1939 Questionnaire: Class

Answer your own Mass Observation Questionnaire here: http://www.mocoproject.org.uk/answer-our-questionnaire The idea is to answer as honestly as possible, but in a blog where I’m not anonymous, I found it difficult!  I confess to editing my answers a few times after being surprised at how I sounded (a little arrogant, a little ignorant – eek!). I’ve tried to keep the tone chatty, as people in the ’30s did when answering these questionnaires.

Question 1. Give your reasons and analyse your motives for living in the district where you do live.

I live in Stamford Brook in West London.  I tell people I live in ‘Chiswick’.  Chiswick – people have heard of.  I’ve lived here since March 2010.  I moved because I thought I was going to be working on a project in Worcestershire and I wanted to be a little closer to Paddington, to make the five hour multiple train and taxi journey seem less arduous.  Before Stamford Brook, I was living in Stoke Newington, but only for six months.  I had expected to love it; I  had a boyfriend about five years ago who lived in Stamford Hill, and he’d take me to the Blue Legume for brunch.  They have the most amazing waffles with fruit cut up so prettily and arranged on a massive plate.  Afterwards, we’d walk through Abney Park cemetery.  Back then, I always wanted to live in Stoke Newington.  But once I moved there, it didn’t feel right.  The park and the Blue Legume were still there, but I had changed.

I didn’t really want to live in West London again.  I lived in Acton Town from 2005 to 2007 and I thought it was on the edge of the world; so far from everything with very little going on.  There’s that endless stretch on the Piccadilly line from Hammersmith to Acton Town that reinforces the isolated feeling.  They did the High Street up while I was there, but I didn’t like going out at night, walking down the long stretch of the taxi rank where the boys and men lounge outside cheap cafs, sitting in gutters or standing in little clusters on the pavement blocking your way.  They’re Somali, and you rarely see women on that street.  My housemate was mugged by a few of them when she was walking home one night: she was a really bold Kiwi girl and she ran over to their car and screamed and pleaded and they gave her back her wallet.  I don’t know why they didn’t just drive away.

Stamford Brook is different.  It’s really green, and clean and the people are mostly middle class and I feel safe, even after dark.  There are lots of mothers with prams, and giggling school children and even fetes and art shows in the park.  It’s almost too nice – like a movie set.  And there’s a great sense of local community that comes from the fairs and open home weekends.  I’ve even set up a monthly bookclub here to meet more locals.

Question 2. In what ways do you consider yourself different from your neighbours?

I’m Australian, and friendly. I want to say hello to people when I bump into them, because we all live together in the same imposing mansion block (there’s eight flats) and we have to see each other about once a week.  But people don’t make eye contact.  Occasionally, they’ll hold the door to the main entrance open for you, and say ‘hi’, but they still won’t look you in the face.   

There’s a group of kids in their early twenties in one of the two top-floor flats, and they attend the local Arts Educational School in Turnham Green.  I was already annoyed with them for stomping up and down the steps at all hours and holding loud sing-a-longs around their piano, when one of them vomited in the stairwell and left it there.  I knocked on their door to ask if was them, and of course they said no. But the people next door to them are a family, and there’s two very quiet guys and a girl flatting together next door to us.  Someone else put a sign up saying ‘please think of others and clean up your mess’.  The cleaner had to do it in the end. 

I think we’re all middle class. It’s a very expensive area to live in, and an expensive block of flats. We have a cheaper deal from our landlord which makes me feel quite smug: it’s a place I could never afford to live if I was buying.

Question 3. When you go into pubs, which bar do you use and why?

Bars aren’t segregated nowadays.  I don’t like to go into what I call ‘dirty old man’ pubs.  They’re the ones that still smell stale, years after the smoking ban came into force, and have fading paint and horrible cheap drinks and a lot of older men in them.  I like to drink in the local pubs that have been done up, and serve food above their station, like sausage and mash with caramelised red onion, and have beer gardens for the summertime.  The food is never very good and it’s always overpriced, but you can usually get a nice red wine.

Question 4. What priced seats do you use at the cinema and why?

I like to buy the £3.00-extra seats at the Vue cinema in Westfield shopping centre if I go to mainstream cinema.  They are large, black vinyl seats in the middle of the cinema.  But usually, I’ll go to a smaller independent cinema like the Curzon Soho.  I often go to the director talk + film events which cost a few pounds more as well.

Question 5. What forms of food, drink or amusement are thought “infra dig”* or not quite the things in your circles?

I have a wide range of friends, I don’t move in a circle of people who act and think the same!  One of my best friends eats McDonalds at least once a week, and I occasionally do too but I wouldn’t tell anyone about it!  We all like good wine and good food, but by that I mean fresh produce and innovative recipes rather than restaurants like Le Gavroche.  We’re all pretty politically aware, and of course, everyone thinks the Essex and chav subcultures are alien.  None of my friends are ostentatious – most of us are middle class.

Question 6. Are you sensitive on the subject of accent and have you made any attempt to change your own?

I’m sensitive about my accent. I’m Australian, and I’ve only lived in England for eight years.  I’m from Queensland, so I have a really strong, nasal accent which I’ve consciously tried to soften over the years.  I’ve always tried to enunciate clearly and downplay the nasal tones – even when I was growing up in a country town!  As I got older, it slowly dawned on me that there were things such as ‘class’ and ‘city versus country’ and I realised that my accent was a marker of my working class, small town family.  I don’t ever want to be working class again – in my experience growing up it meant you were unworldly, ignorant of politics, close-minded and adverse to the arts (unless it was amdram).  So now I’m careful with my accent – until I’m hanging out with other Australians and then it reappears subconsciously!  Maybe you can never escape your roots.

Question 7. Do you make a habit of using the following words and phrases? If not, what is your reaction when they are used by others?

I love the word ‘servo’, Australian slang for ‘service station’, and ‘arvo’ for afternoon, but I only ever use them in email or text, not conversation.  My favourite word is insouciant.  I savour it on my tongue, but I don’t want to wear it out so I use it sparingly. 

I try to talk plainly though. The words that pop into my head aren’t the words I use in conversation, because I worry that not everyone will understand them.  I think that this is partly the consequence of my experience as a teacher, but I remember starting to do it well before then, when I was at University.  Sometimes, I long to speak as though I’m in an Enid Blyton novel. “Oh, jolly good then” and that type of thing.

I love it when people have a particular phrase they use a lot – like a little calling card.  My housemate K says ‘oh my gawd’ in her Australian accent all the time.  I can be a bit of a parrot, and she keeps pointing out when I’ve used it.

You can find original responses to this exact questionnaire from the 1930s and 1940s here: http://www.mocoproject.org.uk/examples-from-our-archive/questionnaires-from-our-archive/concerning-class

* Infra dig means something that is unbecoming of one’s position or beneath one’s dignity.

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