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What gardening taught me about London’s liberal elite You can tell a lot about modern Britain from certain backyards

I manicure an ersatz London for the new bourgeoise. Credit: Getty

I manicure an ersatz London for the new bourgeoise. Credit: Getty


December 30, 2020   7 mins

Winter is gathering on the perfect street. It’s a clear morning, bright and brisk, as I exit the kitchen with its marble-top island and four ovens, spear the fork into the lawn, and scan the beds to assess what needs to be done.

Menial tasks first. There are children’s toys everywhere, remnants of the weekend’s play, which I will arrange in orderly ranks on top of the climbing frame. The litter that has blown in from the street will need to be clawed out from the undergrowth and binned, and the leaves tumbling in such profusion from the London planes must be raked into piles and bagged.

Next, I will prune the wisteria by hand — a pleasant job for the morning, as the wall where it clambers is burnished by the early sun — then fire up the hedge-cutter to reshape the more robust escallonia. Chop down the geraniums, the crocosmia, the withered foliage of the peonies and hellebores. And all the while I’m snipping and raking and digging, I will be thinking, “Damn these people with this beautiful garden. They don’t know they’re born.”

For the past eight years, I’ve supplemented my precarious writing career by working as a gardener. The work suits me well, in that the physical labour keeps me healthy, the cash keeps me solvent, and the break from the keyboard keeps me sane. In modern London, it feels like a relatively secure form of employment, in part because the robotics industry has thus far failed to invent a machine that can effectively prune a box hedge. But more because there is a glut of wealth in my area of south London, and where there is asset-money, there are people with money to spend on prettifying the home, inside and out.

I suppose it was inevitable, given that labour relations are so often the basis of a person’s politics, that this work would become my prism for how power and money shape this city. Given where I work, at the point where the high-rise city reclines into the residential precincts of its inner boroughs, my average client is a certain type of person; this is a milieu whose habits and preoccupations are in many ways crucial to an understanding of modern Britain. I work for London’s rich, liberal middle class. In 21st-century London, these are the victors, and these streets represent their spoils.

It is 8.30am on the perfect street, and the man of the house is nowhere to be seen.  He works in the city, so is either there, or more probably, during Covid, upstairs, “taking calls”.  Sometimes, he will switch banks, which involves taking “gardening leave”, a misleading designation for a paid sabbatical as he seems strangely reluctant to wield a trowel. More likely, he will mooch around the house in flip-flops, where his presence will provoke exasperation from his wife or partner, because he gets in the way of the million things she has to do.

You see, the woman of the house is also busy. She isn’t at work per se. Since having babies, she has developed more flexible pet projects at home. Now, she takes photographs and dabbles in interior design; one woman used to come outside asking us to taste the sticky, hair-gel like prototypes of her nascent marshmallow business. Last I heard, they were stocking them in a luxury hotel chain.

Sometimes, my clients want to talk, and it is over the course of hundreds of such conversations that a certain boilerplate biography emerges. Where did they come from? Rarely London. In most cases, they gravitated to the capital after university, chasing, like millions before them, the outsider’s burnished idea of the great metropolis. Maybe they fell into a graduate scheme, or, just as likely, someone rang around. Many of them will still own their first London flat, bought with parental help or when the banks were handing out mortgages like candy, which they will now rent out at strict market rates to someone younger who doesn’t have the deposit to buy.

Even as they accumulate pieces of its real estate, it’s hard to escape the sense that the city doesn’t fit them. I mean, sure, they like the Sunday farmer’s market and the sourdough pizza place. But this London is a simulacrum of the real city, one without the grime and rage.

Given time, their disproportionate spending power transforms the social and commercial landscape around them. Prone to homophily,  they are London’s agents of what Kevin Baker, writing about New York in Harper’s Magazine, described as the “urban crisis of affluence”. Community identity, once embalmed in generations-old family businesses, soon vanishes under an assault of displaced patronage and rising rents. Soon, it will be supplanted by whatever on-trend, franchisable business models are currently attracting the most city seed-funding. One person gets plantation shutters, then everyone does. Before long, these predilections engineer a Stepford enclave of homogenous respectability.

That’s why I’m here: to manicure the ersatz London of their own imagining with flowers and greenery. To help keep the outside world, with its food-banks and knife crime, over there, in the next postcode. With my mower and spade, I furnish a Potemkin village. Now that the inner-city diversions are shut, remote-working in vogue, you can hear them thinking: “Do we really need to stay?”

There is building work going on all along the roads, always. The original dimensions of a property are never enough. They must knock through and up and outwards. Rip out the old innards until all that remains is the surface, a varnish of heritage. The rest ends up in the skip, and with it go the house’s unloved ghosts. Usually, when a client commissions a big face-lift, the garden vanishes beneath rubble and portaloos. But only until the builders pack up and leave, and we return to disinter the anaemic tendrils of the plants that have survived, to dust them down and see what can be salvaged.

I work the front gardens; I watch the comings and goings. There are personal trainers, dog-walkers, delivery drivers, battalions of cleaners. One of the most popular cleaners in my catchment is an irrepressible lady from Warsaw. In Poland, she is a professional midwife with two degrees. Here, on the perfect street, she is someone who does ironing and steam-cleans the terrazzo tiles. We share an unspoken kinship, the cleaners and the gardeners, because we are the competent ones, maintaining the households, stewarding the land.

It is one of the more curious idiosyncrasies of contemporary British life that, when people speak of the country’s elite, they no longer mean the haute bourgeoisie. They mean the people I work for: this new financial caste. The people who were like them once, and who now, through some alchemy we barely understand, reap the new economy’s elusive harvest.

This isn’t something we discuss that much, historically acculturated as we Brits are to deference and class stratification. However, they have come to occupy a unique place in the national tectonics in that they are unpopular with both the Left (for their privilege) and the Right (for their faux-liberalism). You hear it most explicitly on those rare occasions when the journalists deign to leave the city. When they head north, to vox-pop pallid, scowling people against a backdrop of some bleak, dilapidated shopping street. “Those people down in London
”; “All those politicians in London
”; “They might think that in London, but up here…”

Behind the acrimony is an allegation that goes something like this: the keepers of the liberal flame promised us all a piece of their covenant. But its perks have all coalesced in their own streets, where it is least needed. Perhaps, in an earlier, less cynical era, they would have been viewed as those with the education and talent to make good in the City. Now, they are the metropolitan elite, sole beneficiaries of the stable jobs, flexible working, generous leave and gold-plated pensions that we were all promised a piece of yet never received.

Hypocrisy clings to this constituency like their floral athleisure pants. Their politics tend to lean progressive, and ostensibly egalitarian, but it prescribes a society that they seem reluctant to live in. During the summer’s BLM marches, the parents sat down with their kids to do homework projects about slavery, Windrush, and the fight for race equality. But few dark-skinned people actually live on these streets; “strangers” are viewed with suspicion. The families trumpet diversity, yet send their children to private school. They lament the dismemberment of the NHS, but the corporations they work for offer private family health insurance. They sigh about climate change but take three long-haul holidays a year and drive gas-guzzling SUVs. The Guardian lies neatly folded on the kitchen worktop, undisturbed.

They have so much stuff. Plastic stuff and metal stuff, antique stuff and state-of-the-art stuff. Also: organic stuff. Each November, we enter one house to find boxes ordered from on-line horticulturists filled with two to three thousand bulbs. Yet every plunge of the spade excavates the hundreds we planted one, two, three years before, and we stand there muddy and bewildered, figuring out which to discard.

It’s raining today on the perfect street, and my boots are heavy with mud. On one hand, it is possible to feel ennobled by the hardship and exposure of this hands-and-knees work: the communion with the earth, the soil beneath my nails. This job, which permits me to escape the city’s artifice, to notice the spiders setting webs in the hedgerows, the robins toiling for worms. But it can also breed resentment. And so being a gardener comes to mould a conflicted identity. The skin peeling from my hands is at once a testament to honest graft and an indictment of an economy that demands I strain my muscles while others stay indoors, obsessing over trivialities, or in the shiny totems at the horizon, conjuring wealth out of thin air.

Sometimes, between the yoga and the online painting class, a client will come outside to extemporise on the latest news. Mostly, it’s incomprehension. “Why are they doing this?” they say, when talk turns to Brexit, because there is no escaping Brexit if you live on these islands. “What could they possibly be getting out of it?”

I just shrug, feign ambivalence. They wouldn’t like the answer. For whatever deceits and nostalgias underpin Britain’s culture war, this is what really animates the national rage: the theory that the people holding the reins inflated huge bubbles in the financial and property markets, colluded in sustaining them for as long as possible to the detriment of everyone else. The obstinacy with which many cleave to the Brexit cause is rooted in the suspicion that Europe was somehow an apparatus of this hegemony, and, by association, of their dispossession. That behind the liberal establishment’s horror of Brexit is the fear that it might immiserate these gleaming streets. That it might drag us all, poor and rich alike, back into the primordial clay.

Perhaps one day I will tell them: “Because it will hurt you, too.”

I wouldn’t claim to be a voice of Britain’s disaffected working classes. The product of a middle-class upbringing myself, and conscious that the ability to scrape by in London betrays a certain privilege, I am culturally closer to my clientele than I might care to admit. But in cynical moments, when I’m kneeling on the wet ground, using a trowel to spoon cat shit into a bag for someone who has never offered us tea, I think: “No wonder.” As unfair as it is to taxonomise people this way, I get it, I feel it, the proletarian wrath.

“You’re so lucky, working outside,” they often say, when the sun is shining, and the work is genteel, an hour spent dead-heading the climbing roses. Who is having the better day?

For the second year running, the clematis has grown leggy. It doesn’t thrive in that spot near the French doors, so perhaps I will cut it back hard, transplant it to a sunnier position, and hope for its resurrection next spring. I will chop down the anemones, as their flowers, the last of the summer colour, have already surrendered to the changing season.

I will till the London soil, as my city sinks deeper into a mire of its own furies. And all the while I’m snipping and raking and digging, I will be thinking, “I hope they never see this essay. I need the money.”


Henry Wismayer is a writer and gardener based in London.

henrywismayer

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Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago

A beautifully written and observed article, one of the best I have read this year on any platform.

