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The Vacuum Issue 6 spacer Issue 6
Ulster Posh
by Robbie Meredith
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Apologies to John Lydon, but I have new next door neighbours. They only moved in about a week ago, so I haven't had the chance to speak to them yet, but, as a proud citizen of the nation of curtain twitchers, I've been attempting, surreptitiously, to discover as much information about them as possible.
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They are a couple with two children, a boy and a girl, and they appear to be only two or three years older than my partner and me. We also have two children, a boy and a girl, so our new neighbours, although they don't know it yet, have some potential. I'm sure that their kids would benefit from long afternoons playing with our kids, in their house of course, letting us spend some wild, crazy and debauched afternoons in Clements on Botanic Avenue. Ooooh Š let's be daring, so add some chocolate to that latté, waiter.
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However, I suspect that our similarities don't extend much further than our respective nuclear families. I make this judgement purely on material criteria, so I could be wrong, but I don't think so. Why? Well, they have two cars, a brand new Saab soft-top and a Volvo estate, and the house which they've just bought was on the market for £400,000.
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This doesn't make me feel good. There are number of reasons for this. Firstly, I rent. Secondly, I'm middle class, and living next to such unostentatious but quietly evident wealth is guaranteed to press all those buttons marked 'grasping middle class insecurity' in my psyche. Maybe it's to do with history. Two generations back my family were labourers and cobblers, so I have that upwardly mobile anxiety which manifests itself in a number of ways. On the one hand, I'm a man of the people. My grandparents lived in hovels, and they had dirty fingernails, and I read the Guardian, for God's sake, so death to the capitalist rich! But when the revolution comes, can I have my neighbour's house and his share options?
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Compared to many of my friends I don't do badly. We, and, I suspect a number of you reading this, share some fundamental traits. We did humanities degrees, which means that, although we haven't been students for many years, we're still paying a landlord and a student loan. Many of us are still in temporary or irregular employment while we try to write that novel, compose that score, or design that installation. We tell ourselves that our comparatively insecure financial status is actually a mark of ideological purity and integrity. In some ways, this is the case. I know a number of intelligent, creative people who, probably, could have succeeded in highly paid professions, but wanted to work in bookshops, libraries, in film-making or galleries, or become activists for a variety of causes instead.
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However, I am beginning to think traitorous thoughts. Recently I got my first permanent job, and with it came a decent pension, paid for by my public sector employer. This made me too happy for comfort. Previously, I had listened to dire warnings, on the news, about twentysomethings who hadn't started planning for wrinkly time, but ignored the cautionary tales about bright young things destined to eke out their twilight years wearing bin liners and eating fish paste. I'm too young and too goddamn rebellious to start squirreling away whatever I've got for a future I might never see, I reasoned.
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And then I got my job. The average annual salary in Northern Ireland is about £19,500, and I earn less than that, but fortified by my newly acquired pension plan, I've been dreamily checking out over-priced apartments on the Lisburn Road, thinking that, hey, Cutter's Wharf might be quite a pleasant place for a drink after all, and imagining the day when I can eat in one of Paul Rankin's restaurants. Yes, I've been infected by yuppiedom.
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What is a local yuppie? It's tempting to think that the condition has reached Northern Ireland only recently, about fifteen years behind the rest of the UK, where the loadsamoney eighties, soundtracked by Sade and Spandau Ballet, saw the high water mark of yuppiedom. Even the Republic began it's yuppie era before us, in the early nineties, with the advent of the Celtic tiger and the transformation of Dublin from a slum city into millionaire's row, paid for by the contents of numerous brown envelopes.
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But look back at the aspirational 'people about town' features in any one of our provincial newspapers in the eighties and you'll see a potential yuppie class. Men in thin red leather ties, bouffant hair and baggy, pleated trousers drinking crap wine with women in gold lamé jumpsuits and Dynasty hair. The Pointer Sisters and Duran Duran were on in the disco; her name is Rio and she dances on the sand, indeed.
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I imagine, however, that, at least, they were easy to define back then. But now we're all at it. Go into any bar in central Belfast on a Saturday night, from the uptight, cramped opulence of Opium to the sweaty authenticity of the Duke of York to the six shots a fiver student bars, and you'll find few differences. Too many men are wearing those crepe paper shirts, which cost a packet just to look un-ironed, and using too many hair products (I include myself in this, obviously). Women, some of whose accents alone would once have ensured that a nice cell in Armagh jail was waiting for them, now sip expensive faux-exotic cocktails in Jennifer Aniston hairdos.
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Thank God for the Venue, where dirty, spotty, black-clad youth still go to shake their lank hair to the Sisters of Mercy. Don't be fooled, however. Give it a few years, and they'll be sitting in the Northern Whig in their best Ted Baker, sipping Cranberry and Vodka.
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It is therefore, difficult, on the basis of the old 'where do you drink?' test to define the true yuppies among us from those floor sweepers who don't eat all week just so they can afford to bling-bling on a Saturday night. Perhaps the true yuppies are those who are at home, lounging on their Ikea sofa while munching organic risotto in front of their imported Matrix Reloaded DVD.
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However, thanks to careful and arduous research, and further close observation of next door, I can now reveal the defining cast iron characteristic of the new local yuppie.
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Rugby jerseys Yep, your bona fide yuppie will possess at least one of the above garments, and the reasoning behind their choice of jersey can be read through a particular brand of distinctive local semiology.
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First of all, a rugby top denotes certain traits. It is a sign of affluence, a certain standard of education, and, just possibly, in-breeding. It signifies that the wearer is probably called Johnny, and has a girlfriend called Clare or Jo. Johnny's father is an accountant, and his mother was one of those eighties women in a gold lamé jumpsuit. Now she power-walks on Sunday, and spends her time shopping in Laura Ashley and Debenham's during the week.
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Johnny likes nothing better than to work his pecs with similar beefy boys, and to take part in bizarre drinking games, so there's a homoerotic streak in there somewhere, despite Clare's attractive fake tan, and baseball capped highlights. Dad drives a BMW, but Johnny prefers a new silver Clio or turbo charged Peugeot; the BMW or SUV will follow in a few years, after the wedding reception in the Culloden and the apartment by the Lagan.
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And it's not just Prods. Catholics, too, will opt for the rugby jersey to denote their social status, but whereas Johnny will opt for a gleaming white, red handed Ulster jersey, Conor will go for something more ecumenical, such as Leinster or London Irish. After a few years of marriage, however, team allegiances will disappear, as Clare and Johnny/Conor settle for a his'n'hers rugby combo from Marks & Spencers or Next; his in manly blue, hers in pastel lilac, but both topped with a crisp white collar. Both, through careers in retail or property management, will earn comparatively Beckhamesque wages, enabling them to settle in £400,000 houses in their early thirties.
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And am I envious? No, not at all, not a bit. I mean, it's obvious isn't it. Now, I must get down to Marks & Spencer. Johnny next door might be able to get me into the golf club.
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Ulster Posh
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