has much to do with your chances of encountering the disparities. It's the income distribution. If anything, a small country makes it less likely you'll see the extremes. I met people in Australia who lived in houses that made the most fancy homes in Auckland look decidedly modest. And there were lots of bums too. How often do people beg you for money walking around NZ?

    There are fewer extremes, but your chances of encountering someone in a certain situation - school, uni, a mate's party - and then realising they are at a very different end of the spectrum to you are higher, I think, at least if you're noticing that the spectrum exists in the first place. Sort of a corollary to what George was saying about being able to cross boundaries very quickly in the right circumstances.

    But you certainly don't see the very obvious differences that you do in other countries - like, as you say, beggars - and I think that makes it much easier for people to pretend that the differences don't exist at all.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 2105 posts Report Reply

  • Islander,

    +1 Christopher Dempsey-

    and Ben Wilson - pats 899 pages of ms* 8>)


    *still needs a lot of work. Trimming, mainly-

    Big O, Mahitahi, Te Wahi … • Since Feb 2007 • 5643 posts Report Reply

  • JackElder,

    When I were a lad, I once asked my father the meaning of the word "bourgeoisie". He told me. I then asked if we were bourgeois. His response: "God, I hope so."

    Disclaimer: I bought a dinner jacket a few years ago because it was more cost effective to own one than to keep renting the damn things.

    Wellington • Since Mar 2008 • 708 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    and Ben Wilson - pats 899 pages of ms* 8>)

    <gulp/><looks hopelessly over assorted notes/>

    Disclaimer: I bought a dinner jacket a few years ago because it was more cost effective to own one than to keep renting the damn things.

    The kind of economy only available to the wealthy! I did the same, it cost $700 and paid itself off that year, I was invited to 7 black tie occasions and the standard suit hire was $100. Everything after that was gravy.

    There are fewer extremes, but your chances of encountering someone in a certain situation - school, uni, a mate's party - and then realising they are at a very different end of the spectrum to you are higher, I think, at least if you're noticing that the spectrum exists in the first place.

    True that, particularly since most of our best schools are public, and higher education is pretty cheap. But I would also suggest that classlessness isn't entirely mythical and probably on that score - access to a number of the things that traditionally distinguish class is very wide. In Ozzie I met very few people who hadn't gone to private schools.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10633 posts Report Reply

  • Sarah Wedde,

    How often do people beg you for money walking around NZ?

    In the Hutt Valley? Or just in Naenae?

    Lower Hutt • Since Nov 2006 • 66 posts Report Reply

  • Joanna,

    When I were a lad, I once asked my father the meaning of the word "bourgeoisie". He told me. I then asked if we were bourgeois. His response: "God, I hope so."

    Haha, ahhh diplomats. It's kind of weird that the bus service I took to school in Japan cost more than what my dad's salary in NZ would have been, and compared to all the Americans with their maids and (city) country clubs and all, we were poor. Because I got 500 yen pocket money a week (my mother's logic: "I could buy one record a month when I was your age, so you can buy one CD a month" Although she was a dip brat too) compared to $100+ like most of the other kids...

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 746 posts Report Reply

  • Megan Wegan,

    Also, I'm actually not an investment adviser and realized that it's not something you should do without qualification.

    Point taken. I just mean I would rather they spent the money on themselves than felt an obligation to leave me half a house. As long as I can have my grandmother's engagement ring, and a painting I love, I'll be OK.

    Disclaimer: I bought a dinner jacket a few years ago because it was more cost effective to own one than to keep renting the damn things.

    And if it is a good one, it should last you for years, paying for itself many times over.

    At least, this is how I justify these things to myself. I am very familiar with the CPW (Cost Per Wear) Index. My favourite pair of shoes got down to about 14 cents before I had to retire them. There's still enough of my working class inheritance in me that I might spend $200 on a dress, but I will make damn sure I am getting my money's worth.