Alison Houston
Alison Houston
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Yes, I was just going to say the same thing. Gardeners are the best people.

Ian nclfuzzy
Ian nclfuzzy
3 years ago
Reply to  Alison Houston

Me too – they really are…….

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago
Reply to  Alison Houston

Yes, what a splendid tonic in these hysterical times!
I have had the same Gardner for nearly thirty years, during which time he has created two ‘paradises’ for me, one in Arcadia and one in the decaying Urbs.

He has more common sense than Parliament, the BMA and Oxbridge combined.
He is also the proud possessor of an English Springer Spaniel.

To plagiarise the Roman, Julius Lacer, “if you seek his monument look around you”.
I suspect that is also the case with Mr Wismayer.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago
Reply to  Mark Corby

“He has more common sense than Parliament, the BMA and Oxbridge combined. ” – I take your word for his ‘common sense” but if you are right he has uncommon sense. As Charlie Munger says ‘common sense is very rare, it is in fact uncommon sense”.

Starry Gordon
Starry Gordon
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

‘Common sense’ used to mean ‘What everybody thinks and perceives.’ As you all seem to agree, it’s common sense after all: gardeners are the salt of the earth. What happened to taxi drivers and washer-women?

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago
Reply to  Starry Gordon

“What happened to taxi drivers and washer-women?”
If they agree with your views they have common sense if they don’t they don’t have common sense – and they part of the liberal globalist elite.

Terry Needham
Terry Needham
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

Stupid boy.

Simon Baggley
Simon Baggley
3 years ago
Reply to  Mark Corby

Are you a parody ?

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago
Reply to  Simon Baggley

Damn, and I thought I had got away with it!

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
3 years ago
Reply to  Mark Corby

“To plagiarise the Roman, Julius Lacer, “if you seek his monument look around you”.”

Hello Mark, wasn’t that Horace in his 3rd Book of Odes?

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

..

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

S.P.Q.R.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

I have tried to reply but that verminous cretin, the UnHerd Censor, seems to have wet her/his pants at my reply.
I shall try again tomorrow when the Laphraoigh has worn off!

Despite deleting the Latin, it has failed again!
This is ridiculous! Perhaps the word ‘stupendous’ is the problem? Or perhaps they just cannot abide Horace?

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
3 years ago
Reply to  Mark Corby

Haha! I did a tiny bit of sleuthing myself, and it seems that I confused “si monumentum requiris, circumspice” which was Christopher Wren’s epitaph, with Horace’s line “exegi monumentum aere perennius”.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

Well done, spot on!
Book:III Ode:XXX Line:1
Nunc est bibendum!

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

Well done, you were obviously paying attention all those years ago.
In fact you are pretty close! What wonderful Horace actually said was ‘I have made a monument more lasting than bronze’. (Book III Ode XXX Line 1)
I have also slightly distorted Lacer’s inscription, which incidentally adorns one of finest surviving monuments to Ancient Rome. A truly stupendous sight, miles from anywhere, almost at the end of the known world.
Today, as I’m sure know those actual words are used on the Tomb of Sir Christopher Wren, in St Paul’s.
Nunc est bibendum, as Horace said!

Jed Every
Jed Every
3 years ago
Reply to  Alison Houston

One person has downvoted this statement. I’m guessing Ronald doesn’t know any gardeners.

7882 fremic
7882 fremic
3 years ago
Reply to  Jed Every

I wanted to down vote it too, and I have known many gardeners, and even was one in my distant past. I find it smacks of the NHS saintliness, and I also worked in health care decades ago.

Gardeners suffer from that thing servants do, of being servants much as the house cleaners and so on, (which I also have been), and thus being an insider of the household in a fashion, but very much not of it in more ways. It is a little like being a hanger on of the smart set at school, allowed some ins, but definitely not one of them, or ever will be. A good position to make observations from, but ultimately tinged by this unequal relationship. (I mean this when commenting not on the plants and soil and equipment, but on the clients.) I felt we got more of a proper view of his mind than theirs.

Michael Inglefield
Michael Inglefield
3 years ago
Reply to  7882 fremic

Agree. A bit of self delusion going on here, plus a tinge of virtue signalling. Nobody’s perfect for crying-out-loud….we all have our little foibles…people who make money from ‘deals’ are just human beings like the rest of us. In other words, good and bad. The author pretends too much…

Starry Gordon
Starry Gordon
3 years ago

Indeed, he seems quite a bit more like his employers or clients than he seems to want to think. Why not sink down into the warm, soapy water?

Simon Baggley
Simon Baggley
3 years ago

He’s describing a type of self delusionional middle class Remainer who ticks all the boxes but is really detached from wider society and the lower orders and cannot believe the plebs had the audacity to drag us out of their beloved EU

Terence Fitch
Terence Fitch
3 years ago
Reply to  Simon Baggley

Leave voters were often middle class and home counties. Plenty of plebs in northern cities voted remain. Label thinking labels you.

wgeoff.56
wgeoff.56
3 years ago
Reply to  7882 fremic

He is also a writer and to be good at that once must also be an astute observer of human nature. I think he has hit the mark rather more accurately than you perhaps care to admit.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago
Reply to  Jed Every

The Censor should be sacked!
QED above!

Simon Baggley
Simon Baggley
3 years ago
Reply to  Alison Houston

Even posh middle class ones who are really only slumming it

Neil Pennington
Neil Pennington
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Agree

7882 fremic
7882 fremic
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

I was disappointed as I wrote the first post and it was not printed. My view being that class is valid and a predictor of who one is, and used my life experiences to say why. I guess this is unacceptable. My stance being primarily that all can see the underclasses are socially beneath them for reason, but almost none can see the classes above them are above them for reason too (other than merely money in both cases).

I know saying any thing of race is beyond the pale, but had not realized it now was also true of class. I did not care so much for the article as I find it too heavy on protecting the writers feelings on his subjects.

Val Cox
Val Cox
3 years ago
Reply to  7882 fremic

I thought it was gently perfect!

Claire D
Claire D
3 years ago
Reply to  7882 fremic

Re your first post, it may well turn up in 2 days time, that’s happened to me a few times, frustrating.

J J
J J
3 years ago
Reply to  7882 fremic

“My stance being primarily that all can see the underclasses are socially beneath them for reason, but almost none can see the classes above them are above them for reason too”

Isn’t that a very powerful explanation of why class politics has more to do with subjective envy than any objective description of how societies function?

Randall Peaslee
Randall Peaslee
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Yes, I feel the same.

Scott Allan
Scott Allan
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

I completely agree Fraser. A wonderful insight into happiness.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
3 years ago

I loved this article – thank you so much! These are the people whose cinematic equivalents are found in Sally Potter’s “The Party”.
Over here in Vienna, we have our equivalent too: those who love to burnish their liberal, right-on credentials by loudly announcing on social media that they “welcome all refugees”, pouring scorn on anyone who voices doubts about completely open borders…but then quietly move to the better postcodes and send their children to the private schools where they don’t have to face up to the struggles and the tensions that integrating those people involves.

Charlie Brown
Charlie Brown
3 years ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Indeed. Times like this I often think of my friends’ experience when buying the house of a rather famous actress who has always been very keen to brandish her left wing values.

At the time she was living in one of those North London areas which while being ultra fashionable and expensive, had the most dreadful schools. And as her children approached that crucial age, she was faced by a dilemma familiar to many a Labour frontbencher.

But rather than just bravely plumping for outright hypocrisy, she went for the more deceitful version and moved to the immediate catchment area – and with that ridiculously expensive house prices – of the best state school in West London. And with that she could proudly tell every Sunday newspaper interviewer that no of course she would never dream of sending her children to a private school…

Simon Baggley
Simon Baggley
3 years ago
Reply to  Charlie Brown

Dianne Abbott didn’t have that problem as she was essentially shameless

Valerie Killick
Valerie Killick
3 years ago
Reply to  Simon Baggley

I’m not a fan of Abbott yet I couldn’t blame her for her reasons – that she didn’t want her son getting caught up with the gang culture.

wgeoff.56
wgeoff.56
3 years ago

Not wanting her son to get caught up in gang culture is perfectly reasonable, throwing the racist label at those who want to tackle it is the problem, especially given her position at the time.

Christopher Thompson
Christopher Thompson
3 years ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Never trust anyone who doesn’t live next to their opinions.

Jane Jones
Jane Jones
3 years ago

A.k.a. walking the talk.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
3 years ago

Yes, that’s it! In this case, I live next to this particular opinion…and for the most part it’s fine. I love the diversity of the area, the Turkish, Arabic and Serbo-Croatian restaurants and shops…but I also think it’s important to highlight and openly talk about the downsides and difficulties of multiculturalism, as well as where its limits should be.

M V
M V
3 years ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

If having a few children with parents from the Balkans in the classroom has downsides and causes difficulties, I wonder what one should make of the demographics of a bog standard South London state school.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Serbs and Croats are YOUR problem? Really?
They are in Germany and Austria and they are NOT the problem.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

I don’t think you understood my comment. I stated that Serbians, Croatians etc. live in my area. I did not say that they were the problem. In fact they are among the least problematic groups in Austrian society.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
3 years ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

I’m afraid this is just what Jeremy does.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

She specifically said they weren’t a problem. Remove your woke filters and her comment again.

Dorothy Slater
Dorothy Slater
3 years ago

I am stealing this phrase for all the times it drives me nuts to have the BLM signs in front of the 2 million dollar houses I pass on my walk every day. You expressed my frustrations far better than I ever cou;ld.

Andrew Thompson
Andrew Thompson
3 years ago
Reply to  Dorothy Slater

I’m no racist but I pass a house like you mention regularly and each time the urge to poke a black brick through their front window grows stronger. A very white area, hypocrites all of them. I loath hypocrisy.

Last Jacobin
Last Jacobin
3 years ago

I guess that means we shouldn’t trust those who don’t live in London but who have views on how multiculturalism works in London.

E Wyatt
E Wyatt
3 years ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

Aside from the fact that many of us have lived in London, you think London is the only multiculural place in Britain?

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
3 years ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

Absolutely. Don’t trust woke BLM-types in Somerset.

