Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Class Conscious: What's Worse Than Being Left Behind on Half-Term, When Everyone Else Goes Skiing?

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Class Conscious: What's Worse Than Being Left Behind on Half-Term, When Everyone Else Goes Skiing?

Article excerpt

The Tumulus is a raised part of Hampstead Heath that was once thought to have been the burial mound of Boudicca. More recently, there was a theory that it might have been an 18th-century rubbish heap. Now, we north Londoners are reluctantly coming round to the idea that it could just be a hill.

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Either way, I stood on top of it in the middle of last week, and looked around the heath in all directions; there was not a single person in sight. I thought of the previous evening, and how I had walked through Highgate in the lonely, wistful mood I associate with British Sunday evenings of the 1970s. The roads had looked clean and wide because of the lack of traffic. For the past two days, my phone had not rung, and "No new messages" had obstinately flashed up every time I had checked my e-mails. (I'd like to customise that, incidentally, to say something a little more emollient, such as "No new messages but it's early days"). On each of those two afternoons, I'd reached such a point of inertia by 2.30pm that I had simply crawled under the duvet in my clothes and gone to sleep ... And by now I'm sure that the middle-class parents among New Statesman readers will have diagnosed the cause of this torpor. Yes, it was half-term.

I walked on from the Tumulus to wards Hampstead. On Downshire Hill, my usual approach to NW3, I saw one man. He was removing wellington boots from the back of his estate car, which carried a sticker showing a panda, and the words "I'm working for a living planet". He was an alternative type, I realised. He probably didn't even know it was half-term and that he shouldn't have been where he was.

Climbing Rosslyn Hill, I reflected that in most parts of Britain, you would, if anything, notice more people about during the half-term holidays. There'd be schoolchildren destroying things on street corners and shouting abusive remarks at passers-by who, a second earlier, had been thinking: "Perhaps I underestimated those kids: they didn't say anything offensive to me this time. …

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