Sunday, 27 July 2014

Classy Holidays

"Cities mindful of tourists have built elaborate “tourist traps” which, luckily, work." (Andrei Codrescu)

Whereas the Armani set has descended on other Sicilian islands... leading to a rash of smart hotels and high summer prices, Levanzo, Favignana and Marettimo remain, for the most part, as sleepy, peaceful and unaffected as ever. (Tim Jepson in The Daily Telegraph. I think he means "cheap".)

“One of the things I like about Italy and Rome is that there aren’t that many Brits there… It’s a pretty touristy city, so I’d go in the spring or autumn – or even winter – though even then you sometimes have to struggle to avoid the parties of schoolboys all wearing caps the same colour… Visiting some of the most popular museums can be trying too, given the length of the queues… I’ve never been to Dubai, and I never plan to go. It just seems a soulless place to visit, overcrowded with Brits.” (Adrian Edmondson on My Rome in the… Telegraph, Dec 2013 We love you too, Ade.)

My husband and I like to holiday in very different ways. He likes to stay in 5-star all-inclusive places, and fully relax and not think about anything other than lying on a beach and reading books. I like to go more off-piste and explore more than just the hotel. (Writer to The Times, Aug 10 2013 See E.M. Forster's Passage to India for English people in search of “the real India”.)

Can upper-middle-class Upwards go to Italian resorts where Italians holiday – marinas, hotels with their own beaches? Perhaps Italy but not France – Upwards are quite shocked to find that France is full of the wrong kind of French people.

Nouveau-Richards traditionally went to La Spezia and San Remo, while Upwards avoid most coastlines, and anywhere with yachts. Weybridges go to the Boat Show at the Excel Centre. Upwards don’t know where the Excel Centre is. They won’t be going to the Science Fiction Convention or the Wedding Fair there either.

Upwards are very into the beauties of nature, which many Teales and Definitelies would just find boring or pointless. They go to Alentejo in Portugal where you can see cork forests populated by eagles, while Teales go to the Algarve where you can play golf, loaf on the beach and swim and paddle-board, and there are lots of restaurants and bars. Apparently Rousseau invented “the bourgeois cult of romantic sensibility”, and the Upwards are still devotees.

This summer, Samantha and Gideon are avoiding Minehead and Watchet, which are “very caravanny”, I'm told, and visiting a few “boutique music festivals” like Latitude. They're looking for an "experience" (it's the new "adventure").

More here, and links to the rest.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Classy Quotes 17

[My mother was] really ashamed of our toaster, so she kept it in the cupboard until we could afford the perfect one that could be put on display. (Fashion designer Emilia Wickstead)

In debunking superficial and unilateral forms of etiquette, we have lost sight of the importance of genuine courtesy in human relationships. And in attacking despotic and abusive adult rule, we have failed to cultivate appropriate respect for just and rightful authority… (David Ausubel, 1961)

Mindfulness classes in 2014 are what interior design classes and knitting Kaffe Fassett jumpers were in the 1980s #middleclasshobby (Colonel Blimp ‏@adamcreen)

His parents lived in reduced circumstances in South Kensington, where they courageously kept up appearances... He knew to the finest shade of nuance the exact levels of English middle-class life. (Obituary of Bentley Bridgewater, Indy 1996)

“The class system [is] laid painfully bare on the plane.” (Guardian on a programme about airports, June 2014)

"Have you had any maids or cooks that were satanical, made your life hell?" Libby Purves, Radio 4, 21st century. (Robert Rotifer)

"Quintessential Cotswolds England. Bastards won't get you here!" (Estate agent outside thatched cottage, Under Offer)

35% of British people admit to being Middle Class, though 60%< have middle class jobs. (The untrustworthy @byzantinepower)

In the US, 99% of us are middle class. No one will admit to being anything else. (Bill Thayer ‏@LacusCurtius)

More here, and links to the rest.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Class and Joanna Cannan

Whodunnit? Must have been a rank outsider!

Joanna Cannan (1898–1961) was the author of the influential children's story A Pony for Jean. It spawned a whole genre - largely written by Cannan and her daughters, Josephine, Diana and Christine Pullein-Thompson. The family were intensely horsey and ran their own stables. (A Pony for Jean was unusual in its time for being convincingly narrated by the girl heroine. The series is also funny: the usual plot about a girl who teaches herself to ride on an unpromising mount and then wins all the prizes is surrounded by some sly social observation. The ODNB says Cannan’s writing was “witty, satirical, even cynical”. I think they’re trying to say “critical”.)

Cannan also wrote detective stories. I was encouraged to read Murder Included by Clothes in Books who hinted that it was a guide to the English class system in the early 50s. And so it is.