V Stone
V Stone
3 years ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

Where are they? I live in Somerset.. Do you mean the ”kids” in Bristol.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
3 years ago
Reply to  V Stone

I’d be surprised if you couldn’t find a BLM poster or two in some very smart windows in places like Frome.

You’re absolutely right about Bristol, of course.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

DM, do you have any idea what has happened to the Champion of the NHS, one Mark Bridgeford?

It says he has been ‘blocked’. Sadly I’m not au fait with such terms, so what is that?

Peter Jackson
Peter Jackson
3 years ago

Yes, excellent precept. I remember David Cameron extolling the benefits of immigration and wondered then – and still do – when he and Sam will be moving to Burnley.

V Stone
V Stone
3 years ago
Reply to  Peter Jackson

I ”immigrated” here from the US. My family left the UK at the beginning of the 20th century. I think Luvvies ( great word) are just pathetic. My husband and I had similar jobs becasue they pay extremeley well. But, since I can not stand most of London, we moved to Buckinghamshire. After a few years there we decided on Somerset and a local farm. I live in a ”white area” for a reason, the same reason they do. Low crime, great social co hesion and everything is maintained. There is no BLM signage, because their ”cause” is pointless and absurd. They celebrate criminals and are an arm of the Dems stateside. Adjusting to countryside living was intresting. I have been cursed, called a stupid Yank and spat on. I popped a man in the face for spitting on me, the others I let slide. Sometimes, people are just a** hats no matter their location.

J D
J D
3 years ago

Another shameless thief here who has helped himself to your comment for future personal use.

srhodes5
srhodes5
3 years ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Agree, the hypocrisy of the liberal elite.

Pete Kreff
Pete Kreff
3 years ago

How enjoyable it is to read good writing! And even better when the first-rate craftsmanship is combined with thought-provoking ideas.

Truly excellent, Mr Wismayer.

Pamela Booker
Pamela Booker
3 years ago
Reply to  Pete Kreff

I agree. His writing was a joy to read. A master of his craft.

Styff Byng
Styff Byng
3 years ago

This is an excellent and thoughtful piece. I know these people he writes about and live amongst them now. I listen to their children who bang on about green and rights for all and then go out and get wasted on drugs that have the tears and blood of the disaffected and disadvantaged all over them. Sailing through uni on the pound of mum and dad and then interning at gigs that no working class kid could ever hope to do because they need to pay their way. These people are cosseted and entitled, their hypocrisy writ large, and the older I get the less I like them and the more I realise how lionheart the 15 year old me back in the mid 80s who left the sink council estate in SE London was.

Valerie Killick
Valerie Killick
3 years ago
Reply to  Styff Byng

Their privilege is not just because of their wealth but also their contacts. The child of wealth will get the internship via ‘someone daddy knows’. The only way the likes of me and you can get anywhere near that platform in life is through good education, though these days since the destruction of grammar schools, that route is more difficult. Good state schools are unfortunately too few and are usually in catchment areas which have become far more pricey precisely because of the good school.

Eloise Burke
Eloise Burke
3 years ago

An American here, who cheered Brexit. For reasons I do not entirely understand, it seems the more government you have, the less freedom you have. Do the British not have enough government with their Parliament? Do they need direction and oversight from Europe?

I would like to suggest to Mr. Wismayer that nobody votes for a policy because it will hurt somebody else. Too focused on ourselves. And how, exactly, does it hurt them, once they’ve weathered the change? The tides of money that slosh around an economy are not so easy to figure out – who saw the housing bubble before it burst?

I am not a high-finance person and have barely enough brains to save for a rainy day. But what I feel about Brexit is not proletarian wrath. I desire my government to leave me alone, unless I’m robbed or my house burns, and if I were a Brit I would feel much safer with the EU at a comfortable distance.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago
Reply to  Eloise Burke

Hard for you to understand but UK GOV (not EU) is/was responsible for pretty much everything that matters in daily life to the average citizen.

Bengt Dhover
Bengt Dhover
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

And that, right there, is not a signal that something is seriously wrong?

John Gleeson
John Gleeson
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

Please, just do everyone a favour and go somewhere else.

As someone pointed out about you the other day everything that comes out of your delusional mouth signals how much you think you are right on everything and how everyone is wrong.

I’m willing to bet before the ref you never really gave the EU a second thought, and once the media, filled with the types this article highlighted, launched their class-war demonisation campaign you were all over it.

This isn’t the place for you.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago
Reply to  John Gleeson

“..you never really gave the EU a second thought,” – absolutely true. And that makes my position more rational and closer to the truth.

“..their class-war demonisation campaign you were all over it.” – absurd statement and I was never all over it. I simply despise ignorance, incompetence, lying, etc (widespread among Brexiters – think of the PM).
“This isn’t the place for you.” – You are not running the site and if you had any intellectual sense you want people that disagree with you. But what you want is a eco-chamber.

Valerie Killick
Valerie Killick
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

Admitting you never gave the EU a second thought and yet you now see yourself if not an authority, as ‘more rational and closer to the truth’? Delusional is more likely.

A Spetzari
A Spetzari
3 years ago
Reply to  John Gleeson

I’ve had a few back and forths with Mr Smith, and disagree with him on pretty much everything. But I am afraid you are very wrong on this.

This would be an awful place if we were all one hive mind.

James Moss
James Moss
3 years ago
Reply to  A Spetzari

Agreed, it is unbalanced enough as it is.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
3 years ago
Reply to  A Spetzari

I will grant that Jeremy’s been an excellent recruiting sergeant for Brexit, the Tories, and the struggle against wokeness.

Simon Baggley
Simon Baggley
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

Mass migration from the EU ? – it affects many people around my way

Valerie Killick
Valerie Killick
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

I disagree. The EU was gradually taking over more control of our government and we were not being fully informed of this and its consequent limitations by our own elected government because in the main they were pro-EU.

Rafael Aguilo
Rafael Aguilo
3 years ago
Reply to  Eloise Burke

“The tides of money that slosh around an economy are not so easy to figure out – who saw the housing bubble before it burst?”- Living in Long Island, NY, since 1982, I could never understand how on Earth people were given mortgages they could NEVER be able to pay, and without proof of income. Everyone and its Uncle bought on to the illusion they “owned” their homes, even though they had signed “interest reset” mortgages, where they would pay a ridiculously low mortgage payment for a few years, and bank on the prospect of a better income in the future. A lot of the thinking was: “I’ll be able to sell 3 or 5 years down the road.” The trap was set, and the world kept on spinning.

I went one day to the post office and saw something that caught my eye. Most post offices have a bulletin board where public announcements are posted. On that particular day there were 13 home foreclosure notices for my living area. Up to that time, it was not uncommon to see a foreclosure notice every now and then. My immediate thought was: “IF the economy is as good as they claim it to be, WHY so many foreclosures at the same time? Something is very wrong. The S**T is going to hit the fan.” It didn’t take long for the Housing Market to collapse. The rest is history.

eganwriter
eganwriter
3 years ago

Lovely piece of writing and I so enjoyed how the writer encapsulates the hypocrisy of such people. Where I live in Kings Heath in Birmingham we have these type of neighbourhoods too. It’s like they’re creating gated communities with their gentrification. I’m working class and feel dismissed and patronised by these bourgeois colonisers who have no idea of the daily realities of working in the gig economy and trying to keep our heads above water whilst they indulge in identity politics with their faux liberalism. A great piece and much more insightful than what one finds when reading the Guardian – Thank you.

robert scheetz
robert scheetz
3 years ago
Reply to  eganwriter

Yes, they almost can’t help themselves; and, at such times betray all their rooted tribal, ethnic, class prejudices, that in polite company they keep hidden, and
fulsomely lip-serve the reigning PC.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  eganwriter

‘A great piece and much more insightful than what one finds when reading the Guardian.’

Reading the ingredients listed on the side of a cereal box will yield more insight than reading The Guardian.

eganwriter
eganwriter
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Absolutely!

Cathy Carron
Cathy Carron
3 years ago

Haven’t read such a wonderful piece as this in ages. A tour de force of observation, creating concrete images for the reader, all while making the point eloquently. BRAVO!!

I garden and live among the set who never worry where money is coming from in both NYC and the CT countryside. I am one of them. Yet, I hear these liberals constantly yammering on about their own ‘virtue’ not really living their own words and beliefs. They have no idea how the other half lives and aren’t really interested. The hedge fund couple down the street put rainbow banners and BLM signs on their lovely manicured country seats. None of them do their own gardens either. They are a universe unto their own. Flitting here and there. It’s nauseating, but the gardening soothes.

Chris C
Chris C
3 years ago
Reply to  Cathy Carron

Cathy, your very US-centric post illustrates a problem that’s going on in this thread. You’re not the only example (so apologies for singling you out) but you are a good example of it.

The piece states that it’s about London. Yet it’s written with a US mindset.

US posters then pile in saying how wonderful it is, because it echoes their US mindset.

The US mindset is that rich people are liberals.

But to anyone who actually knows rich people in the UK (as distinct from being a UK-based wannabee who doesn’t know such people but has picked up US right-wing attitudes from spending too long on sites like Unherd), it’s just silly. In the UK, the small subset of educated people who have got themselves richly well-paid jobs in City of London banks (as distinct from the much larger group of educated people in jobs which are not richly paid) are not ‘progressive’ in the least. Sure, the rich group avoid being heard expressing support for coarse 1950s prejudice against black people, foreigners and gays, since that is considered very downmarket (though I have my suspicions that in private more of them hold such attitudes than they let on – it’s hard to tell of course). For a start, coarse prejudice isn’t businesslike, since some of its targets could be clients or customers (or employees whose competition for jobs helps to ‘maintain downward pressure on employment costs’), and making money is their God. But they aren’t liberals. They support most of the rest of the Margaret Thatcher agenda. Your image of a US hedge fund couple with LGBT and BLM signs on their country seats is a fiction in a UK context. In the UK they are much more likely to be wearing tweed jackets at their second home in the countryside, angling for an invitation to the Ball given by law-breaking local fox hunters, and giving the visiting clergyman a large donation to repair the roof of the village church to show that they are “good chaps”. No-one in the countryside is going to applaud them for LGBT and BLM banners (they would incur hostility) even if they had the remotest desire to display them, which in my experience 99% anyway would not.

