“Brixton has become so gentrified,” the man opposite me observes with a sigh.
Why did you move here then? I think. Didn’t fancy Croydon or Leytonstone did you.
I’m having a drink with a photographer I met on an editorial job, but his class discrimination rant is jarring and starting to make me think he’s a real phoney. It reminds me of another dude I once met on a first date who delivered a glib monologue about how shit South London is compared to North of the river. (“You don’t have tubes down there. Why would you want to move somewhere with no tube?”). The North/South divide chat was so boring, like a crappy little editorial vignette in Time Out magazine, and I love South East London so much, that I drained my drink and left.
Back to the photographer. He had noticed that Brixton had changed over the last ten years or so, but I’m not sure what he was basing his opinions on as he hadn’t spent time there ten years ago. The most obvious changes are rising rent prices, the Picture House Ritzy in its proud central position, and all the gastronomic delight of the market off Electric Avenue.
We can all agree, when a Picture House cinema comes to town the middle classes will arrive in their swarms. Picture House cinemas, like Farrow & Ball paints and Waitrose, are an established favourite lifestyle choice among the middle classes. They’re pricier than your average cinema, you can take in a glass of wine to a film (not even in a plastic cup), they show art house cinema and live opera, the seats are deep, richly upholstered and luxurious. Going to see a film at a Picture House cinema is a real treat. I love it!
This photographer dude, who seemed upset by how gentrified Brixton was, really enjoyed going to the Picture House cinema. He also enjoyed Franco Manca pizza and nice pubs that served decent food. So when he started on his ‘working class hero’ act I found it fairly crass.
I should have asked him if he’d been to the Peckham Plex. It’s the cheapest cinema in the whole of London. All tickets £4.99 everyday! The pick and mix is plentiful. No booze is allowed and you might see the occasional rat scuttle past the screen. Nevertheless, it’s a great cinema.
I’m not sure why this photographer had a problem with the gentrification of Brixton as he was directly contributing to it. But because he grew up in Huddersfield he thought this made him somehow exempt from being middle class. Only his father was a university professor and his mother a teacher.
He was a photographer for f**k’s sake.
Which brings me to the luxury of being freelance. The luxury of being able to earn not much money. You have to be bloody rich to not earn much. Nobody working class is freelance. Working class people might be sub-contractors, but they’re not swanning around writing the odd magazine article or flying off to Brazil at the first opportunity to take some photos for Vice. I include myself in this critique of course, because I know I’m super privileged to be able to live an indulgent freelance life. It can be demoralising, and you need a partner’s wages, savings, or another form of income to get you through sometimes, but it is an entitled position to be in. This photographer was also university educated and had taken a second degree. It made me laugh when he took me down to Loughborough Junction (getting a bit more edgy) to a charming newly renovated pub with live jazz music (not so edgy).
Some young folk are trying too hard to shed their middle class backgrounds, as if they were deeply uncool and embarrassing. They don’t seem to want to admit to how nice their childhoods were, how the house they grew up in was large and comfortable, or the fact that they had two family holidays each year. But I’ve also noticed that these types aren’t real grafters. They’ve chosen to be poor, working short and very flexible hours as perhaps a creative of some kind. They’re often tight too, living in a miserly fashion so they can work less. Trust me, being a ‘freegan’ is a lifestyle choice no working class person would make. A genuine ‘freegan’ is a homeless person.
So unless you’re working down the pit, putting the hours in at Argos or struggling to feed three kids on your benefit money, stop pretending you’re not middle class.