To be or not to be – Posh or Pikey?

On Sunday, I had visit from a wonderful chum, who declared I was officially posh because I live in a house in the country with an Aga.

It set me all a tizz. Am I posh? I have always rejected posh. I have always been proud of my working class roots. My dad was a railwayman (albeit management – freight logistics), his dad was a bus conductor for Hull Corporation (that be the council that – like the GPO was the Post Office in them black and white days), my mum was a wife of house and her mum was a barmaid. On my mum’s side – we are (allegedly according to Betty (my Gran -RIP) although she could have just been spinning a yarn) descendants of Romany gypsies.

When I was 8 years old we moved from Acomb, York south to Warminster, Wiltshire. My dad had re-married my step monster (a direct steal phrase-wise from Demi Moore in St Elmo’s Fire – Rob Lowe and Judd Nelson *swoon*), she was a clerk for British rail and the daughter of an RAF pilot. Her father flew the Lancaster bomber in the Berlin airlift and gained a DFC.

I went to the local comprehensive and grew up in the market town of Warminster. With this move, I guess we also moved from the working classes to the middle, but it’s hard to know that when you are young.

For me, the move south was hard. I missed York and the bosum of my gran. York was gas fires, hot tea, white bread, custard creams and broken walnut whips. Grandad was a painter and decorator at Rowntrees Macintosh, and so, there was often boxes of factory rejects in the pantry. Warminster was a chocolate free zone unless it was bitter, dark inedible chocolate – blergh! But as much as I loved the simplicity of York and the warmth I always had delusions of grandeur.

I watched a Woman of Substance on the telly. Jenny Seagrove as Emma Harte and Liam Neeson as Blackie. I dreamed about the manor life. Maybe it was my first dalience with feminism. I wrote to my Aunty Pat in York, a satirical note about how she and my Uncle Micheal could visit me in my manor, stay in the barn and drink my flat Champagne. It’s been a running joke ever since.

During my A-levels, I was all flicky hair, Marks and Spencer cotton jumpers listening to Pop Will Eat Itself, New Model Army, Wonderstuff, Julian Cope and The Primitives. Eclectically mixed with Marvin Gaye, Jackie Wilson, Nina Simone, Otis Redding, Joni Mitchell, The Beatles and The Beach Boys. I was wrapped up in vintage nostalgia – Marilyn Monroe, Marlon Brando, James Dean, Robert Doisneau and Wee Gee. I was posh but not public school. I was a comprehensive girl with posh overtones. I worked for a local solicitor, a mobile caterer that did posh people’s weddings and washed up posh people’s plates.

I left school and wandered for years. I joined the lost children of the dance revolution and waved my hands in the air and just didn’t care. I declared my commitment to hedonism. I worked as a sailing instructor on the beaches of France, Spain, Greece and Turkey. I started dating a posh fellow, who was educated at Charterhouse – which is a posh school – although in the posh sub culture apparently Carthusians (folk who attended the school) shag sheep. I wasn’t posh enough to get it. I backpacked around India and ate too much then got dysentary. I did a degree in Plymouth in PR and media so that I could drink Champagne and work in sailing. All posh pursuits.

When I met Hagar, he was pretty posh. His family are related to the Pictish King of Scotland, Nacton, although they have been on the wrong side of every battle and eroded away the family fortunes, with only a few choice antiquities remaining. They are very nice pieces though. He is shamelessly posh and doesn’t want to be anything other than posh. For some reason, my loyalty to Betty and the North runs deep and strong and I thought that I was some kind of Champagne socialist but I am not a Citizen Smith of the People’s Front of Judea. I think now that I am living a life of country pursuits the time has come to accept that I am an aspiring posh bird after all.

I am Margot not Barbara.

My lovely friend from New York said to me – I have to know what is this Posh or Pikey of which you talk – is it some Brit Speak?

This was my reply:

“Posh v Pikey is Brit Speak. It’s hard to directly translate but roughly speaking pikey is trailer trash and posh is Martha’s Vineyard. Posh is also about class you can be rich and pikey in UK – it’s not just about money. Wayne from The Riches is pikey. You can be poor and posh – it’s about manners and breeding. See! Clear as mud.”

Just in case you want some clarity on the rules of English behaviour, I would recommend everyone reads – Watching The English – The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour.

Now just as an aside, I haven’t seen it but the TV show My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding apparently is giving Gypsies a bad name. I was told this week that there is a difference between Gypsies and Pikeys. Gypsies, according to my source, are nomadic people, who guard the land they rest on in return for food and a place to stay whereas pikeys are tinkers who are not to be trusted. The Gypsy community are up in arms – allegedly it should be called My Big Fat Pikey Wedding.

Pikey or posh – it’s not that important to me really. I am contented with happy and safe. Is it important to you? Are you pikey or posh?

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28 Comments

  1. Manzanita February 9, 2011 Reply

    Descendants of Romany gypsies? That’s what I want to be…. I study them, I dream of them, I listen to their music night and day. That’s Posh by me!!!!
    Love and Peace

    • amodernmilitarymother February 11, 2011 Reply

      You have the Spanish blood in you somewhere, for sure. I am sure there is some gypsy in you.

  2. Steve February 10, 2011 Reply

    Me? Never been a pikey. Working class roots but aspired and assailed to the middle classes via my grandparents who, despite their very humble roots, did well for themselves after the war through graft and their own goodness. Been stuck in the “middle earth” ever since. It feels like home.

  3. Allyson February 10, 2011 Reply

    I think we must be related 🙂
    My father and my granfather also worked on the railway but as signalmen and we also have ancestors who were horse dealers( no not stealers !) who we believe were Romany.
    Americans I have met think I sound Posh English whilst my English friends believe I sound very Welsh, well Cardiff anyway 🙂 Personally I do not think that I have much of an accent at all.
    If I had to choose I would say I was Barbara so I don’t think I am ‘Pikey or Posh’ and I also have an Aga which confuses the situation even more !!!!!

