Class conscious

Advice for any young person negotiating our treacherous class system . . . Don't go to Oxford Brookes University just because it sounds a bit like Oxford University. If you become a plumber living in Kilburn, don't call your company Hampstead Upmarket Plumbing. And when contemplating a holiday in Torquay, don't boast of your imminent trip to "the English Riviera".

On the subject of holidays, if you happen to acquire a B&B in a Blackpool terraced house, do not call it "the Seafront Palace", and if the AA condescends to give that B&B one star on account of the en suite bathrooms, don't bother advertising the fact. Do not live in a neo-Georgian house. Do not read the Economist because you believe it will make you cleverer.

Do not, on getting married, invent a new hyphenated surname combining your own name and your wife's, so that you end up "John Smith-Jones". If you have gained a degree (from Oxford Brookes or anywhere), don't enter your name in the phone book as John Smith-Jones BA. And when you appear on Desert Island Discs, do not hold back from saying that your chosen book is the complete works of Terry Pratchett, and your luxury an enormous colour TV with satellite dish (Martin Amis plumped for that combo, though there may have been an element of double bluff).

What I'm saying is: if you're not posh, do not attempt to muddy the waters and make people believe you are. Stamp on gentility; speak in your own natural voice. Above all, if you happen to be watching University Challenge in fairly refined company, as I was last week, and there's a student called Browne representing Newcastle University, so that every time he presses his buzzer the portentous voice-over man intones "Newcastle Browne" . . . if that keeps happening and you find it funnier every time - as I did - then laugh.

And should it happen that nobody else in the room finds it remotely amusing because they've never heard of Newcastle Brown Ale - which also happened to me - you should remember that it's not your fault. Insist that what's happening is worth laughing at, even if you thereby reveal your humble social origins. To invert an old commercial for another brand of beer: "If you can't join 'em, beat 'em."

This article first appeared in the 04 February 2002 issue of the New Statesman, Revealed: how Labour sees women