Room at the Top, Room at the Bottom

Last night I was at a loose end browsing my father-in-law’s bookshelves.  He no longer reads, which is sad, because over the decades he’s accumulated yards and yards of old Penguins and Pelicans (the blue, non-fiction ones).  I love Penguin books and as a child I was reared on Puffins, their junior choice (so to speak).  There was a lot of stuff I didn’t care to read but then I came upon John Braine’s ‘Room at the Top’:

This handbook-of-the-working-class-lad-who-makes-good was published in the late fifties, though it savours much more of the sixties: but what struck me in the first chapter was the obsession with clothes, manners and food; these markers of class which he must learn to mimic if he is to ‘pass’ for middle-class.  (He hasn’t yet mentioned his accent though, which I’d have thought was the primary marker: as Professor Higgins says, he can tell as soon as someone opens their mouth, where they come from ‘within six miles’:

This preoccupation with clothes reminded me of George Orwell who, in ‘Down and Out in Paris and London,’ was making the opposite journey by being born into a relatively privileged family and wanting to experience the life of a down-and-out.  Downwards mobility is always easier than upwards; no-one questions him as a tramp but when he tries to get work as a waiter he has to use boot-black on his heels to cover up the holes in his socks.  Presumably he didn’t change his accent though, unlike lots of posh people today who use the fake glottal stop when they want to sound ‘down with the people’:

Orwell was writing in the ’30’s; the cities he describes seem very distant from us now, but you’d expect that.  What’s extraordinary is how social classes have broken down since ‘Room at the Top’ was written.  In theory we now have much more social mobility; but now what we’re seeing is the soaring rise of a super-privileged, super-rich class who are, ironically, the untouchables of our age.  The government doesn’t even try to curb top people’s pay and though Labour will give it their best shot when they get into government (yes, when) it remains to be seen how far those efforts will succeed.  After all, the first task of the rich is after all to hold on to their wealth: the second is to increase it.

The pay of people at the top is out of control; the pay of people at the bottom oozes and stagnates, which makes the death of Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, Leicester City’s owner, all the more tragic.  There are no further updates as yet and no indication of foul play, unless you suspect a malevolent universe of keeping Phillip Green alive and murdering a generous and supportive man.

Kirk out



Where’d You Get Your Good Books From?

Mark claims that he knows the provenance and history of every single book on his shelves.  Now, I could be sceptical about that as he has about a gazillion of them, but since I know just how obsessive the man is, I do believe it.  Then he asked me about mine, which set me thinking.  I know some of them are from book clubs as I joined a few in my youth (book clubs were organisations you joined where if you agreed to buy a set number of books a year you got a couple of nice hardbacks for free: I got most of my hardbacks that way.)  I know that in this house we have at least four boxed sets of Narnia books, one of which was mine as a child, but I’ve no idea where the others came from; I know that some of my Penguin books are from college and nearly all my yoga books come from specialist suppliers, but as to the rest, I couldn’t tell you.

Sadly Leicester, like most places, used to have a number of bookshops and now has only one.  Guess which one?  Yep: it’s that coffee-shopped browsatorium whose silver W is starting to look like a mirror of the more invasive golden arches.  Incidentally we have a campaign going locally to stop a railway building being turned into yet another drive-through * “restaurant” featuring – yes, you’ve guessed it, those golden arches.  Even the phrase ‘golden arches’ sticks in the throat (or would, if I was saying it) – it’s like yellow pretending to be gold, plastic pretending to be food.  You can sign the petition here:

So… where was I?  Oh yes – bookshops.  I was trying to remember how many bookshops there were in Leicester when I first moved here in ’87.  The best one was Blackthorn Books, a ‘radical’ bookshop on Humberstone Gate which was also a hub for political activity (where does that happen nowadays?) then there was Fagins, which closed down maybe 15 years ago; Dillons (now Waterstone’s) and several others I can’t remember the names of.  Can you remember?  How many bookshops have been closed down where you are?  Now in some ways I quite like the coffee-shopisation of bookshops: I like the fact that browsing is encouraged.  But I dislike all the corporate crap and the fact that the only thing they seem to have on display in the big W is fifty shades of Fifty Shades of You Know What.

We do have quite a good second-hand shop on Narborough Rd though.  It is unfortunately staffed by a woman who looks as though she’s swallowed a lemon, but still, they have some good stuff in there.  And then there are e-books.  I don’t know if e-books are going to take off in the same way that downloads have.  What do you think?  Do you have a kindle?  If not, why not?

Next reader interview coming soon…

Oh, and here’s Mark’s review of a book he borrowed from the library and which we ALL read.  It’s about a teenager dying of cancer and gets the balance of dark and light, tragedy and comedy, exactly right.

Kirk out

*I absolutely refuse to use the abbreviation ‘thru’