    And if it helps, I intend to make sure Emma wears the hell out of her new dress. Even if I have to keep coming up with Very Fancy Party ideas to do it.

    and Ben Wilson - pats 899 pages of ms* 8>)

    Can I just say? This made me squee!

    Welly • Since Jul 2008 • 1275 posts Report Reply

  • Lucy Stewart,

    The kind of economy only available to the wealthy!

    Epitomised, because yes, this can never be mentioned enough, by boots. Including the other day, when I went to get my $180 pair of boots re-heeled for the second time in six years of ownership and my husband went to get new ones because his $50 boots had worn out. (He has finally been persuaded that spending more than $100 on a pair of shoes is not actually going to get him arrested by the Thrift Police.)

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 2105 posts Report Reply

  • Megan Wegan,

    Oh, Lucy, you made me click on a link about economics. If you are going to call a link 'boots', the least you can do is show me these. :)

    Welly • Since Jul 2008 • 1275 posts Report Reply

  • Islander,

    Megan Wegan - humbly pats bloody big heap of ms again.

    Which needs still, a lot of work (because it's basically 2 different stories I thought would work together. They dont. They jam each other.) Sooo- Ben W could still win-
    tho' (diabolical grin)

    I think not.

    Onwards!

    (Re: boots: I have worn, since I could buy my own, the very best I couldnt afford *(sandals, ditto.) But, sadly, they are not the gorgeousnesses portrayed: they are very very practical and - above all- totally comfortable. Reikers, Timberlands, Eccos, SWATs - you may have heard of that kind of stuff.)

    *It was always so good, after paying them off, that the boots were great for another several years.

    Big O, Mahitahi, Te Wahi … • Since Feb 2007 • 5643 posts Report Reply

  • Danielle,

    Once, long ago, when I was doing my MA in history at the University of Auckland, a fellow student in a seminar simply refused to acknowledge that class existed in New Zealand because 'my mother lived next door to a watersider's wife'. And then there was this long, frustrating exchange between her, and the lecturer, and the rest of us, which went along the lines of 'but the fact that you said that, and drew the distinction, means that there is, in fact, class in New Zealand. Geddit?' And then she would repeat her claim in various ways, and we would repeat ours, and finally we just had to drop the entire discussion because she did not get it, and never got it. And she was a graduate student in New Zealand history. It was a thoroughly weird experience that has stayed with me for over a decade.

    My grandfather's family looked down on my grandmother's family because they were Maori. My grandmother's family looked down on my grandfather's family because they were Irish. I'm not sure who won that battle. And everyone on my Cajun side was so incredibly working-class that they didn't even speak English until after World War II. My husband and I are the first people in our families to get university degrees. Now we call ourselves "self-hating bourgeois". Heh.

    Charo World. Cuchi-cuchi!… • Since Nov 2006 • 3828 posts Report Reply

  • giovanni tiso,

    My grandfather's family looked down on my grandmother's family because they were Maori. My grandmother's family looked down on my grandfather's family because they were Irish.

    Brilliant. It's like a Moebius strip of class contempt.

    Wellington • Since Jun 2007 • 7473 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    If she were still alive, my Nanna would be so viscerally disgusted by the amount of money my new dress cost

    Really? My Nanna and the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire had one thing in common -- the firm belief that spending money upfront on something comfortable, practical and stylish that would last several decades before turning to rags was eminently sensible. (OTOH, my grandparents weren't in the same boat as the Devonshires -- who had a pressing need to pour most of their capital into whatever part of Chatsworth was threatening to collapse at any given moment. Two centuries of maintenance deferred by determined whore-mongers who never saw an overdraft they couldn't blow out caught up.)

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • George Darroch,

    she did not get it, and never got it. And she was a graduate student in New Zealand history. It was a thoroughly weird experience that has stayed with me for over a decade.

    Weird indeed. But is it any less weird than the familiar trope that class does not exist in any concrete form in New Zealand, because it can be transcended ? This it seems, is essentially what Key and Clark stories tell us.

