‘The question I least enjoy answering is also the one I am asked most frequently: ‘Where did you learn to speak so well, Darren?’ The people who ask me this question always think they are the first person to ask it.’
Extract taken from The Social Distance Between Us
By Darren McGarvey
Published by Ebury Press
To me, words are like music. When arranged in a particular way, and written or spoken with a certain conviction, an alluring harmony is produced which I find immediately arresting. What is being said, it’s meaning or, indeed, whether I agree or not comes entirely secondary to this initial capture of my fleeting attention. I am often propelled by a sudden, ferocious interest into a particular field of thought or study – not necessarily by a desire to educate myself on a specific topic, but because I am drawn to how someone writes or talks about it. Much like a great tune, which can be enjoyed without any real understanding or foreknowledge of its genre or era, well-arranged words, expressing fluent, coherent ideas, are simply music to my ears. And, to stick with the music analogy, it shouldn’t matter if the material originated in the mind of an Oxbridge graduate or a guitarist who learned their trade on the dole: if they can play, they can play.
My lifelong fascination with language and the subsequent capacity I have developed for speaking is not something I consider remarkable. Yet, as I’ve moved out of hardship and into cultural and social spheres which are dominated by the middle classes, I am increasingly aware of how surprised people are when they hear someone from a working-class background express themselves with a degree of articulacy. As a ‘diamond in the rough’, currently ascending the social scale, I encounter people from higher social classes more frequently.
Often, touring the country, I feel like a living art installation that middle-class people pay money to interact with. As I attend more events and engage in more media, I get asked more questions. Some are thoughtful. Others are personal. And some of them are downright rude. Irrespective of the quality of the question, or my enthusiasm to address it, a great deal of my time is now devoted to furnishing my various inquisitors, on social media, television, radio and even in the street, with polite and satisfactory responses. The question I least enjoy answering is also the one I am asked most frequently: ‘Where did you learn to speak so well, Darren?’ The people who ask me this question always think they are the first person to ask it. Countless journalists, public officials and book festival enthusiasts quite simply cannot restrain themselves. They don’t even realise how insulting it is to be asked such a question. What these people are really broadcasting is that they are somewhat surprised by my ability, as a working-class person, to string a coherent sentence together without soiling myself.
I have since developed a standard response to this question: a paraphrased, conversational version of the ‘words are like music’ passage you just read. I have adopted that as my go-to reply because it’s a lot easier for everyone involved if I don’t say something like: ‘Why shouldn’t I be able to express myself clearly? These are my words, too – middle-class cunt.’
The Social Distance Between Us by Darren McGarvey is published by Ebury Press, priced £20.