Micheal Lucken
Micheal Lucken
3 years ago
Reply to  Chris C

It depends how rich you mean. The sort of people you are talking about are what I would describe as upper class. They don’t need to live in London, take part in the grubby world of city business. They live in their mansions in the countryside and employ the reasonably well off middle class sort the article talks about to manage their wealth and investments. Their offspring go through the process of higher education, join in with the young liberal “rebels” supporting fashionable cause and learn how money and power works in the city whilst awaiting their inheritance before retiring to the country residence to enjoy the fruits of the family wealth. They do learn how to keep the plebs onside though and a BLM sign in the window and a copy of the Guardian to refer to helps assuage interest in their good fortune whilst among the fashionable middle classes. The promotion of fashionable social values by their corporate interests is a pretty useful tool as well.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
3 years ago
Reply to  Chris C

One of the problems is this comment is the word ‘liberal’ itself which ironically you are taking as it’s US meaning, pretty much ‘left-wing’. Margaret Thatcher was a classic liberal of course (some would argue more than she was a conservative).

The concept of left talking (virtue signalling) but extremely privileged people is all too real and hardly unique to the US and was recently described well by Suzanne Moore about her first stint at The Guardian.

I have no idea how many hedge fund managers join illegal fox hunts – it sounds pretty unlikely to me – and rather sounds like a piece of boiler plate prejudice about the old toffs, rather than our new elite..

V Stone
V Stone
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

As somoene who is from the US and hangs out in the country (UK) with old toffs. They have no BLM signs and rainbow banners out here. These people are very traditonal in a lot of ways. As am I, they have more in common with my father who by all accounts was a ”redneck” than any urbanite. They have old money which gives you prespective, this has nothing to do with America vs UK. Which by the way as someone who has walked across the water on both sides, the difference is microscopic.

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
3 years ago
Reply to  Cathy Carron

Just goes to show……hypocritical liberals exist in all countries, the US is no different from the UK. And it isn’t always about money, US universities are jam packed with the same.

Andrew Harvey
Andrew Harvey
3 years ago

Now, they are the metropolitan elite, sole beneficiaries of the stable jobs, flexible working, generous leave and gold-plated pensions that we were all promised a piece of yet never received.

Umm, I think you fundamentally misunderstand the nature of the employment in the banking and professional services industries that pays for all those houses. Sure, they’re very well paid, but stable and flexible they are not. These are hyper competitive jobs requiring long hours of never ending work that could all be over after the next review cycle. The number of people making it to pension age at that level is miniscule.

Your criticism of the managerial class have some validity, but if you look at the hard numbers, the residents of Mayfair and Chelsea have gained far more from the neo-liberal settlement than anyone in Dulwich or Wimbledon.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Harvey

I worked in Investment Banking in NYC (1998-2005) and London (2006-2011); your comment is spot on.

simon taylor
simon taylor
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

I wondered how long it would be before you outed yourself as a bit of a banker.

Terry Needham
Terry Needham
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

You are not old enough, Jeremy, to have worked anywhere in 1998. You worked in investment banking in 1998 but hadn’t even heard of Tier 2? Really?
You were not born in 1998. You are a teenage fake. F*ck off kid.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago
Reply to  Terry Needham

Take it easy boomer.

Terry Needham
Terry Needham
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

Okay, teenager.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago
Reply to  Terry Needham

I wish I was a teenager and not middle age.

Terry Needham
Terry Needham
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

If you are middle aged then you are mentally retarded.
Everything about you screams kid.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago
Reply to  Terry Needham

yes, says the senile boomer.

Terry Needham
Terry Needham
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

But surely you are also a boomer.
Well how can you be middle-aged and not be a boomer yourself?

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago
Reply to  Terry Needham

Yes, you are senile.

Terry Needham
Terry Needham
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

But are you not also senile?
After all, are you are not a self-confessed boomer yourself?

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago
Reply to  Terry Needham

middle age – born in the 70s
boomer – born in the 50s
See the difference?

Terry Needham
Terry Needham
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

Nope.
The trouble is, Jeremy, that nothing you say stacks up.
And so, I don’t believe you.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago
Reply to  Terry Needham

“Nope.” a sign of senility.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Harvey

Your Chelsea/Wimbledon comparisons are true, but I think you underplay the real scope of the piece.

The good burghers of Wimbledon have massively out-accumulated the folk of Barking and Dagenham for example.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

“The good burghers of Wimbledon have massively out-accumulated the folk of Barking and Dagenham for example.”

That is completely normal. Would the good folk of Barking be happy if French bankers moved in their area and pushed up house prices?

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

It is completely normal, and that is what stinks …

Mark Kerridge
Mark Kerridge
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Harvey

Job stability and flexibility are not absolute concepts. While employment in finance or banking may not perfectly secure they undoubtedly offer more security than to those employed in the gig economy on zero hours contracts ( not to mention levels of remuneration and the ability to have any significant savings for that rainy day).

John H Abeles
John H Abeles
3 years ago

Much the same pertains in the USA in the peri-urban and suburban areas.

To me, the key meme so pointedly displayed in this essay is hypocrisy, redolent and pungent hypocrisy

And I say this as one living much the same lifestyle but, as an anomaly, I have ‘conservative’, that is ‘ classical liberal’ views. And yes, on the whole I favour Trump.

It means my bottling up my politics with evasive change of subjects or with mere silences when my limousine liberal, or left wing, neighbours mount their positions of virtue signalling, holier than thou concern for the common populace – people for which they really have little or no concern if not harbouring disdain for their crass Trumpism and populist concerns for the fate of the traditional American ideal.

Cathy Carron
Cathy Carron
3 years ago
Reply to  John H Abeles

And I say this as one living much the same lifestyle but, as an anomaly, I have ‘conservative’, that is ‘ classical liberal’ views. And yes, on the whole I favour Trump.

Me too. Trump has an uncanny intuitive sense. Trump was and will continue to be ‘onto something’. He’s not going away nor are his followers and their enthusiasm.

Big Kagi
Big Kagi
3 years ago
Reply to  John H Abeles

I’m sympathetic to your situation — I’m in the US as well, and while I wouldn’t call myself a conservative and certainly don’t support Trump, I’m frequently frustrated by the vapid orthodoxy that surrounds me in academia.

Still: can you show me a dominant class, at any point in history, that wasn’t hypocritical? Honesty in these matters tends to lead to beheadings, doesn’t it?

Lindsay Gatward
Lindsay Gatward
3 years ago
Reply to  John H Abeles

Love that ‘limousine liberal’, even more graphic than ‘champagne socialist’ – Trump and Brexit represent an icon for those that resent that type of hypocrisy – For me it was that and many other details – For Brexit it is how the anti democratic EU hierarchy is so close to that intended for governance after Third Reich victory and a detail is how the EU yellow and blue iconography was as prolific as the black and red would have been – A good example of the Brexit ‘project fear’ hypocrisy to intimidate the despised masses was Obama’s threat of ‘back of the queue’ obviously rehearsed with the UK elite as he would always say ‘line’ not ‘queue’ and everybody noticed such rehearsed derision from our closest ally.

Chris C
Chris C
3 years ago

I’m in favour of Brexit, but do remember that much of the Brexit vote was from dyed-in-the-wool Conservatives. Brexit was a Tory psychodrama for decades before it became a national phenomenon sucking in non-Tories.

Perceptions of this have become distorted since the Brexit referendum because the defection of working-class former Labour voters from the Labour party line on Europe was both striking and an example of a longer-term social trend which is wider than EU membership. Smugly comfortable and prosperous middle-class Tory voters voting for the Leave line pushed by the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail was not a dramatic phenomenon and therefore did not attract so much attention, especially since it also didn’t fit the agenda of the three billionaire families which now control 80% of the UK national press. There’s an element here of “man bites dog” being more newsworthy, but if you deliver mail, you’re still looking out for dogs not people!

Arnold Grutt
Arnold Grutt
3 years ago
Reply to  Chris C

“Brexit was a Tory psychodrama for decades before it became a national phenomenon sucking in non-Tories.”

Actually ‘Brexit’ has been an issue since the time of Henry VIII. And the fundamental issue at the heart of it has remained the same: What role should foreigners who are ‘the government’ where they live play in the Government of Britain/England? In Henry’s day the problem was the Pope (politically quite as active as any Monarch/Leader, and regarded as their superior in Catholic countries), and in our day the problem was the religious impulse behind the EU (and I consider – and it was interesting to find out that the historian David Starkey at least agrees – that in many ways it still is, as I regard all political Europhilism as basically the offspring of religious difference, and it is exactly the same religious split as in Henry’s day. Brexit/Remain is essentially a Christian sectarian religious issue at base).

Calling something a ‘psychodrama’ is to trivialise the REAL political questions underlying the differences between the UK and Europe in their attitude to what is ‘political power’, its origins and its philosophy.

Valerie Killick
Valerie Killick
3 years ago
Reply to  Chris C

No, Brexit was cross-party, excluding the LimpDumbs of course.

Neil Pennington
Neil Pennington
3 years ago

Thanks for this article, I’m one From “an earlier, less cynical era, …. viewed as those with the education and talent to make good in the City”. So true, but not in the ‘City’, but ahead of the property curve, I benefited from the housing boom.
London then was (1970’s) the right place at the right time, for anyone if you took the risk. Now that opportunity for ‘anyone’ has gone, unless it’s inherited or you have the right connections. I voted for Brexit, I came from those red wall towns, I understood their frustrations. Let’s see what happens!

Kenneth MacKillop
Kenneth MacKillop
3 years ago

Nice piece. I only hope it is not possible to make such observations so commonly for too much longer.
Analagously, in a general way, but much less poetically, I am just amazed at all of the consensus discussion in the US that everyone who is anything but poor and low-class/income/education is presumably able to “work at home” quite comfortably. Much of this, admittedly, comes from those in finance, as if this “industry” is characteristic of all industry.

I am an engineer — certainly a well-educated professional, but I work with physical goods and things. I can do SOME work at home, but not most of it (only that on virtual paper — the earliest phase of new product development, mostly), and that has been the case for my entire career of more than four decades now. Nothing has changed, and indeed nothing in my lifestyle has changed during this pandemic, other than the necessity to don a mask each day when picking up my coffee at McD’s and shopping at the grocery store pretty much every day.

