Last week I went to a showing of a film called Strike A Rock, a documentary which follows the ongoing struggle of women in the community of Marikana following the Marikana Massacre in 2012. It’s taken me a good week to recover and not for the reasons you might think.
Harrowing as the film was it was the ensuing Q&A session with the director and two of the Marikana women that made my blood run cold. Q&As are the bane of my existence, I’ve never been to a single one that hasn’t left me squirming in discomfort. I knew the minute I saw the white, middle class audience, a sea of Palestinian scarves and ethnic fezzes that this one was going to be a corker.
Anyway the film was fab but predictably everything went downhill after that. One ridiculous question followed another and the only thing that kept me from crawling under my seat was the fact that English was not the first language of any of the guests of honour and so hopefully they had no idea what the would-be warriors were wittering on about. Events finally hit rock bottom when the Marikana women spontaneously burst into song unleashing something bordering on maniacal in the audience as they clapped, swayed and God help me ululated in response.
Before you ask, yes I am well aware of how shallow this makes me – faced with people fighting for the most basic of living conditions I’m fretting about mortification by proxy. In my defence though it’s a class thing. You see Philip Pirrip style I’m a working class girl thrust into a middle class world and have spent my entire adult life staggering from one debacle to another, a leg straggling each camp and let me tell you it’s not easy.
Back in the early 80s being working class was like finding Willy Wonka’s golden ticket. As education became more accessible, university lecturers bent over backwards to accommodate anyone with a northern accent, no doubt imagining we were down the pit or up chimneys when we weren’t in their classes. How my posh friends would seethe when I got let off for not handing essays in on time or not being bothered to attend tutorials whilst they got penalised and threatened with getting kicked off the course. All that changed, however, when more and more working class people went the Educating Rita route and my golden ticket became two a penny.
Becoming a teacher in the 80s meant taking on new sensibilities as the profession was still at that time a bastion of middle-classness. Dinner became lunch, tea became supper and frankly I didn’t know if I was up or down. The thing about life though is that we all adapt to our environments and so I embraced bread sticks, humus and candles (even though I had more than enough for the electricity meter). The only time my mask would slip was under the influence and what can I say, you can take the girl out the council estate but you can’t take the council estate out of the girl.
Fast forward thirty seven years and I suppose I’ve grown accustomed to the middle-classness of my chosen path and in fact now find myself snobbily appalled by our modern lack of standards. You see, we’re never satisfied. I may no longer shudder at the mention of a pashmina or chaise-longue but there are two things still guaranteed to give me the heebie-jeebies. One is the aforementioned Q&A sessions and the other is the humble dinner party.
How so? I hear you cry but believe me dinner parties rather than being occasions of innocuous get-togethers are fraught with more hidden dangers than a mine field. The obvious hazard is alcohol which can do you in more effectively than any IED. First off I don’t know anything about wine and am just as likely to guzzle the ‘ironic’ Blue Nun as savour a Sauvignon Blanc. Dinner parties to the uneducated palate can drift into University Challenge territory. And don’t even get me started on cheese. When faced with Yarg and Roquefort how I long for a bit of cheddar.
Then comes the dinner party chit-chat where if you’ve over-imbibed you can come off like Arthur Scargill as your working classness takes umbrage at its middle class surroundings and gets all shouty and belligerent. The look of fear in the other guests’ eyes warn you to rein it in but that pesky Blue Nun is colluding with your inner working class hero to ensure you’re going to spend the next three weeks avoiding everybody you know.
I know we’re supposed to live in an inclusive society and I spend my days trying to convince young people that their origins don’t define their future. None the less it only it takes a Q&A session or a dinner party to remind me that no matter how much we think we can none of us truly disentangle ourselves from our roots.