Class conscious

Reading of Bert Prescott alleging uppitiness in his son John, I was reminded of my own pretentiousness vis-a-vis my Northern, upper- working/lower-middle class background.

In my late teens, for example, I went to great lengths to make my grandfather, who was the son of a tinker and a former fitter at Rowntrees, appreciate that I was attending university. But the nearest he came to doing so was to insist that I was in some white-collar line of work. "You're still clerking, are you?" he'd say with a slight sneer when I came home for what I'm afraid I tended to call the "long vac".

"No, Grandad," I'd say, "I am at university . . . Oxford University."

"Aye," he'd say, "clerking down south."

My pretentiousness was also inflicted on my father, who never went to university and started work, aged 17, on British Railways. Even aged ten I would pretend to friends I suspected of being posh that our Austin A40 - which in the early seventies had yet to acquire the retro glamour the model possesses today - was not our car but "my uncle's".

Later, full of social confidence after getting ten O-levels, I unilaterally changed our family's newspaper from the Express (which my dad used to take "for the racing") to the Guardian. He's stuck with the Guardian ever since, but even now, when I see it in his house, I feel guilty.

My dad never commented much on my aspirations, beyond saying, the first time he saw my Oxford college: "By God, you've landed on your feet here all right." But a certain incident does haunt me.

Shortly after leaving university, I decided to wean my father off plain food, so one night I commandeered the kitchen and, while moaning about the absence of olive oil and garlic from his shelves, cooked a moussaka - a dish I'd recently sampled at my first proper dinner party. I served it up and braced myself for praise.

Instead the meal was eaten in near silence, and when I cleared my dad's plate away, I saw that it was not scraped clean in his usual fashion: indeed there was quite a big dollop of moussaka left - a reproof, I felt, for snobbery.

I've stayed out of my dad's food cupboards ever since.

This article first appeared in the 26 July 1999 issue of the New Statesman, I took tea with Pinochet