I spend a lot of time in the deep woods — twice a week I run 8 to 16 mi. Additional time spent outdoors is for shoveling snow, or mowing the lawn, or repairing my automobiles or my house, or suchlike. I cannot brag that I get any remuneration for any of my outdoor activities, but I get enough.

The degree of detachment from the essentials of life in Western societies has become shocking. I believe it is very dangerous. I had previously thought it was somewhat limited rather than nearly universal. The pandemic makes me wonder.

Wulvis Perveravsson
Wulvis Perveravsson
3 years ago

Great comment. Your closing paragraph is particularly resonant, and the soaring levels of dissatisfaction and depression in Western societies would seem to bear you out.

John Mattingley
John Mattingley
3 years ago

I spent 40 years in the City up until this year. I know the type Henry refers to very well indeed, having employed a good few of them. Many are still friends.

I’ve noticed over the last year or so that opinions they would have roundly denounced a few years ago, particularly concerning race, they now espouse indignantly as if the realisation they’ve come to is conferred legitimacy simply because it is they, the cosmopolitan rulers of culture, that have arrived at it.

What seems to have happened is the “diversity” that they previously championed has become uncomfortably overwhelming. The inevitabilities of it have crept ever closer to their lives and, more worryingly, their Farrow & Ball painted front doors.

I live in the darkest countryside and have done so for 15 years. My friends (followed by their friends) have been arriving in a steady stream for a couple of years (driving local estate agents into paroxysmal excitement).

But my friends at least seem unable to get senior enough or extract enough wealth from their employer in this low interest rate, increasingly automated and almost moribund finance sector to be able to make a break for the countryside.

Much of what Henry sees as wealth, is in fact rented through debt. The costs of being in that class have risen to be prohibitive (school fees have quadrupled in some cases I am told) – many of my friends are mired in cash flow problems, despite the bricks and mortar assets upon which they often draw. But nevertheless, the pressure to keep up appearances, especially among stay at home wives, is immense – indeed, crushing.

Add in the hits on performance within banks by wokism and such things as unconscious bias training (it’s wreaking havoc, I hear) and I wonder whether there isn’t an unacknowledged big reckoning just around the corner even without Covid.

Wulvis Perveravsson
Wulvis Perveravsson
3 years ago

But my friends at least seem unable to get senior enough or extract enough wealth from their employer in this low interest rate, increasingly automated and almost moribund finance sector to be able to make a break for the countryside.

Should I go and fetch my violin? Perhaps they should prioritise minimising debt and living properly within their means over keeping up appearances.

John Mattingley
John Mattingley
3 years ago

You are right, Wulvis, they should.

Ralph Windsor
Ralph Windsor
3 years ago

Let’s hope so.

Michael Burnett
Michael Burnett
3 years ago

A fantastic read. I smiled as I read it, recognising not only myself but friends and other Londoners in this beautifully written portrait of the city. It reminds me in some ways of reading Dickens, for some reason. I am sure other people will disagree and put me straight.

Paul Marks
Paul Marks
3 years ago

There is nothing wrong with money lending – taking Real Savings and loaning them out for productive investment, farm improvements, better factories and so on.

The trouble is that modern “financial industry” (or “sector”) has nothing to do with Real Savings and productive investment – the vast, bloated, “financial sector”) is dependent on the flow of Credit Money backed by the Central Banks (Bank of England, ECB, Federal Reserve, Bank of Japan, Bank of Switzerland, yes the Swiss are NOT better than anyone else now, and so on) – Richard Cantillon (John Law’s one time business partner) warned about this insanity some three centuries ago. but what he faced was TINY compared to what has in modern times.

It is not an exaggeration to say that the entire Capital Structure of the economy (not just in the United Kingdom – all over the Western world) has been utterly distorted and twisted. It is not just your feeling that this wealthy “new class” are not doing anything constructive Sir – they are really are doing nothing constructive. They are playing (in various complex ways) with a gigantic Credit Bubble, one that makes that of 2008 look small. This system will come to an end at some point – but, sadly, the end will be terrible.

simon taylor
simon taylor
3 years ago

Dear Henry, reading the posts below, it is obvious that, as Corporal Jones would say “They don`t like it up `em”. I fear for your lively hood as, if not your clientele, certainly some of their associates will have read this. I however, recognise these people (I am a builder), with their double standards, total lack of awareness, and non existent or rubbish tea making skills.
I suggest you try to get a job with the parks dept (and also get a pen name).

Christopher Barclay
Christopher Barclay
3 years ago

This article sounds like the opening page sof a novel I will read again and again. I hope it gets written.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
3 years ago

This is the kind of thing I come here to read. Excellent, perceptive stuff.

Bristol Manc
Bristol Manc
3 years ago

An excellent piece of writing. Via a council house and a single parent upbringing I find myself in one of those streets. I have tried explaining why people have voted for Brexit to some neighbours and colleagues. While not 100% of the reason I’m sure, ‘because it will hurt you too’ really touches on something. It also makes me reflect on some of the ‘class guilt’ I undoubtedly harbour.

But back to the writing, this is the opening chapter of a book I would buy. Bravo!

Michael North
Michael North
3 years ago
Reply to  Bristol Manc

Brexit was about immigration.
Remainerism is about Leavers being thick.
Two worlds…

Albireo Double
Albireo Double
3 years ago
Reply to  Michael North

My vote to leave was driven by a pretty simple wish to have my country run and my laws made by a parliament that would be accountable only to the UK population and not to a remote European commission. A parliament that knows that if it gets it wrong it will be voted out by that same UK population, who will no longer accept “the EU excuse” for slovenly, rubber stamping of inappropriate and arcane EU and ECJ dictats, by their MP’s.

I’m sorry if you are unable to understand this rather clear reason for wishing to regain our independence. I suppose that subscribing to it might make me “thick” in your words. But if so, what does it make someone who is not even capable of understanding or accepting the concept – after four years of discussion and, effectively, three plebiscites?

It’s becoming difficult for the “Little Europeans now, as they cling to their nostalgic dreams of the old days of EU empire, as they weep for their lost power and influence on the “world stage” (whatever that is).

Leave your insular fears behind, and join the rest of us as we become outward-looking, global citizens, with our own national treasure and pride as well. You can do it if you try.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago
Reply to  Albireo Double

“A parliament that knows that if it gets it wrong it will be voted out by that same UK population, who will no longer accept “the EU excuse” for slovenly, rubber stamping of inappropriate and arcane EU and ECJ dictats, by their MP’s.”
1) You always had the choice to vote out MPs- think fo GE2005 and the Iraq War. The British people (did you?) voted for the 2 parties that institutionally supported the war.
2) If the British people accepted “the EU excuse” they are dumb enough to accept another excuse tomorrow.

Michael North
Michael North
3 years ago
Reply to  Albireo Double

I must try to be less subtle in the New Year.
I am a devout Brexiteer and was referring to the fact that “Leavers are thick” has been the main argument deployed by Remainiacs – still is, in fact.

Valerie Killick
Valerie Killick
3 years ago
Reply to  Albireo Double

Yeh!!!!!

Valerie Killick
Valerie Killick
3 years ago
Reply to  Michael North

Wrong! Brexit was about sovreignty. In my view Remainers were either ignorant, many voted for the status quo, or they were directly or indirectly on the EU payroll. Money does talk, and everyone has their price.

Neil Turrell
Neil Turrell
3 years ago

Wonderful essay. I love the way you expose the disconnectedness of this bubble from the rest of the country. It would make a great sit-com, but the broadcasters would recoil in horror from this all too accurate description of the class to which they, too, belong.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
3 years ago

Excellent read – thank you.

Speaking as one of the very fortunate (though not personally rich) people who live in suburban London – and who have benefitted from completely unearnt asset inflation – this article rings true in manifold ways.

Martin Le Jeune
Martin Le Jeune
3 years ago

Beautifully written and profound. Let’s have more from the author please – a real talent.

Sean McGrath
Sean McGrath
3 years ago

Excellent piece. I work part time as a gardener having retired early from teaching in London comprehensives, latterly as a headteacher. I retrained in horticulture with the RHS.. and have gardened for people in Hampstead, Highgate and Islington but now it’s mostly in suburban north east London. I have enjoyed the different clients I have gardened for .. some of them have been wonderful gossips and told me things they shouldn’t have !!

M V
M V
3 years ago

What a great article. I know the people you sketch. I work in the City, but cannot afford to join their ranks in their perfect homes on their perfect street, and in any case enjoy the menial aspects of garden labour too much to outsource them (peasant blood). I suspect I also lack your talents in the non-menial part of the job.

They really are a parody.

Ian French
Ian French
3 years ago

And thus it has been so for about 40 years. A very good piece, lifting more than the clematis, to reveal the Sunday supplement lifestyle that has been steadily taking over London below the A406 and above the A205.

rosie mackenzie
rosie mackenzie
3 years ago

You must be one of them if you think people voted for national independence of more than a thousand years to be restored because they felt dispossessed and left behind. It is they, your rootless and ignorant employers, who are dispossessed: dispossessed of their history and their identity.

Andrew Thompson
Andrew Thompson
3 years ago

Might I say what a bleddy bang on and well written article for these times we live in; and speaking as someone with proud northern working class roots this sums up my ideas and thoughts precisely. And as for ‘them down there’ I’d say ‘a plague on all of them’ but I never subscribe to resentment and I find jealousy an alien concept…but it hangs close, oh at times it hangs perilously close. And if I could afford a gardener I’d literally drown them in tea. ‘Always look after those toiling for you’ is one of my mottos, everyone deserves rightful respect whatever their job is.

David Waring
David Waring
3 years ago

It appears London has become so culturally enriched that its populace and their environs are diseased.

Michael Dawson
Michael Dawson
3 years ago

I enjoyed the essay, but would be more interested in how these folks earn their money. It’s sad that they don’t seem to enjoy gardening and the person who does not even offer the gardener a cup of tea really is beneath contempt. But generally I’d be content for people to spend their money and live their lives as they see fit, as long as it’s within the law and not affecting other people (which, in reality, is the position here). It’s whether the money earned, after tax, can be justified that I’d be more interested in.

