Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Come Into the Garden Again

“Cut out all affectations, such as small bridges... human figures, china animals, glass ornaments, model houses, windmills etc.” advised the London Gardens Society of the 1930s.

When bedding plants (huge beds of one colour) slipped from Queen Victoria's house Osborne to public parks, they became “vulgar and garish”, says Alison Light in the London Review of Books reviewing The Gardens of the British Working Class by Margaret Willes. (Now despised, calceolarias, salvias and begonias were originally exotic imports that needed raising in hot houses.) Oyster-shell edging looked right in a Tudor knot garden, but not in a suburb. (Light repeats the canard that working-class people used most of their garden for growing food – not according to Charles Dickens, who described a village of wooden shacks, each with its outside seat in a “bower”. And hang on, what about all those paintings of cottage gardens?)

"Quick-growing cornus provide a dark canopy in high summer – but be sure to avoid the garish pink varieties. I have used pink flowered forms in Japan, where the sugariness sits better with a Hello Kitty sensibility, but I wouldn’t use them here. Stick with the simplicity of cream and you won’t go far wrong.” (Dan Pearson, Observer July 2014)

Wavy fences are suburban (and 30s). Anathema to Upwards are suburban roads lined with pink flowering cherry and yellow forsythia in front gardens. That strip of land is supposed to keep the world at a distance – they don’t like all these Weybridge personalities coming right out to greet them. You are supposed to read a front garden as really being acres of parkland with deer, sheep and 500-year-old oaks, even if it is only a clump of cotoneasters and spotted laurel. Samantha Upward flinches at talk of the Britain in Bloom competition: all hanging baskets of lobelias.

Beautiful modernist houses (like Farnsworth House) are always in woods. No garden, just a clearing or lawns, with trees. It would be a crime to surround one with bedding plants or herbaceous borders. (But where’s the drive? How do you get there? And where do you park?)

You can get an “outdoor bonfire” (like gas logs). You may call it a “fire sculpture”, but who installs one of these? Surely only the Nouveau-Richards. A circular deck surrounded by a Richard Long ripoff (cemented together), and with a dining area in the middle is beyond naff. A “fire pit” is a fire wok, and you can get them in the style of Andy Goldsworthy. But a circular outdoor conversation pit with one of these in the middle would be rather cosy.

Domestic goddess Martha Stewart has a 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York – including horse paddocks, cutting gardens, a clematis pergola and “long allée of boxwood”. Good for her – big bare houses look so stark. The rich are still surrounding their mansions with a few timid plants, a table and chairs set huddled close to the house on a tiny patio, and vast areas of gravel (in front) and grass (at the back). What do they do on the grass – apart from mow it? With all that money, why don’t they turn their grounds into an adventure playground for adults? Or a maze? Or a treasure trail? Or a series of “rooms”? Or a forest?

At the least the houses need a flower bed and a flagged path all round. And a flower bed or small box hedge encircling the lawn. And features in the garden – paths, ponds, sundials, fruit trees, shade. They could spread themselves – build a bigger terrace, call it a parterre, put in some steps, a pergola, a few vines, some trees, fountains, statues… But I suppose proper stately home gardens require a staff of gardeners.

Here’s what they used to look like:

It was a green tunnel through the wood which opened suddenly upon a garden of rampant roses. Behind that, out of ample robes of roses and all kinds of clematis and jasmine, oriel windows gleamed...” (A Clue for Mr Fortune, HC Bailey, 1937)

In Georgette Heyer’s 30s mystery No Wind of Blame, a  a vulgar ex-hotelier is aiming for the country house style, but doesn’t really like the “wild” garden with its rhododendrons and azaleas, but prefers the neat formal garden and “carriage sweep” at the front of the house.

Between King’s Cross and Highbury there are backwaters full of huge Georgian and later houses that must be worth a million or two. The associated gardens all feature laburnums and wistaria.

In large country houses, flowers were grown in hothouses and flowerbeds to decorate the house. The lady of the house, or one of her daughters, arranged them herself – in the flower room, which had a huge sink and a lot of vases. The idea slid down the classes, and Metroland grew roses and put them in rose bowls on occasional tables. Bowls of growing hyacinths were also popular, and hydrangeas in the garden. Metroland devised new types of flower vase: the bud vase for a single rose, little horseshoe-shaped containers in moss-effect pottery for primroses. In the 50s, ladies went in for flower arranging in the Japanese style, learning ikebana from Constance Spry. Stow Crats and Upwards shuddered. And now we’re left with a lot of vases of various periods that mainly hold commercial bouquets we have been given for mother’s day.