The aristocratic d’Estray family have turned their country house into a hunting stables and private hotel (for “paying guests”) – on the urging of the latest Lady d’Estray, who is rather Bohemian and has been living in the South of France. (She has breakfast in her bedroom – imagine!) The police are called in when one of the guests (a horsey old lady who is also a d’Estray cousin) is found poisoned. The local fuzz request help from Scotland Yard, claiming that they can't be impartial as they are all either friends of Sir Charles d’Estray, or closely related to the staff.

They are sent Inspector Ronald Price, a solidly lower middle-class socialist who has the gall to live in Finchley and eat in a dining recess with folkweave curtains. His bathroom contains a mirror-fronted cupboard full of laxatives, and a cork-seated linen basket. His idea of a good meal is tinned soup, potato pie and trifle (stale cake and instant custard). He is also pompous, calling sleep “recuperative slumber”.

The whole book seethes with snobbery (and racism), mainly expressed by the cast – the contempt for Price and another character called Marvin seems to be entirely Cannan’s own.

Among the guests is a couple called Rose. Here’s the Chief Constable’s view: “Well, Mr Rose is a type that I daresay you’re familiar with, though it’s not common, thank the Lord, down here. A few years back his name was Rosengarten or Rosenberg.” (His wife, Sybella, calls the drawing room the “lounge” and her coat and skirt a “costume”. We’d now call it a suit. Sidney Rose’s hunting clothes are too new and too brightly coloured: chestnut tweed coat and socks; yellow tie, waistcoat and handkerchief. What’s more, his tie has a pattern of foxes’ masks and hunting whips, and his socks are cable-stitched.)

Inspector Price flinches when local cop Treadwell refers to the housemaid (who is also his aunt) as a “servant”. “Don’t they realise we’ve done away with masters and servants?” thinks Price. He winces again when the Chief Constable complains that he has to dine early to let the cook go home. “How well they were taking it, these doomed and done-for ladies and gentlemen – but dine early!”
Treadwell complains that the village was “pretty enough once, but spoiled by bungalows run up by retired Harborough tradesmen”. Price writes to his wife, Valerie, that he may have to remind everybody that “a few years have passed since we did away with the feudal system”.

Price ticks off the boot boy for saying “What?” rather than “Pardon?” but is put in his place – “Sir Charles won’t ’ave pardon in the ’ouse.” It’s “I beg your pardon” to the gentry and “What?” to equals.
Bunny (Lady d’Estray) is advised not to wear espadrilles in the presence of the police. Her conservative stepdaughter Patricia is wearing “trim Coolies”. (What can these be? Basketweave shoes?) “The more you wear sloppy shoes,” says Pat, “The more you have to.” (Espadrilles were a foreign import, and rather shocking.) Pat admits later that “ ‘what corners I had were duly knocked off at St Olaf’s'. She smiled, evidently recalling humorous incidents connected with the loss of her individuality.” She is a perpetual prefect, and has yet to discard the “snubbing manner” acquired at school.

One of the guests, Flight-Lieutenant Marvin, is described as a “temporary gentleman” by other characters. He has been taken up by Miss Hudson (the first corpse), and is probably after her money. Lisa, Bunny’s daughter, says that he’s “of the people”, and uses words like “perspiration and serviette and excuse me”. Cannan introduces his mother, apparently just so that she can sneer at her. She wears more than one ring, a tight corset and a frilly white blouse. She enjoys walking round shops, also “bridge, matinees, an occasional dress show”.

Beatrice, the housemaid, explains how servants’ halls have become more democratic: “Of course, in the old days the under-servants weren’t allowed to speak at table until the upper servants ’ad withdrawn, but me and Mr Benson and Mrs Capes decided that, within reason, we in the ’all should adapt ourselves to the spirit of the times.” Yes, I’m afraid the servants all drop their aitches, which makes their dialogue quite difficult to read.

I guessed who the murderer was, and the solution is quite shocking. I want to read more Cannans now...

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Decor Crimes 3

So much stuff. Looking back the other way, we can see Betty Boop as Lady Liberty. And if we step back some more, we see a suit of armour in the dining room. (

You can visit any historic building in Britain and find the same things: tea towels, mugs, 'local' biscuits, CDs of pseudo-Celtic music, small jars of preserves, a pewter replica of something, a book that's £5 cheaper on Amazon and some pencils. (Age of Uncertainty)

furniture in inappropriate places
– an antique dressing table mirror on the landing

linenfold panelling – on kitchen cabinets, or the front door of your 80s cottage

classical Adam Regency fireplace in an Art Deco block, plus a classical Regency-style bed surround with a cupboard over the top

exposed beams in a Georgian house (The Georgians would have a fit.)