    However, it is very true that societies with more egalitarian distributions of wealth are also ones in which moving from lower to higher deciles are easier. And it is also true that New Zealand's stratification has increased markedly in the last 3 decades, as rapidly as anywhere in the world.

    So while cultural markers may not have changed, the income associated with them often has.

    WLG • Since Nov 2006 • 2264 posts Report Reply

  • George Darroch,

    something comfortable, practical and stylish that would last several decades before turning to rags

    I'm assuming aforementioned item fails at least one of those tests?

    WLG • Since Nov 2006 • 2264 posts Report Reply

  • Jackie Clark,

    and Ben Wilson - pats 899 pages of ms* 8>)

    Can I just say? This made me squee!

    I don't do squees but suffice to say that internally I am doing little whoops of joyfulness. You have no idea how very good this makes me, and I would imagine, a lot of other people, feel. Oh, and you too, Ben.

    I'm a bit like Christopher, only opposite. Mum was an electrician's daughter, and Dad's family were, well, let's just say they weren't short of a bob or two at times. However. My father started working when he was 15, for the family firm. He had been attending Kings College. It was the Depression, and I don't know how much money they had but because his family owned the company, he was one of the lucky ones. My Dad always worked hard, and played hard. There were yachts - very big sailing ones - and there was a great amount of travel, within NZ for the family, and overseas for Mum and Dad. There was big Christmases and always plenty of food. All of us went to private schools, and we ate out. Alot. . But I feel lucky mostly because in those days, as a child, I wasn't aware that we were any different, really. We were never allowed to talk about money. Ever. We weren't spoiled, I was always expected to work after I left school, we didn't have flashy stuff. We all left home at 17 to make our own way in the world, and as far as my Dad was concerned, that was the way it should be. I am always aware, however, of what a privileged life we had. How lucky we were that my father's job, and it's remunerations, gave us such a good start. And do you know how I know that my parents did a good job? I can work where I do with the families I work with, and not one of them could guess at my privileged upbringing. That makes me very happy.

    Mt Eden, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3136 posts Report Reply

  • vangam,

    The fall of communism and the concomitant discrediting of Marxist theory seems to have sidelined 'class' as a structural force in the modern age. It may not be very fashionable to adopt a class-based approach these days, but I think we neglect it at our peril. It is still very important to our society, even if most of us neglect it as a concept.

    Rangiora • Since Jun 2007 • 103 posts Report Reply

  • Islander,

    But 'class' is just so slidey vangram-

    Jackie - :0 & :)

    Big O, Mahitahi, Te Wahi … • Since Feb 2007 • 5643 posts Report Reply

  • Jackie Clark,

    I do apologise, Megan. I do squee. Did one just now when I learned that not only am I going to Simply Red, but I'm going with some of my fave peeps.

    Mt Eden, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3136 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart,

    Really? My Nanna and the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire had one thing in common -- the firm belief that spending money upfront on something comfortable, practical and stylish that would last several decades before turning to rags was eminently sensible.

    Really. While the dress is awesome, it's not practical. Also, my Nanna didn't really believe in buying clothes from shops. You did for yourself. But she disapproved of this in the same way as she disapproved of The Beetles and Catholicism - on moral grounds. So also, by her standards, the dress is indecent. She had the furious moral practicality of the working-class Protestant.

    Like Isabel, our family has sort of bobbed around on the class border for the last couple of generations. My mother was a teacher, and her first husband a pilot, but when he died she was left with three pre-schoolers and a family who wouldn't support her. So they lived on a Widow's Benefit.

    Then she married my father, a butcher until his alcoholism meant he could no longer work. During my lifetime, until her retirement my mother worked in the laundry at an old people's home.

    My partner's parents had a similar 'downward through misfortune' path. Tertiary education of any kind is rare in both our families. Our son has an unconscious assumption of entitlement to university that neither of us did. (I got to go to university solely because of a bequest from my father's Uncle Charlie, whom I've only recently realised lived with another "uncle" who was not his brother. The money was given to me in order to hide it from my father so he couldn't drink it.)

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4650 posts Report Reply

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