There’s a Neil Gaiman book called Stardust the film adaptation of which is, in my opinion, one of the best film adaptations of a fantasy story going. The sort that leaves you feeling uplifted and happy rather than relieved, that is. It probably isn’t as epic as The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
The chief male character pops up at the outset working in a shop. He has a crush on the local lord’s daughter, who dismisses his interest because well he’s just a shop boy. Later the non-bitch love interest points out that there are shop boys, and there are boys who happen to work in a shop for a while. This is shortly before he becomes local king. In many respect, it’s a fairly simple rags to riches story where the poor boy with no power at the beginning turns out to have rather a lot of it. It is a wonderfully filmed piece of cinema, the music is lovely, the costume is lovely, but there is still this idea that you are only worth something if you wind up rich and successful at the end
That being said. I was at a family occasion lately, and time past were being discussed. The times past being discussed were dances. I grew up in the disco era so all of this was completely alien to me. We had to deal with “the slow set”
Dances in times further back than that – a lot further back – were the stuff of legends. The boys did all sit along one wall, and the girls did all sit along the opposite wall and the ritual was basic enough: the boys asked the girls to dance and the girls, except under extreme circumstances, could not say no. A typical extreme circumstance involved too much alcohol which sometimes leads me to wonder how often in fact, women got to say no at dances down the country. How much was too much? If you said no, you got a scathing review o DanceAdvisor which operated on the bush telegraph anyway. And it was as durable as the internet appears to be. Memories were sharp on this matter.
Society being what it was at the time, there were social “clues” which mattered a great deal. The one which was new to me was the one where a man had 3 pens in his shirt pocket. I dare say the number was variable, but what mattered was if he had pens at all, usually fountain pens, because this meant he was a Shop Boy. The girls liked and aspired to hook up with shop boys.
Because dancing was an essential tool on the road to getting married and being provided for – I hardly need tell you that in the grand scheme of things, economically women were not the strongest in Ireland at the time – things like this mattered. The farm boys did not like the shop boys because typically the shop boys got all the girls. They weren’t thinking in terms of “there are boys who are shop boys, and there are boys who worked in shops for a while”. The life you might lead as a woman who married a shop boy was likely to be very different to the life you would lead if you married a farm boy.
I found this fascinating because most of my life, a townie, listening to people talking about mating rituals down the country, what mattered was road frontage. That you had land and it fronted onto a main road. That sort of land was wealth. But farming brought with it a lifestyle which many a young girl did not aspire to. A shop boy was a boy with a prospect of a better and easier lifestyle.
A boy who was a shop boy just for a while might never cut it in a dance hall in rural Ireland.