Thursday, 7 April 2011

Dress Up Smart, We're Shopping at Waitrose

Radio 4's Thought for the Day this morning talked about segregation in our society - and how the only place left that wasn't segregated in some way were our buildings of worship. In our "christian but multi-faith ethnic multi-culturality" he couldn't say churches, and besides, he was a Rabbi, and couldn't say synagogues either. I don't particularly agree with that sentiment, but perhaps that's because I don't particularly agree with buildings of worship.

He talked about our society being limited by boundaries, and as we "advance" we become more and more limited by these boundaries. By class, by neighbourhoods, by cultures, by ages, by gender. But it's really all in the mind, segregation is a Choice.

It happens when we see something Different to what we know and are comfortable with. Be it skin colour, knowing which knife to use when, the etiquette of bus use. It comes down to behaviour, and knowing how one should behave in a given situation. When we don't know what we should do, we are uncomfortable and we choose to avoid that situation - we segregate ourselves, and we miss out on the chance of learning and expanding our horizons.

If we choose to step over the boundaries we find that we gain much understanding, and realise that segregation is based on fears, and besides, it's pretty good at population management too, but that's another issue ;)

Myself and my best friend at the time were the first girls to choose Technology for an O Level option at 14. I was the only female on my unversity course for the first two years. Some of the best experiences of my life have been when I have stepped outside of my boundaries. I never got to climb up inside the chimney at the power station I did my year's work experience (it was the third tallest in the country) but I got to climb inside a 150 foot tall boiler (obviously not working at the time!) There is something spectacular in massive machinery - not quite comparable to Nature's own work, but awe inspiring nonetheless.

In my town there is a particular road that delineates between affluent and non-affluent neighbourhoods. South of that road, the house get gradually bigger and more expensive, until you end up in Sandbanks, one of the most expensive postcodes in the country. North of that road the houses are cramped together and small, many owned by the council and housing associations. The road itself is full of cheap shops. All except Waitrose.

Waitrose chose to move to this road several years ago, and it's here that I find an end to segregation. Here there are the young single parents with their baby buggies shopping side-by-side with the affluent business couple with their Jaguar down in the car-park. Waitrose have brought the classes together, they've brought people and cultures together.

Segregation is all in the mind, we are limited by our own fears of inadequacy. Take the risk, step outside, stand out and be proud, shop at Waitrose and don't dress smart just because there are posh people there.

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