There is no such thing as ‘types of person’. Such an idea is contemptible to any free-thinking person; a pseudo-scientific lie cooked up by market research companies to put people into boxes, to hide the radical fact that each and every individual is unique and free to forge their own future. This was certainly what Les’s parents believed in the spring of 1970, when they celebrated the gift of her birth and named her in a non-gender specific way as an expression of their belief in social change and sexual equality.
In demographic terms Les’ parents would have been seen as fairly permissive middle class college educated couple with a single child – Edgy Bluecollar Suburbs (D22). But they would have scorned such a reductive caricature.
Les’s mother, Kath, was a complex mix of many things: a feminist and a wild-child, a would be poetess and a part-time office worker (PR). Les’ father, John, was a high school Modern Studies teacher who listened to Dylan and Johnny Cash and smoked a lot of pot. As the responsibilities of childrearing and the debts of the 80s started to replace the freedoms of the 60s both Kath and Tom sought to re-ignite the old fires with secret lovers. Les’s dawning awareness of her parents’ infidelities grew as their own mutual antipathy increased. The usual tirades featured blaming each other for missing the boat, tying each other down, selling-out etc, and smashing the hand-made crockery. Kath started to drink, secretly, but not secretly enough for her ten year old daughter, who found the many bottles her mother had stashed under the sink and in the closet.
Les went to a state school – which was typical of her demographic – and went on to study for a BA in liberal arts. Later, her parents became ‘empty nesters’ after having stayed together ‘for the sake of the child’ – which was typical of D22s – and divorced to re-connect with their own ‘personal voyages’, leaving Les with feelings of guilt and anguish and with a profound desire for escape. She vowed she would never ‘become like those selfish bloody losers,’ and so, after graduating and with very little money, she took a year out and explored Europe, experimented with recreational drugs and tried out many new tongues. She fell in love with Jose and Ivan, learned some guitar chords so she could sing along to Alanis Morrisette and had an abortion. When the money was exhausted she returned to her original city and got a flexi-time job in Market research, as a stop-gap fall-back thing, and became one of the newly emerging group of people who worked in call centres and called total strangers to ask questions like ‘how often in a week do you use a microwave‘ and ‘do you have a cat, a dog, a pet rodent or none of the above.‘ Indeed, at this time Les wrote a story entitled None of the Above, about a girl who didn’t fit into any of the human categories that she was rapidly learning about.
She found The 82 Types at first disturbing, but ultimately laughable. Things like: L76′s are Multi-Ethnic Crowded Non-residents. They live in Third World shanty towns, work illegally and live with high infant mortality and diseases such as AIDS and Cholera: they are the world’s largest growth market for pay-as-you-go mobile telephones. This was so sad and cynical that you had to laugh or you’d go mad. Her favourite was B14′s or Happy Families Living in Military Enclosures - a reliable market for self-help books, Disney toys, and Anne Summers Products. Such things were hard to believe, but they were the ‘facts’, and all written down on her worksheets. Some weeks she’d have to do nothing but phone B14 women and ask questions about bikini-wax or floor polish. Other days it was J51s, or Grey Perspective Sepia Memories. She liked asking them about brands of chocolates and pain killers and gifts for their grandchildren from Argos. They liked chatting to her because they were lonely, because 71% of J51s had lost a partner.
Work paid the rent, which was in an apartment in the edgy mixed student slash immigrant area (E28). Les was disturbed by the fact that her flatmates did listen to indie rock and did watch Will and Grace like their demographic profile determined. There were other things that disturbed her: like how a lot of research info was ‘harvested’ without any consent from credit, direct debit and loyalty cards, and even dating agency records. She didn’t like any of this, but after many false starts at finding other kinds of work, she decided – in her mid to late twenties – that it was an easy regular source of money that gave her freedom to experiment with alternative ways of living in her spare time. She then went through an ‘excited and dizzying’ period, dating many people from different places, in the search for someone, like herself, who didn’t fit any of the boxes. There was Taz (F35), Shena (A8), and Flack (G42). She slummed it with immigrants and had a brief ‘amore’ with a ‘Symbols of Success / Global Connector‘ who, with his piede-a-terre penthouses in several countries, BMWs, and share portfolios was a complete caricature of the Type A1 slash 2 that he aspired to be. But he’d kept an old Play-Doh model of Kermit he’d made when he was four, and Les found that redemptive. For a while.