    • amodernmilitarymother February 11, 2011 Reply

      Barbara is POSH!!! It’s just she is nice and kind and posh! I think you are like me rogue posh but I guess that is part of modern social evolution.

  4. bigwords February 10, 2011 Reply

    I think I’d say I’m middle class, despite being raised by a single parent in government housing. Def not posh.

    In Oz, there’s bogans and rich bogans I’d like to call rogans (chavs).

    Great post x

  5. Wylye Girl February 10, 2011 Reply

    I’m just very confused me! My mum comes from Yorkshire, the 7th of 11 children of a farming family who farmed for Lord Mowbray Segrave & Stourton at Allerton Park near Knaresborough. They were working class to their bones. My dad, on the other hand, comes from a very posh London family who have hereditary Freedom of the City of London and have streets named after them. Sadly, my great uncle Percy drank away the family fortune and what remained, my great uncle Frederick left to his housekeeper. Genteel poverty became the order of the day.

    I was brought up overseas, then in Tunbridge Wells, which probably puts me firmly among the middle classes. I now live in Warminster, as you know, where we are renting a ‘bijou’ cottage and trying to live the ‘good life’ until we sell our house in France. I think I may be Margot with aspirations of Barbara!

    • amodernmilitarymother February 11, 2011 Reply

      I am with you!! All confused too. Even with that Margot but wanna be Barbara aspirations.

  6. EmmaK February 10, 2011 Reply

    I suppose I thought you were a bit posh because you don’t have a pikey accent. I have a pretty posh voice which is a bonus in UK and people often think I’m richer or more upper crust than I am. Of course I am rich, rich in the milk of human kindness, and rich in heart and soul, a giver and…a veritable Mother Teresa 😉

    • amodernmilitarymother February 11, 2011 Reply

      It’s a modern day ‘My Fair Lady’ of ‘Vanity Fair’ – I am just Becky Sharpe – a wily con woman, shamelessly climbing the social ladder.

      Wee soul – you are but an angel of goodness. From the moment we connected I knew that you were a kindred spirit of total goodness. Saint Emma, henceforth heralded for her purity.

  7. London City Mum February 11, 2011 Reply

    I’m just stuck up. Does that qualify as posh?

    LCM x

  8. Very Bored in Catalunya February 11, 2011 Reply

    Oh gosh, I am common as muck. Not pikey though and t’husband’s from middle class stock – does that redeem me? Will you ever lower yourself to speak to me again?

    • amodernmilitarymother February 11, 2011 Reply

      Ha ha – so am I!! I think it’s funny but I am branching out into Posh but I am real amateur. I don’t even like wool or tweed! Speak to you – I am going to become your cheese dealer!!

  9. Trish @ Mum's Gone to February 11, 2011 Reply

    Because I’m married to a doctor and we live in quite a nice house in the country, people think I’m posh….until I open my big Geordie mouth and they are surprised to find Cheryl Cole is in their midst: then they aren’t sure what to make of me.

    • amodernmilitarymother February 11, 2011 Reply

      I love it – confusing the middle classes!! Do you punch people you meet in the loo and never wear a coat even if it’s below freezing??!!

      • Trish @ Mum's Gone to February 11, 2011 Reply

        Of course….I’m hard as well as ‘worth it’ !
        And if I do wear a coat I always dispense with the knickers – that’s the rule!

  10. Karen Jones February 12, 2011 Reply

    I am absolutely, totally working class, I am from Birmingham! With my accent there is no chance of being mistaken for posh.
    My parents ( mother and step father) have “done” very well for themselves and in terms of finance are considered extremely wealthy, but they would never consider themselves posh. Even though my mother has gone to great pains to eradicate her brummie accent.
    I once dated a “very” posh Army officer, but I think I was just his bit of rough!

    • amodernmilitarymother February 12, 2011 Reply

      My gran always used to say that she was pleased that I hadn’t gone all snobby when we moved south. I actually think Its more important to be decent. It’s all that matters. I’ll roll with any folk if they are decent and they make me laugh. I will hang with posh or pikey. I’ve learnt a lot different things from all sorts of folk. The rich tapestry of life.

  11. Livi February 12, 2011 Reply

    Really interesting post 🙂 The class system fascinates me because so many people deny it exists nowadays. That’s all I shall say on the matter as discussion of it always gets me into trouble!

    • amodernmilitarymother February 12, 2011 Reply

      The class system definitely exists – well the snobbery of it does even if the actually infrastructure is eroding. Have you read the book in the post? Click on the link – if you are interested in UK tribalism and class system you will love it! Its truly fascinating. I have fun with posh – I think I might just aim for bonkers instead that is equally appealing!!

  12. Muddling Along February 13, 2011 Reply

    We’re two generations removed from proper working class so firmly middle class and yet thanks to my mum’s insistence on speaking well are regularly thought to be posh… hard to tell but I’d rather be posh than pikey!

    • amodernmilitarymother February 14, 2011 Reply

      It depends where you roll I guess. There are advantages to both I have found in the past. : )

  13. Elizabeth February 24, 2011 Reply

    Well. I’m American, so I guess I’m not pikey or posh. 🙂 Although Marks & Spencer (of all things) caught my eye. I was obsessed with that store when I was in England! The chocolate croissant pastries (I can’t recall their actual name) and the sandwiches were amazing.

    • amodernmilitarymother February 24, 2011 Reply

      M&S is great! It’s not posh though – Fortnum & Mason is posh. Welcome and thanks for commenting. I hope you stick around.

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