The Times (May 16) has a tip for keeping the birds off your grass seed – use bunting.

More here, and links to the rest.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Gentrification 6

Stoke Newington becomes the Cotswolds

Some time soon, London will be nothing but a playground for the wealthy that doubles up as a tourist attraction. (Bryony Gordon DT Dec 2014)

It was a lot more upmarket than where we lived. (Countdown to Murder)

Is France the new Tonbridge Wells? I now dread readers' letters that end with words like "Aix" or "Rochefort-en-Terre" the most.

Overheard in Weybridge: “They’re opening a Morrison’s? Not very Weybridge!”

Trapped waiting in a Shoreditch coffee joint. Overheard convs inc mortgage options, 2nd homes in Cotswolds & green juice recipes. (James Wong @Botanygeek)

Would love it if, one day, the mystery house on Escape to the Country was a bedsit above a kebab shop in West Bromwich. (Sathnam Sanghera @Sathnam)

Times writer Robert Crampton used to think he could never own a mobile phone or live in a gated community or use a Filofax or drink imported lager or bottled water because that’s what 80s yuppies did. “What a dick,” he observes of himself. (April Times 2015)

Nothing says "I'm a member of the gentry" like "gentrification is a myth, but besides maybe it is actually good for places." (Chepotle Guevara ‏@AlJavieera)

I was quite as happy in Waddilove Street; but the fact is, a great portion of that venerable old district has passed away, and we are being absorbed into the splendid new white-stuccoed Doric-porticoed genteel Pocklington quarter.
(The Christmas Books of Mr. M.A. Titmarsh, William Makepeace Thackeray)

There's always some naive artist saying 'We just wanted a warehouse to take over – I'm shocked, shocked to see gentrification going on here!' (‏@davidjmadden)

Yes, yes, I’m sorry for young people trying to rent or get on the property ladder. When we were young our salaries were tiny. It was very hard for a single young woman to get a mortgage. You had to save with a building society, in the hope that it would give you a mortgage when you found a tiny flat in an “unfashionable” area. (“Fashionable” areas are where richer people live.) There was no spare cash for renovations. There were no credit cards in them days. If you wanted to rent a flat, you had to hand over “key money” of about £500. This was illegal, but a fact of life. And people were quite shocked at different genders sharing a flat or house. Even if you shared with one or two other girls, this was seen as something you did for a few years before getting married, not as a lifestyle choice. And most flats above shops were empty and decaying, for some legal reason. It made streets look tatty and depressing.

Back then, some middle class people worked the system so that they had a cheap flat in central London – housing association, co-op, top floor of some rich person’s house, pretended they lived in Westminster and bought a flat off Shirley Porter. It meant they had more spare cash than the rest of us and could afford a low-paid but high-status job or occupation – usually something impressively creative that we all wanted to do. Sometimes they had quietly married somebody with private means.

And now I hear middle-class young people are being forced to live in tiny bedsits to save on rent! Just like the 50s! (See Cooking in a Bedsitter, The L-Shaped Room.)

The chatterati are wringing their hands and moaning that London will become a bland theme park for the rich, and all the shops will sell nothing but overpriced chandeliers – ignoring the vast swathes of London where poor people will presumably go on living, as long as nobody kicks them off their estate so that they can sell it to developers or private investors. (By “London” I think they mean “central London” – or even “West London”.)

GENTRIFICATIONGentrification no longer means a few hippies, writers and artists moving into a run-down area; it no longer means hipster cafés; it no longer means nice-middle class families buying up Victorian houses that are cheaper than the Crouch End equivalent – it now means destroying beautiful old buildings, building soulless investment flats and waiting for the money to roll in.

Gentrification proceeds like an amoeba – the first pseudopods are hippy cafes which are almost working class. Cheap and inclusive, with batty décor. They are soon followed by upmarket coffee shops. The hippies move further out. It all happens so fast now! But perhaps when you’re 60 everything seems to happen fast. Perhaps that’s why people talk about “the hectic pace of modern life” – they mean it changes much faster than it used to. When we were children nothing changed much! At least that’s how it seems to us.

Hippy café in Dalston Waste

We used to talk about areas “coming up”. Areas can also go down. I wish they would. Middle class people used to move into an area that was said to be “coming up” and hang on for years among the pound shops and wind-blown litter while nothing happened and none of their friends came to join them. In Michael Frayn’s Towards the End of the Morning, one of the newsmen has moved into a South London suburb, and is always rather desperately trying to get others to move there, as he and his wife are lonely. Another character owns a large Victorian house but spends her time improving it with tacky “modern” features made out of MDF and hardboard – such as a cocktail bar in the lounge.