Flintstones fireplace copied from a 15th century stone cottage (slate surround, beam or stone lintel) – in a Victorian villa

feature wall with big bold wallpaper – it’s always the same black flowers, leaves and scrolls on magenta, teal or coffee. Makes small rooms look smaller.

block of flats with huge windows on the stairwell, and tiny windows in the flats

stone effect cladding that comes in panels, on a terrace or ex-council house

toxic levels of good taste: every room done up to look like an abandoned servants’ wing in an Irish country house. Peeling plaster, iron bedsteads, distressed furniture, bare untreated floorboards (or treated to look “untreated”), no clutter or personal belongings, no object later than 1910, everything plain and never-fashionable

Victorian lamp standards in 60s shopping precincts (it was an 80s thing)

After the fake stripped Victorian furniture varnished a bit too orange, comes the fake recycled wood furniture in a plain blocky style, looking too new and varnished a bit too orange.

furniture blocking windows

engraved mirrors (but I rather like them)

deeply buttoned, very shiny leather sofas

nests of very shiny, dark brown mock Sheraton occasional tables

leather sofas that have been distressed to look 50 years old

overambitious conversion of a small ordinary house (not just marble, granite and downlighters but an avant garde spiral staircase in an added turret

More here, and links to the rest.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

What the Classes Read: Books and Media II

Suitable for shop-girls
An Upward saves money and despises the Americans in one fell swoop:

When it came to anniversaries, high days and holy days, my parents were non-believers. We worshipped at neither Hallmark nor Clinton. Immediate family birthdays were remembered; my mother would dig out a notelet from a pack of 12, a sheet of A4 folded into quarters, with a blue tit or wild flowers on it, and write “Happy birthday darling”, and on their wedding anniversary my father would give her a peck on the cheek. And that, more or less, was it. Easter, Valentine’s, Mother’s or Father’s Day cards, these things were entirely foreign. Cards for passing exams or driving tests, saying welcome to your new home or sorry you’re sick: these were unimaginable. If someone died or had a baby, she wrote on Basildon Bond. I suppose she was, in her own mild way, an unconscious card snob. Why don’t you care about Mother’s Day, I asked her, worried I was doing something wrong when I saw other children buying their mothers the obligatory outsized padded satin cards and flowers. Even then there was peer group pressure. Oh, that’s just a silly American thing, she said. They’re trying to make money out of you. Mothers don’t need a card to know you love them. In that regard, thankfully, our family didn’t do gush or guilt trips.
(Melanie Reid, Times April 11 2014)

It used to be terribly common to write letters on deckle-edged notepaper (Upwards called it "writing paper"), but some Weybridges in the 60s thought it was awfully grand. Ditto coloured writing paper, envelopes lined with blue tissue paper, purple ink, and linen-effect greetings cards.

Back then, Weybridges were the ones with pompous pen sets and blotters. They gave their children expensive Parker pens with gold-plated nibs for passing exams. Upwards bought antique sets. (My parents used to shower me with Victorian writing slopes and inkwells in the shape of Venetian gondolas in an attempt to improve my handwriting. Or did they just want me to write more letters?)

Some Upwards and Weybridges forbade their children to watch ITV when it appeared. (Coronation Street? It's about working-class people!) They probably forbade comics as well (will stop children learning to read). Now they forbid mobile phones or Facebook, or ration the use of “devices”.

When Upwards complain about the huge coverage given to sport or royal weddings/babies because they’re not interested in these things, they forget that they are the smallest segment of the population, and that people who care about sport and the royals far, far outnumber them. Is that why they moan about “materialism” and “celeb-worship”? Lord Reith would cringe at X Factor and Strictly.

Upwards have always whinged about news media and are always asking “How is this news!?”  Odd, when all Upwards want to work in publishing. If you are an Upward who works in publishing, other Upwards will assume you work in book publishing or on one of the broadsheets (EITHER the Times OR the Guardian). Their smiles become rather fixed when you explain you work in magazines – in fact, you love magazines! (One asked me once, rather crossly, “What are all these magazines that you love?” I wondered if she’d ever been inside a WH Smith, where you can choose between three different magazines on carp fishing. She was more of a Stow Crat, so perhaps she never had. Or perhaps “we” just don’t “see” magazines.)

In his day Edgar Wallace often was dismissed, with unabashed class condescension, as a writer of cheap thrills who appealed only to clerks, mechanics, shopgirls and house servants. (

Upwards love “funny” programmes that are not funny at all. Like Garrison Keillor and Twin Peaks. And The Office. Do they like watching people suffer agonies of embarrassment?

More here.

