‘The realization of one’s class position emerged from routine activities of everyday life – it was the “feeling of belonging” which was felt to be natural and was taken for granted.’ (1)
Margaret Perry, born 1922 in Nottingham, participated in leisure activities such as the cinema, ‘we went to the cinema every Saturday night to the silent films then later the “talkies” … we got an ice cream topped with real cream … so for four and sixpence the three of us had a good night out’ (pp. 15), and dancing, ‘Palais de Danse … we went every Friday night … walked the three miles home to my house, talking all the way about the fellows we’d danced with’ (pp. 28), as many others did of her age in the 1920s-1940s. Perry’s memoir concludes in 1950, when she was 28, and these leisure activities continued to this point, even after she had married in 1942, ‘I whiled away the summer sun-bathing and dancing’ (pp. 32).
Cultural activities included reading, with Perry’s mother being an influence for this, ‘she sat down regularly at 2.pm. every day with her book … she read through evening till bedtime’ (pp. 9). It is clear that Perry read as a youngster, ‘I begged her to be quiet while I was trying to read’ (pp. 9), as a teenager at school, ‘this Angel … chose me for the chief parts in “A Midsummer Nights Dream”’ (pp. 14), and in work, ‘we took it in turns to tell stories of the trash we read in the current magazines’ (pp. 18). Outside of education, Perry took evening classes in short-hand, typing and book-keeping, leading to better work, ‘my nose was kept in ledgers from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.’ (pp. 18). When married, Perry read ‘long intellectual lectures on the merits of socialism and the wickedness of Capitalism … I absorbed it like the Gospels’ (pp. 32).
Perry’s reading of political texts led to political beliefs and habits, ‘I carried and yelled slogans at people all over the constituency’ (pp. 33). This interest extended to food reform and vegetarianism, ‘I was even allowed to forfeit my meat ration for a cheese ration’ (pp. 33). Perry says that her mother was ‘the only one who didn’t ridicule me’ (pp. 32) for becoming vegetarian, however her Socialist stance was not met well, ‘I preached it all back to my family who couldn’t care less’ (pp. 32). Typically, politics was seen as being an upper-class interest as they had more time to study it; throughout the memoir, Perry is striving to better herself, so perhaps she was seeking for a more middle class identity with this. It is clear that her political interest was informed by her thoughts of improvement, for both the country and herself, and through the influence of those intellectuals who introduced her to politics, ‘a beautiful tall aristocratic creature with the loveliest soft voice and the poshest of all posh accents … he could have … spouted Toryism at me and I would still have thought them pearls of wisdom’ (pp. 33). Bourke argued that although differences between dress, clothes, and wages were merging at this time, there was still 'a mighty gap between the bourgeois and working-class ideas about society and societal relations'(2).
Other belief systems for Perry included spiritualism, which her neighbour, “Auntie Maria”, influenced over her, ‘most Sundays we went to a Spiritualist Church and listened to a clairvoyant in trance giving messages from the dead’ (pp. 16). Perry admitted that her parents ‘disapproved of my going to these places, but they had no religion to offer themselves, so gave up protesting’ (pp. 16). Perry also divulged that when Maria’s son was reported missing in the war, she manipulated a Ouija board in the Spiritualist Church, ‘I manoeuvred the letters round as best I could to spell out “Norman is alive and well”’ (pp. 17). Perry was soon ‘shame-faced’ (pp. 18) when news soon arrived that he was dead.
Gender-specific leisure activities.
It is intriguing that Perry is introduced to politics through upper-class men. This links to the idea of gender specific leisure differences. Married working-class women’s recreation links to domesticity, ‘She joined the Women’s Institute and Old Time Dancing and went on outings with them’ (pp. 23), with house chores and reading forming their leisure time. On the other hand, working-class men had habits stem from male forms of housework, 'do-it yourself, repairs, redecorating, gardening'(3), and this is clear for Perry's father, ‘his hobby was “fiddling” with the old wireless sets though I don’t remember anything emitting from them except excruciating noises’ (pp. 3). Men also enjoyed recreation away from the family, ‘he didn’t talk to either my mother or we children, because he had nothing to say’ (pp.3) and ‘Sunday mornings in the pub with his brothers’ (pp. 3). Indeed, Pierre Bourdieu argued that 'Drinking in pubs, playing in brass bands, singing in choral societies, betting ‘on the dogs’, pigeon fancying' were all inscribed with class meanings, with leisure activities being a marker of taste and thus extentuating class distinctions.
(1) Bourke, J, Working-Class Cultures in Britain 1890-1960: Gender, Class and Ethnicty (London: Routledge, 1994) pp.4.
(2) as above, pp. 25
(3) as above, pp. 82
Bourdieu, P, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1984)
McKibbin,R, The Ideologies of Class: Social Relations in Britain, 1880–1950 (Oxford,1990)
Perry, Margaret, Untitled, TS, pp.38 (c.13,000 words). Extract in J. Burnett (ed.), Destiny Obscure: Autobiographies of childhood, education and family from the 1820s to the 1920s (London: Allen Lane, 1982), pp.319-24 (2.606)
Perry, Margaret, Family Life in the Royal Air Force and Later (London: Serendipity Publishing, 2006)
Rancièr, Jacques, Proletarian Nights: The Workers Dream in Nineteenth-Century France (London: Verso, 2012)
Other forms of leisure for the working class included writing, particularly poetry. Check out this blog on the press as publisher of working class writings: http://hobbb.tumblr.com/
Intrigued about the habits and culture of the middle class? Look no further than The Leech Family Diaries: http://www.leechdiaries.com/