Apparently incomers can always point out the building that used to be a crack house. (I can – at the top of Sandringham Road, Dalston. Now spruced up, with a French church and a net-curtain shop as neighbours.)

Former crack house

Landlords put rents up so that only the affluent young can afford the area. The poor move out. Ordinary shops become middle class cafes. Is the exterior of your local pub now painted with blackboard paint – and “chalk” menus promising locally sourced grub? It’s happening in Finsbury Park.

Many more people go to uni now, and then they all come to London to become artists and actors and writers and work in the media (or get arts-related jobs). What did they do in the olden days? Many stayed in the provinces and became bank clerks. They joined a manufacturing firm and rose through the ranks. But banks have fewer branches and fewer clerks. The manufacturers have closed down. The warehouses are now studios. But we can’t all be artists – is this sustainable? Like the hippies who sold sandwiches from vans at festivals, the other route is to run a café with a difference. There’s a pub in Islington called The Library, and a café in Hackney called The Advisory. In Balls Pond Road: Salvation through Noodles, Subtitles, Artichoke.

Hipster style is the same old Ye Olde Tea Shoppe artsy craftsy William Morris (but without the medieval look). Nostalgia for the old ways of carving teaspoons, writing with a fountain pen, commuting by bicycle, growing a beard, wearing the costume of a Victorian builder. Meanwhile we run our lives with sophisticated technology, and all around us lovely bits of old London are being razed in favour of glass towers out of Metropolis and dull imitations of Georgian townhouses. Perhaps the hipsters will protest, if they’ve got a moment. Can’t wait for the first hipster to commute to work on horseback.

"It can feel strange to be surrounded by the same person wherever you turn," said a Hackney resident about the hipster incomers. The hipsters held a street party and only invited their friends, no local people. The same woman commented: “If another culture did that they’d be accused of not integrating.”

The broadsheets talk as if Stoke Newington has been gentrified – done and dusted. They never mention the people living on the many council estates; or the Turkish, Greek, Jewish, Chinese and Vietnamese communities who have lived here for decades and still do. Gentrification happens around these people.

We thought Stokey would always be the home of dissenters – travellers who went to Nepal and brought back silver jewellery and handwoven textiles, which they sold at the Stokey Festival. We used to shut the street and sell our wares (or sing) on the pavement and listen to salsa bands. We thought it would be like that for ever and ever. We never thought Stokey would become Islington. And then Fulham. And then the Cotswolds. But why wouldn’t it?  The rot set in when the street was no longer closed, and the festival became an ordinary rock gig in the park (and we sang in a tent), and then fizzled. Now there’s a music festival centred on the churches, with string quartets and lute recitals. I never go, my heart is broken.

More here, and links to the rest.

Monday, 27 April 2015

Classy Quotes 19

Stockbroker belt

Everything in the environment I grew up in seemed to suggest that making a fuss would be a bad idea. (Washington Post on reporting rape)

That's what you get from middle-class conformity. That crime victims are told "not to make a fuss". (M. v. Aufschnaiter ‏@mva_1000)

It's a shame but most ppl in the UK are snobs would hate to be thought of as working class. (Kevin Ryan ‏@RyanLinandkevin in a discussion of "hardworking families")

I love being told people can't be working class as soon as they have a decent job. Not patronising at all. (@salihughes)

Notions of class/posh/status are all relative and often unknown beyond your own.
(Mr The Boy ‏@knitboy Someone told him “You’re better than me – you’re posh”.)

Folk have an odd concept around "poshness" don't they. Often preconceived and wide of the mark in reality. (Ed Chadwick ‏@photo_ed)

The whining, hypocritical, know-nothing wing of the middle class who can never admit that they are fortunate and must always pretend to be put upon. (Guardian on Nigel Farage March 29, 2015)

That strange class that straddles the awkward divide between the English petite and haute bourgeoisie... in-betweeners. (Will Self on Nigel Farage)

Aspiring to be a higher class than one is. Derived from bourgeois - meaning middle/upper class, traditionally despised by communists.  (Urban Dictionary – not for those of a nervous disposition. Nothing to do with the French for “candle”.)

