Henry Jeffreys

Downwardly mobile

I earn less than the median income, and far less than my parents. I should never have followed my dreams

Last year, I found a pair of trainers in our communal recycling bin: Nike Air Max in black and grey size 10, very smart and hardly worn. I’d been wearing them a week when the teenager who lives in the flat below pointed at them and laughed. He told me that he’d discarded them because they were scuffed. This is where I’ve got to, I thought: wearing trainers that I found in a bin on a council estate. Such foraging isn’t un-usual for us. The sideboard in our kitchen, the bookshelf in the hall and the big mirror in our bedroom were all found on our street.

I worry that we might be dropping out of the middle class entirely. Our daughter, who goes to the local primary school, now has a strong south London accent. Particularly impressive is her version of ‘Baa Baa Black Sheep’, which consists entirely of glottal stops. It’s contagious. I no longer pronounce the ‘t’s in the middle of words. My dress sense is slipping too; most days I do the school run in a tracksuit. My car is turning into an eyesore: it has a crack on the windscreen that grows every day and the paintwork is blotchy with bird droppings. The household plumbing is erratic but the thought of calling out a plumber at £80 an hour terrifies me.

At my age, pushing 40, my father had his own business and three children at private school, and owned a large house in Buckinghamshire. My family lives in a former council flat. Our neighbours are, to put it politely, colourful. The couple in the flat next door have late-night drunken arguments. I’m convinced the single mother on the other side is selling drugs; the police are often round.

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