In case you hadn’t realised, I’m a middle-class white boy, and a particularly stereotypical example of that breed. My parents are of the usual middle-class type, lovely and well-meaning if slightly pushy, and I have the usual younger sibling with whom I get into fights of the most pathetic, middle-class nature. I went to several very good, academically-focused schools, and as such speak “proper English” with what is known as an RP accent – i.e., no accent. I play two musical instruments, as is expected; I worked hard at my studies, as is expected, and am at university, as is expected, studying a traditional degree, as is expected.
Oh yes, and I smoke. Perhaps less expected.
Lots of good, well-meaning people come up to me as I am puffing away on a deathstick and earnestly ask me why I smoke, and “don’t I know that it’s bad for me?” These questions, as well-meaning as they are, irritate me hugely. However, they are understandable, and my answer links into a larger problem for me, that of expectation and, one of my most-hated words, “potential”.
But, I get ahead of myself. Back to tobacco.
After spending eighteen-odd years in the British school system, and countless hours in front of earnest teachers lecturing on the dangers of smoking, I am – funnily enough – very much aware that inhaling tar, ash and smoke into your lungs is not conducive to good health. I am also well-aware that drinking alcohol, a poison, until you are senseless is not conducive to good health either, yet strangely nobody seems to mind if I do this. However, before I bitterly digress any further, let’s cut to the chase.
Why do I smoke? Because I quite like it, thank you very much. I don’t actually smoke straight cigarettes all that often, contrary to popular opinion and neither am I addicted – another myth that everybody seems to believe is that if you smoke the occasional fag or shisha you must be addicted and certainly will die of lung cancer in the future. I have happily gone without smoking for weeks at a time and not missed it a single bit. I am quite content with the level of tar that I cheerfully blacken my lungs with for a momentary release of nicotine.
However, that’s not the main reason I smoke. The main reason I inhale ash and tar is because it is one of my pathetic, middle-class ways of sticking two fingers up at society’s expectations of me.
Since I’ve been born I feel that my life has been mapped out for me. This hasn’t be the fault of anybody in particular; it’s just a overbearing force that I have felt propelling me along a inevitable path. Go to a good school, stay out of trouble, get good grades, go to a decent university, enter one of the professions, get married, buy a house, spawn children and finally die a boring, non-violent death. This mould has irritated me hugely, yet I’ve never had the balls to break free from it. For a long time, my main career option was to join the Armed Forces. This was partly because I’ve always been fascinated by the military and leadership, partly because I couldn’t think of anything else to do, but also because I wanted a job that wasn’t the typical middle-class whitey thing to do. Of course, now I’m looking at pursuing the Law as a career (after resisting it for about five years), which is so ‘middle-class white boy’ its laughable. All I need to do now is join a tennis club or something and I’ll be possibly the most stereotypical exemplar of my breed ever.
I should come back to that most detestable of words, “potential”. Whenever talking about the Armed Forces with disapproving peers, they often shook their heads and uttered that most damnable of phrases, “it just seems such a waste of potential”. Potential to do what, I wanted to scream in their faces! To make enough money so that I could get on the property ladder? To work for a corporation like all the other faceless automatons? To make sure I don’t die in utter penury? Is that my potential?
Of course, in my more sober (and depressing) moments I realised that this probably is the sum of my potential. While I’m sure I would do fine in the military as an officer, my talents are probably better suited to slaving away in an office over legal codes, or finding a way of keeping some rich bastard out of jail. I’d get better pay, at least.
Of course, another element drawing me back onto the inevitable middle-class path is the fact that those people who do try to “flaunt” society’s expectations also tend to be intensely irritating, usually because they are not actually doing anything particularly rebellious. No, being an academic, or working for a charity, or being a politician or journalist does not make you any less middle-class or conformist. You are still working for ‘The Man’. The hippy-types who try and become avant-garde musicians or yoga-instructors or something are no better, of course, usually living off the state or their parent’s money while providing no benefit whatsoever to society.
Maybe I should have got an apprenticeship as a plumber, and got a proper job instead of spending three years reading the fictional creations of dead white men. Maybe I should continue on down my middle-class path to comfortable obscurity, or maybe I should try to become self-employed as a Youtuber, or go to California and set up a café or marijuana business or something.
Oh wait – that might lead me to becoming a hipster. Bugger that for a game of soldiers.