Domestic servants who know their place and are not foolishly "above it" are respected and not "looked down on". (Girl’s Own, late 19th century)

I’m in practice at Churchford. You know, stockbrokers pretending to be farmers and expense-account executives pretending to be gentlemen. (Richard Gordon, Dr Gordon’s Casebook)

The only reason anyone listens to opera is because it's bad form to wear a hat saying "I went to private school". (Comment is Free commenter)

My problem with Mother’s Day is I just don’t know the form. It is essentially, an alien ritual, one I struggle to take seriously. We never kept Mother’s Day in my family. We dismissed is as a capitalist plot, a scheme imported from America to encourage the downtrodden proletariat (as well as the undowntrodden middle class to which we belonged) to part with their hard-earned money. (Robert Crampton, Times March 28, 2015 He grew up in the 80s, when practically everything was a capitalist plot.)

To counter being too 'middle class', the @nationaltrust will take art out of its stately homes. Really. (Bendor Grosvenor ‏@arthistorynews)

Simultaneously most bourgeois AND most bookselly thing I will say today "Oh no I dropped labneh on the book-token printer". (@lucyfishwife)

"I think the broadcasters are getting above their station." (Tory MP Philip Davies tells Radio 4, March 2015, not 1915 Or was it a joke? Radio? Station? You kill me!)

I was asked how old I was, what school I’d gone to and - when the recruiter hadn’t heard of it - whether it was fee paying. She enquired what my boyfriend and my parents did, and then finally told me that I’d be easy to place because I had a “nice accent” and a “nice face.” She “popped” me on to a job working for De Beers because “they can’t have someone with an accent answering the phone.” (Daily Telegraph on temping, March 2015 (not 1975)

The pedants’ complaints are not about real rules of grammar: they are a means of keeping divisions sharp. Their cause is not about culture but about class. (Times language expert Oliver Kamm)

Place settings are measured to perfection with a ruler, the footmen’s buttons absolutely correct, yet everything important is absolutely wrong... Modern capitalism promotes the myth that we are all masters of our fate. (Polly Toynbee in the Guardian on Downton Abbey, and the way it leaves out the gruelling toil of servants’ lives, their job insecurity, and the rudeness and inhumanity of their employers.)

I’d like to be very British about it but I can’t. It’s been horrendous. (Woman flooded out last year in Somerset apologises for being upset about it.)

She was terribly middle-class and ordinary and respected the establishment enormously. She virtually curtsied when the Queen came on television. She used to curtsey before the royal children, for goodness sake. (Margaret Thatcher's adviser Tim Bell, Times Dec 14, sticks a stiletto into his old boss)

Under the levelling process of college, it had been possible to ignore the differences in their upbringing. (Jeffrey Eugenides, The Marriage Plot)

The posh, quite swiftly, have become a hell of a lot more like everybody else. As in, when they aren’t riding side-saddle to hounds, they’re watching Doctor Who and going to Topshop. (Hugo Rifkind Nov 2014)

"Talking about class has become a proxy for doing anything about it" Guardian editorial in the week of the "plebgate" verdict (AdamNathanielFurman ‏@Furmadamadam)

He even made a suggestion for a feature about how the middle class becoming rich “had ruined everything”. “They have ruined taste in Britain,” he moaned. (Tatler editor Matthew Bell in Posh People: Inside Tatler. He himself is middle class, the article pointed out.)

This is a splendid satire of what happened when the counter culture began to trickle down the affluent middle classes in the 1970s. Kate and Harvey are a typical Marin County couple. They've dropped their previous square lifestyle (where Kate got off on baking cookies and starching the kitchen curtains) to get in touch with their real selves. This involves scream therapy, encounter groups, consciousness raising sessions, dope and granola. The book follows an uneventful year in their lives when they experiment with an open marriage, life on a commune, and a series of new and ultimately disastrous partners. It's pretty tough on their daughter Joan (who joins the Moonies) and their pets, Donald Barthelme (an Afghan, who doesn't survive his mistress' affair with a poodle-groomer) and Kat Vonnegut Jr (a cat). The book was originally written in short weekly episodes, like Bridget Jones’s Diary, and the style of humour is very like The Diary of a Nobody or the Mapp and Lucia books: lots of bathos and a series of mini-sagas that overlap. Despite everything Kate and Harvey are quite sympathetic (they both secretly hanker after their old lifestyle). I thought it was very funny and prescient. The truth is that nowadays we ALL live in Marin County! (Amazon review of Cyra McFadyen’s The Serial, written in the 70s)

"An honest John Bull would only laugh at the knavish fool whom he saw blubbering and groaning over a grave stuck with daffadowndillies." (Victorian quoted in Dirty Old London, Lee Jackson. And you thought "the Dianafication of society" was a new thing?)