Her ability to empathise with and adapt to other people was unique. Her faces and moods, like her wardrobe, changed weekly, if not daily. Flared jeans for one date, an Armani suit jacket for the next; a D&G dress for one, then Nikes and slacks for another. And when she talked to people from different backgrounds, although she did not like to admit this to herself, her market research experience helped in discussing the things they liked. She knew, for example, that E34′s used Ecover washing powder and supported Greenpeace, and that F41′s liked Star Trek: the Next Generation and read Harry Potter even though they didn’t have kids. It wasn’t that she was two faced; if anything she was 82 faced, or 34 four faced, that being the number of lovers she had in her twenties, as was fairly normal for people of her type at this point in time.
Les had a small breakdown in her thirties as her freedom experiment ran out of energy, leaving a great many discarded lovers and friends in its wake. And some of those partners she was just plain scared of. Like the G41s – Brands include Lacoste, Burberry, Buckfast, Farmfoods, Embassy Regal, Nike, Nintendo – a growth market for credit services. Others, like the B9s, had used her in ways she should have been able to predict in advance. After a late termination, her sixth morning after pill and a case of Chlamydia, she was told that she may have damaged her ovaries and might not be able to conceive.
At this time it must be said she had amassed an encyclopedia of disappointments, traumas and personal tragedies, which included the death of her mother, having her stomach pumped, a mugging, and an HIV test. Safety, Security, Family: these became the words she would project forward and meet in her future. Luckily for her, each fell into place, like steps on the way. She got offered a full time post (which at that time was rare and to be coveted) and at 36 she became a market researcher proper, with her own team and glass walled office. Shortly after, as if prompted, Jason drifted into her life. Unlike Sal (F23) he had emotional and financial stability and unlike Hector (C16) he was without the burden of unattainable aspirations. Jason was a promising artist with a gentle disposition who did a bit of teaching and had come from a family of B’s before drifting south to settle somewhere among the D’s. They listened to Kooks by David Bowie, ate Doritos together in the bath, and joked about spawning a generation of soggy-tortilla-eating little misfits. To Les’s Joy, her first pregnancy test revealed that her years of experimentation had not left her barren. She wanted to call the child a good, simple girl’s name like Saffron or Jocasta, but Jason suggested a name less loaded class-wise; something simple and easy to say that might give the baby a head start in speech. And as they had chosen, at the scan, not to be told if it was male or female, a unisex name would be ideal. They settled for Sam.
The financial pressures of impending parenthood forced Jason to retrain as a high school teacher and for them both to move to the fringes of the suburbs, so they could have a garden for their newly born daughter. But baby Sam was colicky and screamy and would not wean and Les and Jason began to fight as chronic sleep deprivation overtook their new home. Les was prescribed sleeping pills which made her even more drowsy and lethargic during the day and resentful in the evenings. Being in the suburbs she felt isolated and to calm herself she took to drinking secretly. Her depression was exacerbated by having to return to work, and by political developments which her company was involved in. It was around this time that statistics revealed the ‘social ladder’ concept had collapsed; that there was only 7% social mobility and that 93% of the population, in spite of all promises to the contrary, would never escape their demographic box.
At work, while doing a demographic study for a controversial proposed inner city regeneration project mini-mall in conjunction with the newly elected council planning department, Les oversaw research on the shopping patterns and values of the target market – D22. On screen she saw the stats map the lives of her parents exactly. During a phone survey of D22s, she then saw her own postcode come up as the most representative segment, then her own name and phone number.
Alone at night as her child and husband slept, an empty bottle of wine beside her, Les counted out her sleeping pills and in her hand held the only means she could see that would set her and her child free from their demographic destiny. She tiptoed through to the nursery and stared down at the little empty face. Above the child’s whisper of hair were metal safety bars and above that, a colourful poster. There was a picture of an Antelope and then a big letter A. Then B was for Bear, C was for Cat, D…she could not see what D was for.