Class conscious

During my northern schooldays the taunt "Chippy Minton" rang out if anyone displayed a strong sense of grievance over any matter. Chippy Minton was a character from the children's animated TV series of the Seventies Trumpton, or possibly its close relation, Camberwick Green.

He himself was not chippy. In fact he seemed quite happy in his job, which was that of carpenter, even though this required him for some reason to wear a sort of white paper box on his head.

I was not often on the receiving end of that jibe, which will surprise some readers of this column ("chip on the shoulder stuff" is how one of my so-called friends characterises it, and I myself thought of calling it "Chips with Everything"). But I suppose I did inherit a certain amount of righteous chippiness from my old Labour dad who, whenever he saw Willie Whitelaw give one of his endearingly bumbling TV performances, would ask, "Do you know what that man would be if he hadn't had all the advantages money can buy?" The answer, which after a while it became my role to supply, ritualistically, was "A milkman."

I performed one of my chippiest acts when, at the age of 14, I brought a youth club social function to a halt by putting on the jukebox "Working Class Hero" by John Lennon - a very headachy song, in which Lennon simultaneously moans about being working class (which he wasn't, technically) and about being seen as working class.

I must be quite chippy because I register the word very strongly when I see it, and experience a small, strange frisson every time. But then again, I do often come across people who are more chippy than I am, which is always very strange: like those times when you see someone in the street who looks more like you than you do yourself.

Osama Bin Laden is supposed to be very chippy, his mother being not quite from the top drawer. I sometimes fantasise that he might one day be outchipped; that he will come up against (and, with any luck, be done in by) someone even more fundamental than himself.

I admit, though, that it won't be high on his list of immediate concerns.

This article first appeared in the 19 November 2001 issue of the New Statesman, And now the trouble really begins