[Edwin Chadwick, architect of the infamous 1834 Poor Law] would not be considered for a post as one of the three Poor Law Commissioners, due to his ‘station in society’ – such berths were reserved for the well-connected elite. (Dirty Old London, Lee Jackson)

A classic Telegraph obit: "Trendell, known to his friends as Trixie, enjoyed entertaining at the Athenaeum."  (Andrew Brown ‏@seatrout. The Athenaeum is an expensive London gentleman's club.) 

Anthropologist Kate Fox writes in the New Statesman about the perils of meeting your grand friends for lunch at the weekend: your belt and shoes look too new and shiny; your wristwatch is too big and flashy; black labrador Monty’s collar has his name on it in inverted commas; you are sitting with your legs too far apart... (Oct 2014-10-15)

It's not the quality of the photo but the signifiers it includes - messages about race, class and educational background - that is most likely to influence [success on Tinder]. (BBC News)

According to Nicky Haslam in the Daily Mail, the following are common in 2014. (He says “It’s nothing to do with snobbery.” He also damns "relaxing" and "talking about kitchens".)

Talking about being ill – “just ghastly”.
Organic food.
Calling yourself an “intensely private person”.
Not owning up to having had “work” done – “everyone can tell at a glance”.
Wearing shirts with your initials on the cuff.
Wearing a bikini top with a skirt.
Saying “gardern” and “portrayte” instead of gard’n and portritt.
Flying somewhere hot for Christmas.
Saying “Louis Vuitton” (it’s just “Vuitton”).
Being a DJ at a party.
Mouthing the words to a song when dancing.
Living statues.
Drinking vodka and tonic (instead of gin).
Harvey Nichols.
New Mini Coopers (they ruined the design, apparently).
Young royals – dull, apart from Harry.
Avoiding carbs.
Foodie restaurants like Noma.
Personal trainers.
Going to the gym.
Bellinis (the cocktails, not the paintings).
Claiming that where you live “has its own micro-climate”.
Glass or polished wood fruit in a bowl.
Dress codes on party invitations (apart from “black tie”).
Putting “carriages at....” on party invitations.
Gourmet canapes.
Saying that something is “a nonsense”.
Serving both sparkling and still water in a private house – it should be a jug of tap water.
“Cuff links and shirt studs. The Queen’s dressmaker Hardy Amies told me that they should only ever be worn with a starched evening shirt with cuffs too stiff to be buttoned.”
Richard Branson.
Elaborate coffee, milk in coffee.
Conservatories (become a children’s playroom).
Wearing airline pyjamas.
Dog walking.
Garrick club ties.
Collapsible umbrellas.
Ultra-expensive bikes.
Skiing in France (apparently Courchevel is full of Russians!).
Speeches at weddings and office leaving dos.
Minding about smoking.
Farm shops, and especially meeting for coffee at one.
Enormous bath towels.
Saying “uz” for us.
Knocking easyJet.
Telling everyone that your blood sugar is low, or that you’re wheat intolerant. Or “I can’t eat dairy.”
Art and design – too ubiquitous.
Miniature trees in window boxes (too tasteful).
The hymn “Lord of the Dance” – so happy-clappy. (It’s a 17th century Shaker hymn.)
Cheese boards with too many cheeses – means the host is insecure.
Long-running TV shows and plays (Downton, Phantom, The Woman in Black).
Box sets.
Talking back to the Satnav.
Saying “bye-bye” instead of goodbye.
Scottish accents.
Saying “All the vegetables came from our garden.”
Tiramisu. James Bond. My Way. Jazz.
And “It’s terribly common to be confident.”
More here, and links to the rest.

Monday, 6 April 2015

Classy Sports and Pastimes 2

Sick of this post-Olympic meme about how wonderful athletes etc are compared to footballers. Assumption behind it seems to be that working class people are corrupted by money, footballers as undeserving rich. Not like wonderful Olympians who do it for the love of sport and because they are so hard working and dedicated. (Mark Fisher ‏@kpunk99)

Upwards never go to London’s ExCel centre (upcoming events include the Holy Ghost Festival of Life and the Property Investor & Homebuyer Show). Their children wonder why they can’t go to Cinderella on Ice at Alexandra Palace like all their friends.

Tennis (and having your own tennis court) used to be a sign of sophistication. Then it was proximity to a golf course. This has been replaced by nearness to a gym, and doing strange exercises on an elastic attached to a tree (just as in the first chapter of Howards End, set in 1905).

In the country, Upwards go for long, muddy walks along the same few routes. Apart from being “good for you”, these walks have no object. They don’t look for archaeology, observe botany (though "foraging" is fashionable) or sketch. And they never walk anywhere near a café or shop. They like to go somewhere where they’re unlikely to meet anybody else – they don’t want to have to say “Good afternoon” to a stranger. Weybridges play golf, and hang out in the clubhouse, which makes Upwards despise them.

