Killing Time in Primrose Hill
Recently, while working around London’s very affluent Primrose Hill, I heard a voice I recognized as Will Self’s. I may have been mistaken. Whoever the voice belonged to declared, ‘we’ve still got half an hour to kill’. I turned around and saw a man I recognized as Will Self. I may have been mistaken. I started to approach the stranger to speculatively congratulate him on his broadcasts for the ‘A Point of View’ series on BBC Radio 4. I hesitated. Fawning genuflecting attention (idolatry even) would not be welcome, I reckoned, to a man of his class of intellect and creativity.
I imagined this encounter.
“Begging your pardon, Mr Self, sir. If it is indeed you, Mr Self, sir? (He appears not to deny it). I may have presumed, Mr Self, sir. Presumed sir, to congratulate you, sir, for your most recent wireless disquisition, sir. ‘Gawd’ bless you, Mr Self, sir”.
“Ah, er, yes, quite, er, good point, Mr Self, sir”.
I carried on with the very repetitive work, checking the time frequently, willing it and the work to pass quickly. It seemed as if the gentleman I heard had thought better of the malice aforethought and decided not to kill any time. I looked around for an exquisite corpse of time, the cadaver of half an hour outlined in chalk on the pavement at the loose end of Regent’s Park Road. My watch stayed reassuringly solid; it did not, as I feared, melt and drip from my wrist. Time, that sunny Friday afternoon along Regent’s Park Road continued uninterrupted and paradoxically at a leisurely or leisured pace for some. The air of Primrose Hill alfresco was replete with 24 claret laced chat, some of it possibly about Mr Self’s points of view.
How does Will Self’s recent point of view, (21st Oct') about race, class and social mobility take in the cultural vista of that well heeled locale? Who lives and works in Primrose Hill and what are its identity politics? The BBC had yet to broadcast Self’s race/class reflection when I was traipsing around the hill in my nearly new white £29.99 Nike trainers with bright red trim and laces; yes, bright red laces, which set off alarms and winces as I stepped over the thresholds of the assorted boutiques and posh eateries to beg a favour of the proprietors. Heck! St George’s trainers. What was I thinking when I bought them after nearly two years of saving 40p a week? Ra Quel faux pax Rodders! I thought it was the malodor of my rotting gums and crumbling teeth or the miasma of my plebeian underarms that elicited polite grimaces accompanied by terse dismissals including the occasional waft of the hand; the latter meaning, I think, please leave quickly you ‘oik’. To be fair to the more egalitarian contingent of Primrose Hill, not all the responses were as dismissive. I considered going into every outlet to make the polite request; including outlets I know from experience would say no. Why? I could, if I were not in such a hurry to get out of there, to get the job over and done with, enjoy the proprietorial expressions of violation and trespass. Ha ha! Did you seriously think I thought you would say yes, you stuck up ******? Sometimes, following a “no”, I have retorted, politely and with good humour, “oh, why not?” “Because we don’t”, has been the usual perfunctory and dead-end response. Their honesty would be refreshing.
I have to make it clear, I am not at liberty to disclose the full details and nature of my work because it is regarded as commercially sensitive. There may be a fantastic 'psychogeographical' trace of my placing around and about Primrose Hill and St John's Wood about which I can say little more. Like many, I do find my work something of a drudge at times, although I certainly value having a job and don’t wish to compromise this good fortune. I think it is fair and safe to say the work is low paid and does not require a great deal of technical skill. Returning to Will Self’s provocation, I’m wondering about the complexities of that Primrose Hill afternoon. What was I, in relation to others, as I went about my work? How baffling is the societal maze of Primrose Hill or any other district? May be this is just a very middle class, chatty question and dilemma except that working people tend to live where their pay affords. I doubt I could afford how and where I live in Walthamstow transposed to Primrose Hill.
Social status or class is a very gendered and complicated matter especially when various identity factors, such as race, are considered in relation. Will Self discussed the issue of status in relation to race (especially dual heritage) and class. He forthrightly cited the identification of youths, on his home-turf of Stockwell, with President Barack Obama. Plummeting from such stratospheric realms of power, what sort of reception would they get if given (or when getting) the work I did that afternoon? In response to Self’s critique I thought about George Bernard Shaw’s, Pygmalion, and the central character, Eliza Doolittle, who is supposedly transformed from a lowly Cockney flower girl to a high society lady by elocution lessons. Then there is the comic and tragic appropriation of a racial stereotype by Gene Wilder, with Richard Pryor’s ironic tuition, in StirCrazy. Closer to home, in the way of Sue Townsend’s, The Queen and I, ‘Her Majesty’, along with many others from over-priced public subsidy is, in the craziest of my dreams, upping sticks to move into a council house in E17 and is very generously insisting on the London Living Wage for her right royal services.
Will Self opined ‘the reasons for being at the bottom of the heap are manifold’. He listed class, family, education, money and race. What about adding sex, age, and free will? If two people are each earning the same low wage (below or at e.g. the 2011 London Living Wage of £8.30 per hour) can one of them make a claim for living in poverty (more than the other) e.g. on the basis of having a different (more difficult) family background? Might a good education and positive family relations alleviate the effects of a subsistence income? This may have been the point of the emphasis on the mediating 'and' rather than 'or' when presenting his point of view.
What was that? I have just finished reading, timequake, (Kurt Vonnegut) or so I thought for I seem to be back at the beginning. Holy Kilgore Trout! Has there been a timequake? Is this a rerun? Was I writing this before? I blame the free will of Mr Self for tinkering with time. Only kidding! The BBC will be broadcasting repeats (reruns!) a lot more in the foreseeable and ‘forehearable’ future. Get this; I’m imagining Will Self’s hand rolled smoky tones beaming out from the rerunning parallel universe of the BBC while in fact (fiction) he is down at the job centre.
“Ah, Mr Self, I see you have put ‘psychogeographer’ in your work experience. We’ve got just the job for you”.