Mike H
Mike H
3 years ago
Reply to  Michael Dawson

It’s a mix of things. Investment bankers do real and very technical work. I know, I ended up entering the financial industry as a software developer for some years after having had no prior experience of high finance. There was a LOT to learn in a short space of time. I don’t think it’s quite as much as programmers need to learn, but trying to follow some of the discussions by former traders led to a lot of head scratching and question asking.

Is the work useful? By and large, yes. As in any industry there’s a lot of work that’s in grey areas where it can be debated, because “useful” is a very vague term. But basically their jobs are resource allocation and absorbing risk. Of course there’s also a lot of cross-over with retail banking and all the mechanics of keeping the global scoreboard we call bank balances working and available. All these things are fundamental to any economy.

There’s definitely a lot of waste and a remarkably lax attitude to hiring – finance doesn’t seem to have ever developed a job interviewing culture like the tech industry has done, so jobs seem to be allocated based mostly on where you previously worked or studied rather than what you can do. An industry friendly to self-taught people, it definitely is not. The author alludes to this when he talks about people getting jobs because “someone rang around” (a reference to nepotism, which is surprisingly prevalent). That’s a big contrast with the software world where we’ll take literally anyone if they can pass the interview tests and people being set up through family connections is unheard of. However, finance is hardly unique in this regard.

I suspect bankers and the City would get a better rap if they were genuinely open to all-comers, and relied less heavily on hiring through connections. This wouldn’t actually be hard for them because the work is skills based and even learnable from home, given that you can get started doing trading and investment without a full blown Bloomberg terminal. It’d mean getting serious about designing careful interview processes and widely advertising rags-to-riches success stories so people get the message that anyone can become a futures trader or whatever, if they have the skills, even if they aren’t a new grad or a relative of someone already on the inside. You can see how this might help when our gardener friend claims that garderners+cleaners are “the competent ones”. I suspect if he were dropped in the middle of a discussion by many City workers about what they do he’d quickly lose this attitude, as finance work is easily incentivised via success metrics and thus their income is very much connected to competence (at earning money). But you can see why people wouldn’t suspect that, given the only roads into the City seem to come from the exits of a handful of universities.

Nick Wright
Nick Wright
3 years ago

I doubt that this degree of bitterness does the bitter-er any good.

Kiran Grimm
Kiran Grimm
3 years ago

The Woke brigades, in their relentless stroll through the institutions (you can hardly call it a march) have come to the Royal Horticultural Society and found it to be woefully lacking in diversity – tut!

The RHS president, Keith Weed (yes, really) has told members that the society “needs” to be more inclusive and to become an organisation fit for the future.

In a switch so typical of our times gardening has become yet another activity denounced by the the moral elite as reeking of white privilege. Wismayer may soon find himself competing against more “disadvantaged” gardeners as his clients try to do their bit for diversity and inclusion.

Jake C
Jake C
3 years ago

I love this article, excellent.

jerrywhitcroft
jerrywhitcroft
3 years ago

Well written indeed ,however full of lazy stereotypes.

Cathy Carron
Cathy Carron
3 years ago
Reply to  jerrywhitcroft

There is ‘truth’ in stereotypes which is why there are ‘stereotypes : )

E E
E E
3 years ago
Reply to  jerrywhitcroft

sexist ones too

Marsha Dunstan
Marsha Dunstan
3 years ago

Ah, yes, I hear the righteous irritation and the garden love but what would the author do if (when?) his clients are forced back down to earth to do their own gardening?

James Finn
James Finn
3 years ago
Reply to  Marsha Dunstan

You ignore the fact that misery loves company. Most people would be ok being poorer if it meant that no one was rich. It’s about the unfairness of equally smart, educated, and hard working people making millions of dollars while you barely scrape by.

Valerie Killick
Valerie Killick
3 years ago
Reply to  Marsha Dunstan

That’s not going to happen. As someone once said ‘the rich are always with us’ or words to that effect.

jonathan carter-meggs
jonathan carter-meggs
3 years ago

One persons opinions of others, based on a lot of shallow interactions. I wonder if I could get my article about my the many gardeners I’ve had over the years published? You see they fall into a kind of group with the following common traits (which I present in an entirely unbiased way) ………PTO

Wulvis Perveravsson
Wulvis Perveravsson
3 years ago

Double barrel surname… You must be one of THEM.

john freeman
john freeman
3 years ago

Double-barrelled surnames are as often attached to black footballers.

Wulvis Perveravsson
Wulvis Perveravsson
3 years ago
Reply to  john freeman

But more often attached to men who were too afraid to object to a feminist fiancé who wants to retain her maiden name.

cdavidiain
cdavidiain
3 years ago

Excellent article and I relate so closely to the writers feelings having worked that relationship so often.

John Mattingley
John Mattingley
3 years ago

Fraser Bailey has already said it here and I agree wholeheartedly. A beautifully written and observed article.

Mark Walker
Mark Walker
3 years ago

Amusing article which describes the gulf which divides England. So very accurate over Brexit and liberalism. MarkWCHR.

Jerry Smith
Jerry Smith
3 years ago

Good to see how a well-written piece on gardening seems to have united some of Unherd’s warring factions. Perhaps the author should found the Garden Party…

jill dowling
jill dowling
3 years ago

Hmmm. Bit sneery.
These people pay your wages and pay taxes that fund the services we all take for granted. I note you have to tell us that your “real” job is a writer. You are not a “mere” gardener.
Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.

Wulvis Perveravsson
Wulvis Perveravsson
3 years ago
Reply to  jill dowling

He’s providing them a service they need or want, yet you speak of the transaction like they are doing him a favour!

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
3 years ago
Reply to  jill dowling

Nothing sneery about it … just illustrating a sense of polite detachment

Nicholas Rynn
Nicholas Rynn
3 years ago

My first Unherd read of the New Year. Beautifully and charmingly written. Today, as I did yesterday, and will do tomorrow, I shall walk my dog amid the beauty of the Herefordshire countryside, and give thanks I don’t live in London.

Peter Scott
Peter Scott
3 years ago

Brilliant, perfect. Hearty thanks!
This marvellous essay adumbrates and justifies the long-held notion that there is a kind of folk-wisdom in populations-as-a-whole; that an entire people, collectively considered, tends to be wise with a wisdom which is more than the savvy of this or that individual.
Regular folk at large are simply not fooled by the Con-Trick which is today’s Occidental economy.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago
Reply to  Peter Scott

“Regular folk at large are simply not fooled by the Con-Trick which is today’s Occidental economy.” – yes they are.

Julian Hartley
Julian Hartley
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

Individually, perhaps not, but maybe en masse.

joe bloggs
joe bloggs
3 years ago
Reply to  Julian Hartley

There is, perhaps, more than a sulphurous whiff of conspiracy theory in this Wismayer piece. Perhaps a more powerful explanation of what he appears to deplore, yet supports, is to be found in the law of unintended consequence? The prices of rice and/or peas and/or of Canonbury Sq. mansions goes up and down according to supply and demand, not on a/c of evil conspirators, though there may well be a few of these dotted around: their failures more conspicuous than their successes.

RALPH TIFFIN
RALPH TIFFIN
3 years ago

Wonderful – a perfect picture and summary of the lives of the vulgar elites

Howard Medwell
Howard Medwell
3 years ago

This a brilliant piece of writing. Unfortunately it will be taken by many Unherd readers as yet further confirmation of their boring and simplistic, and, in an important sense, inaccurate Tory world view. Everyone knows that there is an extreme Left – which believes in nationalization, trade unions, etc., and an extreme right, which believes in Brexit, hanging, flogging, etc. Most of Henry’s customers probably belong to the third extreme, the extreme Centre, those who, in Tony Blair’s words, are in favour of immigration and gay rights, but are also in favour of business. In my view, this is the most dangerous extreme, because it doesn’t stay in the same place.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
3 years ago
Reply to  Howard Medwell

I think it was Orwell who pointed out that the difference between the Catholic and the Communist is that the former’s doctrine, beliefs and values have been stable for centuries, whereas the latter’s are apt to invert on a moment’s notice.

The Oceania-has-always-been-at-war-with-Eurasia meme in Nineteen Eighty Four was based on what a Russian Communist had been expected to believe of the West and Nazism between 1932 and 1945.

In the same tradition, it’s the left’s world view that remains totally unstable, whereas the right’s hasn’t changed a lot. They’re called conservatives for a reason.

Last Jacobin
Last Jacobin
3 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Well, Orwell was wrong about the Catholic Church, then.

J. Hale
J. Hale
3 years ago

One of the best essays of 2020! It shows why the Labor Party is in deep trouble and why Trump got 74 million votes despite the pandemic. The only flaw is this oxymoron: “London’s rich …. middle class.”

lyntoninus
lyntoninus
3 years ago

Whatever one thinks of the argument, and it certainly resonates with me, I found this article beautifully written. One of the best I’ve enjoyed on Unherd. Only the tone of some of the to-and-fro in the comments section as ever makes me feel I’ve wondered into the wrong part of town. Perhaps scanning ahead and not reading any comments with the word ‘Trump’ will do the trick.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
3 years ago

Next time one of your clients emerges to extemporise about the latest news, wordlessly hand them a copy of David Goodhart’s book The Road to Somewhere.

J J
J J
3 years ago

This is the kind of virtue signaling article they publish in the Guardian. An educated, middle class ‘writer’ talks about how awful the educated, middle class are. Particularly the middle class who have more than he does. ‘Why should someone who works in ghastly commerce be paid more than a virtuous creative type like me’.

He then co-opts the plight of the working class to justify his envy. Only the middle class talk about the ‘nobility of working the land’ when tending 20ft square manicured gardens.

I did however find the reference to Brexit intriguing ‘we did it because it hurts you too’. Whilst this does not explain the motivation behind the vast majority of people who supported Brexit, it explains why many will never be happy with any solution. That’s because they do not want an ‘orderly Brexit’ or even a ‘successful Brexit’. They want someone to be hurt, to feel the pain. They want to see chaos, damage and destruction. ‘They want you to hurt too’.

Whilst I support Brexit, we need to be aware of this group and ensure they do not derail a ‘successful Brexit’.