Upwards do contemporary dance, Teales and Definitelies do jazz dance and tap. Upwards perform for free in “arts centres”. Sharon Definitely gets a job in Cats. Bryan and Jen go ballroom dancing.

Upwards never go to interior ski slopes or dry ski slopes. Stow Crats go there to practise, or just go to Verbier three times a year. It’s a mating ritual. Upwards can’t go snow sphering either – bang goes sixpence and it’s not mind-improving. Besides, they're just not very physical, despite all that netball at boarding school.

Teales know how to wrap their bathing things (as Samantha would call them) into a neat roll to be carried under the arm. Sam shoves hers into an old canvas bag. Sharon makes herself a beach bag from a pattern in a woman’s magazine.

More pastimes here.
Olympic legacy here.

Saturday, 4 April 2015

You Are What You Eat 6

Happy Easter

For anyone too afraid to ask where the quinoa is in case they say it wrong, it's ‘keen-wah’ and it’s in the rice aisle. (‏@Tesco)

Dining room furnishings have gone the way of dining rooms. (Flog It!)

Dinner-parties and dining rooms are a thing of the past. I can't believe it! Where do people eat? (David Barby on Flog It!)

I doubt there will be many mourners at the grave of “fine dining”. The very phrase, with its genteel fussiness, makes me feel a bit itchy. (Jemima Lewis, Daily Telegraph 2014)

I wondered out loud in front of some foodie friends: “What the hell is a middle-class vegetable?”
“Avocado,” replied one. “That’s a middle class vegetable.”
“Oh no,” countered another. “Avocado is definitely lower-middle class these days.”
O Hades, open the ground beneath my feet and swallow me up. Can we not even eat our tea without a side order of snobbery?

(Henry Dimbleby, owner of the Leon café chain)

Huge chocolate Easter eggs full of chocolates are of course terribly vulgar. And expensive. Upwards dye real eggs using natural ingredients like onion skins and beetroot. “I never really cared for the usual colourful Easter eggs most people make. They're too gaudy for my taste.” (Web)

When vegetarianism first came in, veggies had to eat fake steak, mock duck, nut cutlets and sausalata because society couldn’t cope with difference. in the 70s and 80s people still thought a “proper meal” was meat and two veg. And you just couldn’t say you didn’t like melon. It appeared in every dish. But we could only get unripe melons, and nobody waited for them to ripen, and unripe melons are quite nasty and bitter. Of course they were the middle-class fruit par excellence, and saying you didn’t like them was almost like saying you preferred white sliced bread, or shopped at Costcutter.

Now the government wants to make motorway service stations “less monotonous” with natural light, open spaces and farm shops. Make them more middle-class, in fact. I love motorway service stations for their bland classlessness and you can usually get a latte macchiato if you want one.

Lauren Laverne in the Guardian nails it: “Culinary talent was one of those skills I admired in others, like smalltalk, ballroom dancing, jujitsu and nuclear physics... Ingredients are chosen for their cachet as much as their flavour; people change dietary preferences along with their hair... Reading cookbooks unlocked the middle-class attitude to food – which I had not grown up around, and always found anxiety-inducing (I remember, in my early 20s, being scolded by a TV exec for ordering a “builder’s breakfast” before London started fetishising that kind of thing). I realised that the middle classes cook (and eat) like they decorate: expertly, heavy on borrowed authenticity, low on perceptible effort and frills.”
Upwards and Weybridge use food to make their children’s lives a misery – with the best of intentions, of course. It’s absurd to carrying on cooking, laying and eating formal meals twice a day when you no longer have servants, and it’s the holidays. Stated objective: children must learn how to behave in formal situations. As if they’re going to spend their entire adult lives lunching at the Ritz and dining at banquets. They’re going to spend most of their time eating a sandwich for lunch and coming home and cooking pasta. It will be much more use to them to learn how to behave in those situations. You may have to eat in a very formal situation (wedding? business lunch?) about once a year. Is this an adequate excuse for putting your children through a time-wasting ritual surrounding food twice a day? TV presenter Matt Allwright asks on Twitter “How do you get children to eat food they don’t like?” Matt, it’s easy – give them food they like.

The real British diet

Arrive at work, eat croissant/toast/porridge/latte with sugar. Eat biscuits all morning.
Lunch: A very small salad.
2pm-4pm: Eat biscuits.
4pm: Eat cake.
Dinner: A small portion of meat and veg.

