Often when we’re out on a Sunday afternoon with the children, it’s tempting to look around at other families and wonder whether we are really typical of 21st century Britain or whether our idiosynchracies are a small drop in the anthropological ocean compared to the others around us. Given the particular traits of a typical middle-class British family I know, perhaps celebration time at household number one was going to be the best place to start….
Party time with our extended family has always been something of a sociological peep-fest for those who enjoy crowd~ watching. Sometimes its eventful and amusing, but at the very least; always interesting! Consequently, the events that unfolded at one neice’s 17th birthday party last weekend were met with greatly entertained eyes. At three oclock prompt, nearly all 40 members of the family and affiliated partners rolled up to the brother-on-law’s house; filing in through the hallway ceremoniously.The balloons, bells, banners and bunting typically screamed to all and sundry “ we have yet another occasion to be reckoned with, so position your ear plugs accordingly”. Presently, we all met the birthday girl herself; freshly primped and tonged to within an inch of her street cred; hours having been spent on nail extensions, hair extensions, false eye lashes, glitter eye shadow and lip gloss.Once suitably satisfied she’d obeyed her congenial duties and had received requisite praise for her colourful ensemble, she rapidly disappeared upstairs- complete with teenage entourage- never to be seen again. As anticipated, we were then formulaically ushered into the lounge to greet the great aunt… the matriarch of the family. There she sat in her powdered lilac splendour, waiting for our extended lineage to shuffle along planting kisses on each cheek and marvelling on how well she looked.Once the pleasantries were over, everyone separated off into their usual groups, almost via osmosis; dispersing themselves into various rooms and sections of the house. The chaps immediately sauntered off to the ‘green room’ to cogitate over politics and music, amidst the occasional strummming of an odd acoustic guitar. Most predominantly we had the elderly ‘audience with auntie Elsie’ cluster. Delicately arranged on the comfiest seats in the house, they settled into instantaneous debate on the state of the NHS, the latest fashion for hat pins at church and the lack of restraint or manners in today’s youngsters. The constant stream of dissention was periodically accompanied by a peppering of clattery porcelain dentures fighting with the canapes on circulation.Meanwhile, my own two little monkeys, age 4 and 8, had found a quiet corner of their own, some random toys and couple of estranged young cousins to play with; duly falling into auntie Elsie’s Victorian vision of children being seen and not heard. Once satisfied they were happy, I left the children and headed for the ‘mum’ cluster , as always, situated in the kitchen. By far, the most complex of congregations- this was, and is always, the most intriguing for me….. but then it’s a subjective choice. Initially the conversation was typically phatic and superficial; subjects ranging from school- to diets- to holidays- to fashion- to work, then back to diets. However, after a few glasses of chenin blanc, the masks slipped and the “nitty gritty” chat started to flow. The full implications of being working mums and wives tumbled out from all and sundry with stark candour and sometimes painful, self disclosure. This lengthy debate , whilst heated and noisy at times, had a strangely therapeutic effect on the ladies in highlighting the fact that essentially we were pretty much all in the same boat and in 21st C Britain as mums we were expected to do it all if we want it all.Having observed everyone at length that day , and interviewed all forty-odd adult members duly in conversation, it transpired that as a small example of financially solvent, 2.4 childrened, comfortably housed, middle class Britain, yes, we are very much typical of our peers in the majority of ways; whether it be regarding lifestyle, social behaviour or linguistically…..given the cross section of specimens from this day of sociolinguistic delight.
©Tess Egerton 2012