Or: winding the web
I don’t know if you know, but I moved house about three months ago (I am trying not to go on about it too much). Due to the demands of a punishing commute on the part of the hubs, we have uprooted ourselves from the town that was our home for almost seventeen years and plonked ourselves thirty miles away and into the next county. It has not been easy.
As well as leaving behind family and friends, and going to a place where we know no-one (or I don’t, so that effectively adds up to the same thing), we have remortgaged and found ourselves in the unenviable position of living in a smaller, more expensive house. We have had to chuck out a whole load of stuff (one of the side effects of living in a big old lady of a house is that there is no need to throw anything away, ever), buy a whole load of new, smaller stuff, and committed ourselves to paying off such a large debt that we will never be able to help out our rapidly growing children, should they decide to do what we did and take up the offer of a higher education.
On the face of it, R and I could be the poster children of social mobility. Born out of the Second World War, our parents were all the first in their families to go to college. Most of them, from working class roots, made it up the ladder to teaching positions, home ownership and a different kind of life altogether to the one that their own parents experienced. My parents moved away too, adding a geographical distance to the mix.
As a good friend of mine explained to me, on her return from a three year stint in the States, they had the opportunity to reinvent themselves, to become persons unfettered by other people’s expectations of their backgrounds, wiping away accents and enjoying the opportunity to be a new self. If you don’t have roots, if there aren’t people around who remember the day you were born, your awkward teenage years and that terrible cough you had the Christmas you were the narrator of the school play, it’s easy.
But here’s the thing. Roots, community, family, friendship; these things are important. Without them, we are a little lost unit, making our way in an uncertain, lonely fashion. Without the patriarchal model, where one person goes out to work and the other stays at home to run the kids about to their various bits and pieces, to spend the time not only running the household, but weaving the social web, the one that stands in for you when your family cannot, it’s, truth be told, a struggle. Politicians and the like, who like to talk about social mobility do so only in economic terms, as if ‘lifting yourself out of poverty’ is the only thing that matters.
Maybe that’s why so many people from working class backgrounds, when they graduate, turn to teaching. You don’t have to rip your family apart in order to get on. If you’re lucky you can enjoy the long holidays and the artificial sense of gentility they bring, so long as you don’t rub it in the noses of your wider family (in which case, it probably is better to move away, in an absence making the heart grow fonder kind of sense). You can tell children that if they work hard and they pass all their exams then they too will reap the rewards, based on merit, because that’s what happened to them.
Until, that is, you move away, and you become a creature of suspicion, even in teaching circles; the person with no connections, starting all over again, proving yourself, all over again, winding the web, all over again.