Middle class parents painstakingly train their children to eat middle-class food – and then they fly off and eat junk food just like a chav.

When did Upwards decide that curry powder wasn’t good enough, but curry paste was OK? (Of course you really ought to buy all the spices and fry them...)

My parents thought white sugar was terribly common - even the cube sugar was coloured (shades of beige?) - and the same for white bread. (SP) And there were those who thought white sugar was poisonous because... it was “just chemicals”? Who said that? Toyah Willcox? “We’ll have no killer whites in our tent, Candice Marie!” (Nuts in May, Mike Leigh)

It used to be social death to clean your plate or mop up your gravy with a piece of bread. But then Upwards began to travel to France and picked up the habit. (You should use your knife and fork to do this, however. Most of the time.)

"Fast food is so fatty, and fizzy drinks are so sugary." This means they’re common. Upwards and Weybridges aren’t allowed to like Ribena or Rock’s lemonade “too strong”. If you put “too much” Rock’s in your glass, someone will shout bossily “You won’t want that much!” And “fizzy drinks” mean Coke, not sparkling elderflower. However, “Middle-class” soft drinks contain most sugar" said a Times headline in June 12 2014.

Upwards think that in the Middle East everyone eats humous the whole time. Actually they eat crisps, madeleines and wafer biscuits. Likewise Upwards think that Italians love peppers – Italians adore sugary instant peach tea. Polish cuisine remains resolutely un-Upward.

Definitely kids eat chicken nuggets; Upward children eat chicken goujons.

Greggs’ version of a “rustic” roast beef and cheese roll: very soft roll, almost too soft, with flour dusted on top. Finely-cut soft beef that you can actually chew (how do they do that?), lots of cheese, lots and lots of onion jam and very sweet pickle. Bliss. (Of course no middle-class person would be seen dead in Greggs.)

Caro Stow Crat is probably one of a dying breed who understand the difference between tablespoons and dessert spoons (though she would never say dessert for pudding). Why are recipes still written using tablespoons as a measure? Jen calls a spoon used for serving food a “serving spoon”. But I suppose aristocrats never served their own food.

A hipster has been spotted on the Tube drinking porridge from a jam jar. (Hipster cafes serve coffee in jam jars or small pudding basins, sometimes accompanied by a miniature glass milk bottle full of milk.) Somehow a Rose’s lime marmalade jar, with the labels still on, wouldn’t do. It has to be an “industrial design is so simple and beautiful” bog standard jar, preferably made of recycled glass.
And if you ask for a cappucino in a Look Ma! café, you get offered a flat white because cappucino is soooo last century.

More here, and links to the rest.

Friday, 3 April 2015

Choose Your Words Carefully 3

Steph McGovern

It turns out that what's fine for Alan Titchmarsh, just doesn't go for women in academia. We can't be taken seriously and have working class regional accents at the same time... It turns out that very few people like to think they have a discernible accent and instead believe they speak in a neutral voice, one that doesn't betray the region in which they grew up, or, more to point, the socio-economic status of the region in which they grew up. Because that's what it's really all about, isn't it? I frequently hear friends, students, colleagues, teachers and parents talk about 'rough' or 'common' accents. Or correcting school kids out of their accents because it sounds 'ignorant' and it's not 'proper' English. (A university lecturer in the Daily Telegraph explains how her regional accent draws ridicule in academia, Jan 2015 )

Most users of English habitually distinguish between two types of people whose linguistic habits they deplore... Berks are careless, crass, gross and [in] what anybody would agree is a lower class than one’s own. They speak in a slipshod way with dropped Hs, intruded glottal stops and many mistakes of grammar. Left to them the English language would die of impurity, like late Latin. W*nkers are prissy, fussy, priggish, prim and of what they would probably misrepresent as a higher social class than one’s own. They speak in an over-precise way with much pedantic insistence on letters no generally sounded, especially Hs. Left to them the language would die of purity, like medieval Latin. (Kingsley Amis, The King’s English)

Mum says I sound a bit too common.
(F Stavrakopoulou ‏@ProfFrancesca of her appearance on The Infinite Monkey Cage.)

Georgette Heyer, writing in the 30s, mentions a character whose voice “cast into shocking relief the light, metallic tones of her contemporaries, with their clipped vowels, and the oddly common inflections they so carefully cultivated”.

French was for the academic kids, Spanish for those who were seen as fodder for the vocational training stream. Probably a reflection of the rather fixed views as to where each set would holiday, when older. (GC I had some posh friends who wanted their kids taught French at two "for skiing". They learned to ski at two, too. Somehow we lost touch.)