Friday, 20 June 2014

What to Wear III

A fur coat - with a swimsuit?
Posh Caro Stow Crat always dresses appropriately – she would never wear a fur coat in Florida, or over a swimsuit, or appear on breakfast television in a gold lamé dress, like JK Rowling. Here’s her guide to necklaces (also not to be worn with a swimsuit):

An evening necklace is loosely round your neck (double or triple strand).
Matinee length reaches the first couple of ribs below the collar bone.
Opera length reaches your bust.
A riviere is more fancy, with dangly bits.
Rope length is longer than opera.

“Dangly earrings should never be longer than your hair; only wear hoops in the summer, and enormous hoops are vulgar at any time. furthermore, we are all too good to wear fake diamond studs: either we get the real thing, or we choose another, cheaper option.”
Hilary Rose, Times June 2014

In the 60s and 70s, only lower-middle-class Teale men wore practical items of dress like plastic pocket protectors, sleeve restraints (elasticated armbands) and tie clips (in stainless steel and fake abalone). Upwards were supposed to wear gold and jewelled tie pins left over from the Edwardian age, but these too have disappeared.

In the 50s, ballet shoes were black, never pink or bronze. Plimsolls were white, never black. And middle-class Upwards never wore bronze party shoes. (Party shoes were white, black - but never patent leather - or coloured to match your outfit.) Those who let their daughters wear bronze party shoes would have shuddered with horror at silver or gold party shoes.

Virginia Woolf notes in her diary that Lady Abingdon described Princess Mary “dressed like the upper housemaid in peacock blue”. Vivid blue and green were common. If Woolf and her set wanted to put somebody down, they said they had “the mind of a housemaid”. (Mrs Woolf and the Servants, Alison Light)

There was a recent flap about a clothing trend called “normcore”: young people wearing generic downmarket clothing. Of course it’s shocking to Americans, because they are used to being able to tell who has “class”, ie money, and who hasn’t. They wear very conservative clothes, but of the right (expensive) brand. If middle class kids start dressing like common baseball fans, what are they to do? (In the 60s, people used to say “You can’t tell what class anyone is any more, because the young all wear jeans.”) The real snobbery of normcore is to source the perfect generic plain grey jersey from the hard-to-find, word-of-mouth, well-kept-secret prep school clothing catalogue (as we used to do in the 70s).

More here, and links to the rest.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Gentrification V

Church Street
Sure sign of gentrification is the anti-gentrification graffiti by the last generation of gentrifiers. (Huw Lemmey ‏@spitzenprodukte)

My Romanian taxi driver bizarrely complaining about... mass arrival of more Romanians next year. "They will work for less. Keep them out." (Sathnam Sanghera)

That’s me – complaining about all the middle classes moving into the area I… moved into 30 years ago. But I moved here because it was working class! Though looking back, there weren’t many decent pubs or cafes, there wasn’t much to do, and friends were scattered thinly.

We predicted the area would “come up”. And then it didn’t. Years passed. And now it has, but not in time for us. Damn!

And we were imagining a clean-up, a paint-job, some repairs, maybe a left-wing café/bookshop, a hippy vegan restaurant in a squat, and no more prostitutes in the park or crumbling houses full of crack addicts - not farmers’ markets in Clapton selling ethical escargots. Dalston has become Camden Market.

“The activists and hippies who once lived in cooperatives where everyone paid according to ability and parents sang Nkosi Sikelele Afrika to their white babies have largely gone.” (New York Times May 2014 on Brixton) In the 80s, the middle-class incomers were political activists, who deliberately took up activities that meant meeting working class people of all origins. It may have been a mixed blessing for the working classes, but I miss singing Give Peace a Chance in a marquee while everybody eats Caribbean food off paper plates.

People say Stoke Newington High Street is ALL gentrified now (a few cafes called “The Haberdashery”). But for the past 30 years the gentrifiers have managed to ignore the large Turkish community which is still the most prominent culture in Green Lanes and on the High Street. To my knowledge, Upwards don’t exclaim over darling little Lahmacun restaurants (and don’t go there), don’t learn the oud, don’t listen to Turkish music, don’t learn Turkish, don’t go to Turkey on holiday. They shop at Turkish corner shops and take trips in Turkish cabs but they study Buddhism, not Islam. And of course you couldn’t run workshops teaching easy Turkish songs when you’re surrounded by expert Turkish musicians (and Turkish music sounds pretty hard).

Hipster junk shops in Stokey have even caught up with 70s owls! That was MY thing.

If my 35-year-old self could see London as it is now, she’d be amazed to see flats above shops made habitable (they used to be left empty for some legal reason), coffee shops everywhere - and all the buildings so clean.

More here, and links to the rest.