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The Periodic Table of the Middle Class
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    The Liberal-Actuallys: Emily & Giles

     

    Emily and Giles Liberal Actually are in their early forties, and live in a capacious semi-detached house in a tree-lined street on the outskirts of a major conurbation. And, before you ask, no, they still vote Conservative – the Liberal Actually thing is a nickname given to them by Giles’s elder sister Alice and her husband Chris Normal Actually. Chris and Alice think Giles and Emily are bloody soft, frankly, but more of that later.

    Giles works in finance, but to be honest, things have been lean in the past couple of years. Giles still works hard, but is increasingly stressed, and there are far less perks than there used to be, so the enjoyment isn’t there. Luckily they had put aside some money in the good times, but, well, put it this way, given the rises in school fees, if someone made them a decent offer for the second home in Southwold right now, they would snap their hand off. Thank God for M&S Wise Buys and the Boden catalogue, as Emily says to her close friends!

    Emily is still really busy with the kids (James, 12, Madeleine, eight, and Ifor, four), although now they’re a bit older they do more on their own; nowadays she just seems to be always taking them to places or picking them up from clubs/lessons/friends’ houses. The kids have a busier social life than she does! She had to pack in the teaching assistant work, but she is heavily involved with the school PTA now; a couple of years ago she and a group of younger mums staged a little coup, basically, and have now completely revamped it. She knows damn well other mothers say they’re cliquey, but the fact is no one else wants to do the hard work.

    Emily and Giles’s tastes are, for the most part, thoroughly contemporary. They swapped the Audi Allroad for a new Freelander, and just had to get a second car for Emily what with all the taxi-ing – she has a nice little A-Class now and it does her very nicely! Giles remains a gadget nut, and gets very pleased when he manages to download snidey apps on to his iPhone (he’s thinking about going back to Blackberry though – they seem more grown up). They had to buy some new computers for the kids’ homework, and what with those and the Wii, Sky+ HD, and second espresso maker – the house is like a branch of bloody Dixons sometimes. As Chris says (gadgets are a major topic of conversation between he and his brother-in-law), it’s all very well Giles getting disillusioned and talking about running a cheese business in bloody Pembrokeshire but the first time he loses the signal for the Ashes he’ll have a fit.

    Emily herself departs from her own elder peers’ behaviour chiefly in respect of fashion; Emily likes to talk of herself as a bit of a fashionista, and loves to say she is going to do some serious shopping at Westfield. She discovered Sex in the City quite late on, but made up for lost time by maxing out her Amex on Jimmy Choos and Manolos; she began buying Vogue again, which she had last done when at school in the 1980s, when they read it mainly to look for friends of friends in the party section at the back. Many of her friends have gone the same way, and they love to have a laugh about some of their old chums who still stick with the old Sloaney look. Mind you, they think some of the younger girls take it too far, and look trashy; not combing your bloody hair isn’t a fashion statement, is it? Emily is perplexed to note that some of the younger set seem to be reverting; Kate Middleton looks such a bloody Sloane it’s untrue,
    but then again she’s an odd one – it’s that mother.

    In other words, although Giles and Emily’s tastes are heartily British – they feel at home in places like the Home Counties and heart of England, they holiday in Celtic coastal places such Western Scotland, Cornwall and Wales – they are aware of a vague generation gap between themselves and some of their older relatives and friends, who they will often refer to as “old Sloanes”. Nowadays, the Liberal Actuallys will do things that 20 years ago their families considered utterly feckless; to Chris and Alice’s utter horror, they even went on an anti-war demo a few years ago (“Don’t you know there’s a rugby match on?” barked Alice down the phone, with no trace of irony).

    They also do pop music. Chris still thinks a gig is something that horses pull, but Giles and Emily take a picnic to two or three heritage gigs every summer (they saw Bryan Ferry in concert in a forest last year – the man was superb). And they like football (which Chris considers somehow less authentic than rugger). They’re season ticket holders at Arsenal (though to be honest they are not keen on matches against clubs sitting below halfway in the Premiership) and now that their local club has been promoted to the Premiership, they go to watch them, too. James has eight shirts in all, including home and away for Arsenal – sometimes he wears them all on matchdays, which makes Giles and Emily chuckle. What they really love at the Emirates is bumping into friends on the way, or at half time. It feels like being part of something magical.

    All this means that the Liberal Actuallys now spend far more time in the presence of people who are less wealthy than themselves, and partly as a result they now have more of a social conscience than Chris and Alice. This can lead to arguments, such as the one about David Cameron and “the gays” (to be fair, Chris shouldn’t have been drinking on top of the painkillers). They now try to avoid certain topics, concentrating instead on the kids (though not schools!) and dogs.

    What of the future for the Liberal Actuallys? Giles talks now and again about just packing it all in and setting up that cheese business in Wales. So what if they had to send the kids to state school? Emily thinks he is going too far (but only tells her mother, who agrees).

    Still, they could become more flexible because they’ve become used to having less money. They are pretty upfront about being poorer. For a while they tried to carry on as normal, but now they tend to opt for obvious denial, rather than trying to do the same things but cheaper. One of their mates whose in the same boat says they are all “poorgeois” or “poshtere” now, i.e almost proud of how austere they can be. The trick is to show how economical you can be while still maintaining good taste. “A bottle of M&S Cava when you have guests for dinner is fine,” says Giles, “whereas a Tesco own-brand Champagne wouldn’t be the same at all.”