Hearing me speak, someone once asked me why I wasn't living in Fulham with a barrister. (What could I have said? “Why aren’t you living in Stepney with a woman you call ‘me old Dutch’?”)

Singer Davey Jones (from Manchester) adopted a weird kind of Mockney when he became an “English” star in the States. Judy Carne had the same voice, and Geraldine Chaplin adopted it for Nashville. Nobody ever talked like that.

In the 50s, 60s and 70s, across most of the class spectrum, people communicated in a kind of knee-jerk sarcasm. Which made being a naïve 16-year-old really difficult. I think it's gone out – people are much politer and friendlier now, despite Weybridges complaining that nobody says “Please” or “Thankyou” any more and that manners are a thing of the past. Perhaps they miss “inferiors” kowtowing and calling them “sir” and “madam”.

Upwards and Weybridges have conniption fits over “can I get”. “It’s ‘may I have’,” they rave. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anybody say “may I have”. It’s just something middle-class people invented to annoy their children. If you hover at a coffee-shop counter you’ll hear most people saying “could I have”.

Eileen pronounces Protestant as “Prodestant”, and says “within” for “in”. Upwards insist that antiques have PAT-ina not pa-TEE-na, but pa-TEE-na is winning. Upwards and Stow-Crats used to insist on saying patent with a short A. Everybody says “paytent” now, as in “patently obvious”, which is a favourite phrase of theirs. But it is fearfully infra dig to say “lather” to rhyme with father rather than gather.

Stow Crats have their own pronunciations, not just of stately homes (Althrop for Althorp, Annick for Alnwick), but of names like Walter Raleigh (Rawley not Rahly), Halley’s comet (Hawley or Haley). Are they the ones who insist on Katherine Hebburn and Barbara Stannick? And watch out for Cholmondeley and Marjoribanks and Featherstonehaugh (Chumley, Marchbanks and Fawston).

Samantha Upward is trying very hard to cure herself of calling the living room or sitting room the “drawing room”, as her parents did. It was the “withdrawing room”, whither the ladies withdrew after dinner.

More here, and links to the rest.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

World of Interiors, Again

A Radio 4 Interviewee who grew up on a council state says that the built environment expresses the class system – you know which layer you are in by looking at your surroundings. (But of course “There’s no such thing as class any more”.)

Daily Mail always mentions how much someone’s house cost (to locate them socially).

The fashion for a collection of junk shop flower paintings leaning against the wall has reached adverts.

If Upwards want to sit at a kitchen table they have to go to a posh café. For about 100 years, they have felt that they ought to aspire to Bohemia rather than Suburbia. They wouldn’t like it really.

Upwards hate people to make money out of property – unless it’s them – and it has to happen by accident. In the 70s and 80s they would buy a “shell” – a ruin that they spent years doing up themselves. They babbled of high ceilings and “beautifully proportioned” rooms, and spent all their weekends chipping paint off the original ceiling roses. (They have laptops and cafes now, and outsource the plaster-chipping.)

Were the houses built with high ceilings to prove that you could waste the space? Or because of Victorian superstitions about “foul air” and the miasmatic theory? It’s why Victorian schools were huge, high halls. The hot, “exhausted” air rose to the ceiling and fresh air came in through the windows and the pupils froze. One plus is that you can have tall windows that let in a lot of light, but tall rooms are harder to heat.

Property programmes are always asking “Are you going to change the layout?” This still shocks Samantha Upward slightly – are you really allowed to turn a kitchen into a bedroom? Houses had drawing rooms, dining rooms and kitchens (and perhaps halls, snugs and booteries). The most she and friends would do was “knock through” and talk knowledgeably about “RSJs”.

Upwards and Weybridges aspire to a big house at the end of a long, long drive so that you’re cut off from other people – they call this “tranquillity”. The drive is gravel, not tarmac. The Middletons have a tarmac drive at their large house in Berkshire – and what’s wrong with that? Too like a road? Not eco-friendly? Upwards love to get together and complain about people who “concrete over their front gardens”. Nouveau-Richards have a sea of gravel right up to their front door, so that 30 guests can park at once. Upwards can’t actually afford to move to the kind of house that has a drive, and besides they secretly love living in cities.

In American sitcoms, a vivid crocheted Afghan over the back of the sofa is a sign we’re in a blue-collar home. Same goes for ceiling fans.

Nouveau-Richards have “hobby farms”.

Oscar Wilde said that a gentleman never stands at a window. In the 60s, council estates were given windows that you can’t lean out of and shout down to someone in the street. (Oh, OK, they didn’t want people to fall out either.)

More here, and links to the rest.