G Harris
G Harris
3 years ago
Reply to  J J

‘I am afraid this is largely the kind of virtue signaling article they would publish in the Guardian’

Perhaps you haven’t read it in a good long while?

I’d pay good money if it was, but if you are still ‘labouring’ under the misapprehension that The Guardian and the vast majority of its readership are remotely interested in the genuine plight of the working classes then may I suggest you pick up a copy post haste?

J J
J J
3 years ago
Reply to  G Harris

My point is that he is not interested in the plight of the working class. He co-opted the plight of the working class to justify his envy of fellow middle class people who have more wealth than he does. His article would be perfect for the Guardian.

G Harris
G Harris
3 years ago
Reply to  J J

So it all simply boils down to the classic 80s goto charge of the ‘politics of envy’ then?

J J
J J
3 years ago
Reply to  G Harris

Nothing simple about it. But yes, envy is a powerful underlying motive for much of human behaviour. And there is no man more dangerous than one who believes his actions are borne of virtue and untouched by malavelenae.

To quote Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
“The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either ““ but right through every human heart “

J J
J J
3 years ago
Reply to  G Harris

Nothing simple about it. But yes, envy is a powerful underlying motive for much of human behaviour. And there is no man more dangerous than one who believes his actions are borne of virtue and untouched by malevolence.

To quote Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
“The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either ““ but right through every human heart “

Graham Buchan
Graham Buchan
3 years ago
Reply to  J J

Excellent comment. Solzhenitsyn should be compulsory reading in my opinion.

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
3 years ago

Beautiful writing but this would have been a better piece if it had made some attempt to talk about the people the writer works for as individuals, rather than as stereotypes. (Amazingly, even the rich have inner lives.) I found the rather sneery part about women with small children especially weak and unpleasant.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
3 years ago
Reply to  Elizabeth

I thought perhaps the women are more homogenous than the men, but probably he focuses on the women because the men are all out at work.

This type of woman is pretty uniform, to be honest. When I did the school run as a dad I noticed two things about the mums. One was that even though they recognised my kids, knew mine were besties with theirs, and thus knew exactly who I was, they all completely ignored me. They’re a clique and men – dads, the gardener – cannot be of that clique.

The other was that they wore a uniform, consisting of dark blue jeans stuffed into Uggs, a white sweater, big handbag over the left shoulder, and a duvet coat worn on top, the bag strap underneath it. I don’t know how they all converged on this look but if you saw that coming out of a Farrow and Ball Artemisia front door and getting into a mum truck, it instantly said ‘school run’.

I imagine the look has evolved, but to borrow the writer’s excellent word, homophily is sure still to be the order of the day.

Go Away Please
Go Away Please
3 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

There are cliques in all walks of life and each of them will have a uniform or “look” as you describe it.
As for your experience at the school gates: I occasionally help out by picking up two youngsters and I get ignored too … not because I’m a man but probably because of something else which, not being a sensitive soul like some, I haven’t bothered to analyse. But if I think about it now: well it could be because I’m a lot older and dress differently or it could be that they are a bit shy and if I made the effort to chat to them I might find they are all perfectly delightful.

Valerie Killick
Valerie Killick
3 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

The women you describe seem more Billericay than Bayswater.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
3 years ago

It’s the north London look, evident in the arc outside the North Circular and between say Hendon and Archway. There are minor variations – puffa coat instead of duvet coat. But that aside there’s definitely a uniform.

It isn’t so much that the uniform allows them to identify and deliberately exclude outsiders, such as school-run dads in my case. I think it’s more that without it, you are constructively invisible. They just don’t notice you if you’re not wearing it.

East European nannies are a case in point. These may do the run every day, but they are never spoken to by mums. If a Polish nanny tries to arrange a play date for her charge with another mum, the latter will phone the nanny’s employer to confirm, and if she can’t get hold of her, she and her child will just not turn up for the date. Watching these interchanges, I was reminded of Lady Grantham’s reaction if a servant were to volunteer a remark.

To be fair to the mums, it’s not like they are overtly rude about this. One full-time dad edged his way into the circle then became a bit of pest on Facebook. You sensed he was taking advantage of the situation to open conversations and become a bit familiar. The blanking of nannies, though, I think may be about not letting younger women into their house or near their husband.

Mark Windmill
Mark Windmill
3 years ago

I work as a gardener for the lower upper-middle classes. Most of this rings true. Especially smiled at the ‘you’re so lucky to work outdoors’. But most of my customers are older – and hence do offer me a cup of tea, actually read their Guardian and vote Labour.

Charlie Johnson
Charlie Johnson
3 years ago

Well, this has touched a few raw nerves……….

Randall Peaslee
Randall Peaslee
3 years ago

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. Henry Wismayer is a name I will keep my eyes open for.

Tim Cross
Tim Cross
3 years ago

The kiss of the sun for pardon; the songs of the birds for mirth; you are nearer God’s heart in the garden than anywhere else on earth!

Colin Hudson
Colin Hudson
3 years ago

I would imagine the social gapping between those who own the houses the writer describes and the people who work for them has been pretty consistent since they were built – with a brief post war interlude when
London tanked and many of these houses became flats for a while. Also London, excepting that interlude, has been growing wildly since the 18th Century. It’s always sucked in newbies from the rest of the country who came and went and initially were out of their depth. There’s a worrying element of the Lady Chatterley’s in the writer’s condescension. Most people have a deeper and richer inner life then we give them credit for…

tynycwm
tynycwm
3 years ago

Moan, moan, envy.
I wonder, if he writes the next Harry Potter, will he give up the promotion tours and further writing to look after his garden or will he hire a gardener?
All successful cities are like London. People come from all over (the world in London’s case) to make money and a position in the society they want to admire them.
Luckily for the rest of us, they and their companies also pay an outsized proportion of the tax that we benefit from.

Sandy Markwick
Sandy Markwick
3 years ago

This is a very well written piece which adds colour and anecdote to the idea that Brexit was about giving a bloody nose to the smug metropolitan ‘elite’. Such motives for voting Leave in 2016 are perhaps understandable, but, on their own, are not a good reason to leave the EU. Entirely jejune (at last I’ve managed to fit/shoehorn a word I’ve only ever heard used by Woody Allen/Diane Keaton in Love and Death!).

What has been missing from the debate in the last few years is what it is, specifically, that linked EU membership with well-paid banking jobs in the City and the uneven distribution of opportunities across the U.K.

Post-Brexit, I hope those well paid jobs continue to exist and drive demand for gardeners and, yes, even support lifestyle marshmallow businesses. (The writer dismisses the wife’s entrepreneurship here disdainfully, though it seems it is doing quite well with orders from hotels etc. It is no less valid than being a gardener,
or a writer, I would suggest).

I also hope there is a rebalancing if the economy with more public investment in schools, homes and infrastructure. This is something entirely separate to EU membership. We are no better able to do this outside the EU, probably worse if our GDP takes a hit. It’s not something I expect to happen significantly under this government.

Alec Boulton
Alec Boulton
3 years ago

Thank you for taking the time to write and risk to publish this article.

srhodes5
srhodes5
3 years ago

We always give our gardener tea, lest we find he’s badmouthed us in some periodical distributed to the great UnHerd !
It was also beautifully written. Almost a prophetic poem.

7882 fremic
7882 fremic
3 years ago

I am multinational I suppose, been with the higher, and with the bottom, I suppose my level is from somewhere around slightly upper middle, as one rarely changes class, even poor or wealthy, it takes another generation to make it across. I find class fascinating, and exceedingly important.

I like a joke to explain Americans and British and class:

An American and British young men are walking and see a lovely and grand house with an attractive and well dressed couple, fine car, pretty children, on the perfect lawn. The American says ‘Some day I am going to be that guy’. The British says ‘Some day I am going to get that guy’.

The thing is we all see the classes below us clearly. We see the underclass with all their systemic flaws and thank god we are not one of them. We know we are better than them, Shameless and Little Britain kinds. Then most become class blind looking up. They see people who have it better, but are not better, more likely worse they think.

The thing is I also see class up as I do down. The upper classes are better that us, I figured that out long ago. The high upper middle and upper classes mostly are as far from us as we are from the underclass. The parents have the children at the family table at meals, they teach them conversation, adult conversation. They teach them history, politics, they dutifully instill the young with social and intellectual graces. No meals with the TV on and each sitting on a different seat watching it. They talk to their children on adult subjects, they make this big effort to culture their children.

Holidays are to cultural centers where they take the family to see the objects, talk of them, show them an appreciation for higher things, explain it to them, drag them to the opera, theater, art shows, museums, and then talk of what they see. The children have dance class, tennis class, language tutoring, swimming classes, go to summer tutoring class and camp. Their top rated private schools teach thinking, history, philosophy, arts aesthetics, literature, classics, language…Adult conversation. They go to high class skiing resorts where the children mix with their equals, their children at 15 can write a school paper better than second year university students often.

The upper classes work Hard at it, they do not fritter away time. Like you mentioned, making gourmet marshmallows, reading hard financial magazines, golf, cocktail parties, swimming, tennis, almost always busy, and holding themselves to highest standards, and talking to people of equally skilled conversation

I think the writer needs to see class from a less personalized way, to see the bigger picture. We are equal in the eyes of god and law, but in no other way.

Peter Morgan
Peter Morgan
3 years ago

Sounds like if the author had the cash, he’d do the same. No evidence to the contrary.

dave.harbud
dave.harbud
3 years ago

My gardener is a retired bank manager. Where does he fit in the argument?

Daniel Björkman
Daniel Björkman
3 years ago

Behind the acrimony is an allegation that goes something like this: the keepers of the liberal flame promised us all a piece of their covenant. But its perks have all coalesced in their own streets, where it is least needed.

Yes, and the same is true for their vaunted inclusivity and tolerance. The promise, back in the day, was that everyone would get to be themselves, and those who had special needs would have those needs fulfilled. What we’ve gotten instead is a rule of the sparklier sort of minorities, the ones who are interestingly different instead of off-puttingly weird.

Conservatives are still waging all-out war on every front. They want the homeless off their streets (where should they go, given that they don’t exactly live on the street by choice? The complainers seem to neither know nor care). They want their pretty buildings to not be uglified by wheelchair access. They want their taxes to only pay for things they have personal use for, if that, and if some worthless poor people starve as a result, then that’s what they deserve for not being having the good sense to stop being poor. The passion of the conservative assault seems unending and commendable undiscriminating – they want every change for a softer, less heartless society rolled back, and they’ll fight to the death for each one.

