According to some sociology boffins, British society is no longer stratified into the three easy-to-memorise, easy-to-identify-by-their-headwear upper, middle and lower classes. Now British society consists of no less than seven social classes, which by my reckoning means we all now have three times as many other classes to resent, despise or aspire to than we did previously. The BBC’s class calculator places me in the fifth of these categories, the ‘Emergent Service Workers’.
To quote the BBC’s definition, “This class group is financially insecure, scoring low for savings and house value, but high for social and cultural factors”. Supposedly most people in this group are young, enjoy a cultured social life, and almost 90% rent their homes.
Fair dues, boffins, that is an almost entirely accurate summary of my current situation in life, the one slight point I must contest is that the majority of my class rent their homes. Judging by my own experience and those of my friends I regard to also be ‘Emergent Service workers’, our “class” as a rule do not rent homes but, by economic necessity, rooms, or at best a share in shared accommodation.
To live in a state of permanent temporality, in somebody else’s home, wearing out somebody else’s furnishings, is an odd and precarious existence, one where your security is in the hands of your landlord and your comfort in his diligence in keeping the house in a habitable state. For much of the eight years that have passed since I left the security of mater’s nest, I have been at the mercy of these Lords, and have learnt that their will and consideration can be as variable as the faceless Victorian factory masters they have come to resemble in my nightmares.
Sometimes you may be lucky, as I was with my last London landlord, who I never clapped eyes on, who never interfered with our flat, and who seemed as likely to kick me out as Cliff Richard is to get married. Or, if you’re unlucky, you could get someone like my current landlord, a man who does more U-turns than a coalition government, is as unpredictable as English weather in April, and is about as considerate of female comfort as the designer of the corset.
Over the past year he has explored arbitrariness to the limits of toleration: he came to stay for “a few nights” and stayed for two months. He left a filthy toilet and a bath full of dirty water to greet me home from a long haul flight. During one of the coldest Decembers in living memory, our heating and hot water were off for a whole weekend. He gave me notice to move out within three days of me leaving the country for a month, only to retract it one highly-stressed week later.
And last week, after the ceiling almost fell in due to a catastrophic yet (in hindsight) predictable leak, he gave us notice again. I thought about asking whether he was sure. But then I decided that actually, it didn’t matter if he wasn’t. I’ve had enough. I’ve lived at the whim of the Lords for too long, and as a few days ago I also happened to turn “an age”, an age at which true independence is not an unreasonable desire, I realised that being given notice to move out was just the push I needed.
So this week, in what was a genuinely life-changing new thing, I secured the let on a cosy one-bedroomed flat. It will not, admittedly, be the first time I’ve lived alone; I was given a flat to live in when I taught in China. But it is the first time I have rented a whole property, it is the first time I will acquire my own furniture, and it is therefore the first time I will have my own home.
So here’s to finally going solo, to making dubious home-décor decisions, and to the sociology boffins, who it turns out, in my case at least, were completely right after all.