The liberal defensive effort, on the other hand, is decidedly lopsided in how it’s distributed. If you are born with the wrong genitals, your well-being is sacred – but if you’re born with a brain that doesn’t work right, well, they won’t use the term “retard” and that’s as far as their concern goes. Poor people in foreign countries matter an awful lot, but they appear to be of the impression that poverty does not exist in their own countries, given how little interest they show for working-class issues. Weak women deserve every pity, but weak men deserve only scorn. And so on, and so on, and so on.

I consider this to in no way be a reason to go back to pray-away-the-gay Christian repression and devil-take-the-hindmost capitalist ruthlessness. Being neglected without being called a retard is marginally better than being neglected while also being called a retard. But I am extremely skeptical that this really is the best we can hope for and that progressives really can’t do a little bit better than just refraining from using a few specific terms of insult.

Frank Leigh-Sceptical
Frank Leigh-Sceptical
3 years ago

Hi Henry,

Wonderfully written, erudite and thoughtful piece. It is obvious you are mourning a lost London that you feel is more authentic and whose occupants are more deserving of its resources than these arrivistes whose coin you guiltily accept for your altogether more worthy and more honest labour. Your studied detachment as a modest spectator is not completely successful – it masquerades as polite disapproval but your sophistry cannot conceal your contempt that is borne, I suspect, of frustration and bitterness.

The reality is that their London is as real as yours not least because their name is on some pertinent title deeds somewhere. It is just that they are more successful at defining their locale than you are at defining yours. They understand the rules of the game better than you do. Things, people and places change. Perhaps some real, rather than contrived, humility will enable you to play your hand more effectively in terms of achieving what you want?

Best wishes,
Frank

David McKee
David McKee
3 years ago

I am going to admit something no one else in this comments has said, apart from Michael Burnett.

Skewered.

Mr. Wismayer has me bang to rights, I’ll come quietly guv. There are some differences between me and the hypocritical Liberals he so beautifully portrays: I live (by choice) in a working class town just outside London, I am a thinking Tory, I campaigned for Brexit, and my gardener gets a cup of tea. But overall, I recognise and acknowledge this unflattering portrayal of my pretentions and hypocrisies.

The mention of the Polish cleaner prompts me to voice the opinion that the middle class’s obsession with stopping Brexit had more to do with safeguarding a steady supply of Stefans and Olgas to clean our homes and offices, nanny our children and dig our gardens, than it had to do with an undying affection for the European Project.

If anyone is interested, Grayson Perry’s cultural map of Britain (https://paragonpress.co.uk/… makes largely the same point as Mr. Wismayer.

Jerry Jay Carroll
Jerry Jay Carroll
3 years ago

Everyone has something to be angry about these days.

Wulvis Perveravsson
Wulvis Perveravsson
3 years ago

For me, it’s that I can’t stand commenters with two first names. Really gets my goat.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago

No me, the sun rises in the East, my dogs (English Springers) are ready to go, so off we go for another adventure!

Karen Lindquist
Karen Lindquist
3 years ago

Oh, you are brave! I am in a very similar position to yours, but around the posh neighborhoods of an east coast American city, and I would worry that the clients would see this.
That said, I felt every piece of what you wrote.
One of my favorite things about garden design and maintenance for the well-heeled is that there often comes a moment, especially with the more class conscious among them, where they realize I am more clued in to the broader spectrum of reality, both in the natural world and the socio-economic world.
Being an educated, articulate tradesperson, on whom they rely for a good deal of their privileged existence, does put you i a unique position. We are not expected to know much of value, I suppose, and are meant to be pleasant and do our service.
But I have had some fine moments where they venture into a conversation about the world and then they realize they are in fact the less cultured one in the conversation. It sort of turns their classist worldview topsy-turvy.
And in the end, while their money is useful now, if it were to lose all value, I’d still have life skills and would be able to survive far better than they. And that brings a satisfaction.
Also, as you’ve noted, we are often the ones having the better day.
But yes, the ones who don’t offer tea can suck it. If there is ever another big crash, I will be delighted to hear them ask for help after the money is gone.

K Sheedy
K Sheedy
3 years ago

A long precious and annoying whinge. It offers no analysis, has no definition of the vague problem the writer has. Therefore it can offer no solution to this nebulous problem.
The problem is that the writer wishes he had enough money to buy an equally nice property and hire a gardner.

Jake C
Jake C
3 years ago
Reply to  K Sheedy

Yes the problem is unaffordable housing and the financial precariousness it leads to.

Graham Buchan
Graham Buchan
3 years ago
Reply to  K Sheedy

exactly. Take their money, vilify them, and then hope they don’t notice. Pathetic.

Patrick White
Patrick White
3 years ago

Well that was a twist worthy of Roald Dahl himself.

All along you though it was a bemused commentary on the wealth of people who appear to produce nothing tangible.. but finally you discover it was all the ramblings of yet another Remainer, mαstÏ
rbatÎÂčng silently but with customary fury in the literary hedgerows.

Valerie Killick
Valerie Killick
3 years ago
Reply to  Patrick White

The comments are far more interesting and entertaining than the article which I found heavy with clever words as though the author was trying to prove how well educated he is.

Pierre Pendre
Pierre Pendre
3 years ago

Wismeyer is a writer by choice and a gardener by choice. Of course he’s poor. Other people make different choices and are not poor. That’s the way it is in societies where people are free to make choices. Someone poor who is less “culturally close” to his employer might have legitimate reason to sneer but not Wismeyer.

Caroline Galwey
Caroline Galwey
3 years ago

Neat!

robert scheetz
robert scheetz
3 years ago

“Now that the inner-city diversions are shut, remote-working in vogue, you can hear them thinking: “Do we really need to stay?””

Except for the very rich, metro life is full of negatives, -crowds, traffic, noise, dirt, squalor,
crime, … white noise and monumental ugliness.

But there is hope. What the lift potentiated, the microprocessor promises to dissolve. And should Brexit or the kung flu p***k the bubbles like Prospero’s “baseless fabric of a vision, leaving not a rack behind.” the magic of the microprocessor could eventuate.

Wulvis Perveravsson
Wulvis Perveravsson
3 years ago

Brilliant. You will usually find this sort try to define themselves by the goods and services they purchase. I’m also pretty sure your job as a gardener is far more fulfilling than most of their ‘careers’.

Michael North
Michael North
3 years ago

The worst thing about the people described above is that they are boring. They have nothing but money.
Their manners may be polished but “dey got no class”.

john freeman
john freeman
3 years ago

Why is the well-qualified Polish midwife working as a cleaner in London? Why is she not working in a hospital, in UK or in Poland? I suppose that’s what she chooses.

Wulvis Perveravsson
Wulvis Perveravsson
3 years ago
Reply to  john freeman

Probably charges these numpties £35 an hour. That’s more than a midwife earns!

Peter Turner
Peter Turner
3 years ago

Good article; thanks, Henry
I envy these people’s life. Yet I’m glad I don’t have to live it.

roger.a.barnstead
roger.a.barnstead
3 years ago

he described london live for the lower middle class for at least 400 years

Helen Barbara Doyle
Helen Barbara Doyle
3 years ago

I was reading that and thinking his last line ðƾ˜‚

Andrea X
Andrea X
3 years ago

I wonder what his clients have done to deserve such loathing. More than once I had to dodge the corrosive acid jet that was coming out of my screen (“Alien”, anyone?)
I confess, I got bored half way though and started skimming the article, so apologies if he explains it in one of the sections I skipped.

John Lamble
John Lamble
3 years ago

My poor old grandad was a head gardener and it wore him out. So I would say to Mr Wismeyer that he is actually quite lucky to be able to enjoy his work without being expected to feed and decorate a large house year round with zero understanding when the pineapples weren’t ripe on Christmas day. So I’m a bit sceptical about this article. I fear that he is a Potemkin gardener in Potemkin surroundings.

Graham Buchan
Graham Buchan
3 years ago

This writer displays such unmitigated envy and resentment against the people he works for that he does not realise that the hypocrisy he accuses them of is his own defining characteristic. If he despises them so much (“Damn these people”), why does he demean himself by taking their money?

And note the term he uses for his employers: the “new financial caste”. That is a handy catch-all phrase with which to demonize people who work in financial services, not taking on board, of course, that everyone who has a bank account, everyone who looks forward to a pension, everyone who wishes to insure themselves against flooding, burglary or ill health, and everyone who wants to make best use of their savings, uses the talents and experience of people who work in financial services. It also ignores that financial services form a significant and important part of this country’s prosperity. And why “caste”? Caste refers to a hierarchical system where one’s position is largely a matter of hereditary, whereas an accurate description of these south Londoners is that they are upwardly-mobile.

This article reeks of jealousy, typical of someone who has not achieved much in his favoured occupation (“my precarious writing career”) against those who have in theirs. Sad, isn’t it, that envy is the driver of so much low-grade political discourse. Whinge, whinge, whinge.

Maybe, consciously or unconsciously, he believes that being a “writer” is a more noble occupation than working in the City. Perhaps it is, but only if your work sheds genuine light on the complexities of society and the human condition. Fine if you can amuse, educate or inform. Not if your purpose is just to denigrate.

Look at his final sentence: “I hope they never see this essay. I need the money.” No integrity as a writer then, and no integrity as a person. Pathetic.

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
3 years ago
Reply to  Graham Buchan

“And why “caste”? Caste refers to a hierarchical system where one’s position is largely a matter of hereditary”

Because social class in England largely is hereditary and rarely escaped. That’s why you will often hear people with money, upwardly mobile types, still described as working class.

Tom Callaghan
Tom Callaghan
3 years ago

This article needs pruning.

Jonathan Andrews
Jonathan Andrews
3 years ago

I thought this article as smug as the characters described. Biting the hand that feeds is not a good look.

Graham Buchan
Graham Buchan
3 years ago

Smug and hypocritical. Envy is such an ugly character trait.

Lizzie J
Lizzie J
3 years ago

Have you thought of asking for a cup of tea?