Monday, 20 May 2019

What to Wear 10

The ladies are lunching in John Lewis again: Caro Stow Crat buys Rowan yarn and Samantha Upward purchases white baby wool – she’s going to dye it with natural substances like blackberries and beetroot. Eileen Weybridge and Jen Teale have acquired a jade two-piece and a pair of robust jeans on the womenswear floor – Eileen's off sailing again.

"Lovely!" shudders Sam, and boasts that she buys all her clothes in charity shops.

“I’m sure more people would, if the shops would only wash the clothes first,” says Eileen.

“It seems so obvious,” says Jen.

“I must admit I don’t appreciate odeur de charité!” says Caro, looking round her at the crowds. "Why is everybody wearing plimsolls? And how do they keep them so white?"

"They're trainers!" says Jen.

"Nothing but trainers – even in Clarks!" bemoans Eileen.

"You spray them with Gleem-o-Brite!" says Jen.

"Oh for the days of Meltonian shoe cream!" sighs Caro. "Those happy evenings at boarding school whitening one's tennis shoes."

She is still wearing the Stow Crat hairstyle: blonde, layered, off the forehead, off the collar, and brushed behind the ears. Earrings and a silk scarf in the neck of her cashmere jersey go with it. When skin-tight jeans are in, her grand-daughters wear a more relaxed version, and Caro's heels are always slightly lower than the fashion. Thalia Upward wears the sexy/unsexy look, featuring bare legs and black ankle boots.

A Sloane in Cirencester? Short tweed skirt and riding boots if young, longer tweed suit if not, or jodhpurs, or good jeans. Expensive yoga wear if she's more on the New Age side. You see plenty of quilted gilets at the track, usually with that sort of heather-coloured hat that suggests someone has sat on it. (LW)

To lead her Qi Gong class, Arkana sports a blue and hot-pink block-coloured shirt, pink patterned leggings, and orange rubber shoes – with lifelike toes. Her hair is the same shade of orange, which makes her look somewhat haggard, but Sam finds the whole ensemble soothing to rest her eyes on as Arkana takes the class through a gruelling session.

She showed up in total nerdcore clothing, head to toe: bow tie, thick-rimmed specs, sweater vest, plaid buttondown... (via Twitter)

This month’s collection references the interiors of Charleston, the country home of Vanessa Bell, and also the wild gardens of her childhood home in St Ives. (Seasalt Cornwall. The clothes are slightly influenced by the colour palette, no Charleston designs are copied, anyone can have a wild garden – but the magic words “Vanessa Bell” may get middle-class buyers to bite. See also the Past Times catalogue and “inspired by”. Cardigans printed with a pattern a long way after a medieval manuscript are the height of frump, the depth of chic.)

It’s all in the detail! says the Damart catalogue. Oh dear, it’s the details – the embroidery, the applique’d flowers, the top stitching, the asymmetrical hems – that make the clothes frumpy. We want completely plain clothes, a bit like a school uniform, made of good materials, that fit. Thanks.

More here, and links to the rest.

Saturday, 13 April 2019

Modern Manners 3

In the run-up to Christmas, the ladies are lunching in a department store. Present are Caroline Stow-Crat, Samantha Upward, Jen Teale and Eileen Weybridge. Now that Gideon Upward has retired, he doesn’t mind coming along to help carry the shopping and get the girls a taxi. Caro has borrowed Samantha’s Guardian, which has an article on modern manners.

“Isn’t it just politeness?” asks Eileen.

“And common sense?” says Jen.

"Manners are part of a system of power relations," says Sam. “The purpose of etiquette is to uphold the power structure of oppression.”

"Do you mean a code of manners is designed to keep others in their place?" asks Eileen.

"We think our whole age has been a progress from formality to informality and that this is a good thing," puts in Gideon. "Dating in the 60s, getting off at a party in the 70s. And now apparently young people are saying 'If only we had the formal manners of the 90s!'"

Caro reads aloud from the paper: "According to the Guardian, we should behave ourselves in pubs. Don’t crowd the bar, don’t jostle other customers, and attract the attention of staff with a quick lift of the eyebrows. There IS a queue at the bar, but only the staff knows everybody’s place in it. Honestly, the English are mad. How about forming an actual queue? Or getting one of those numbered ticket machines?"

Sam reads on: "Communal tables in restaurants are a 'horrific trend'. Be civil, pass the salt, but avoid 'pottering small talk'."

Jean continues: "And if you must bring children, they should be seen and not heard, and the restaurant should not be expected to make them special meals. Well, really!"

"Don’t quiz staff about their hairstyle, accent, tattoos," reads Caro. “But I’m surprised at the Guardian suggesting tweeting and emailing at the table is acceptable.”

“And they forgot to say ‘don’t drink too much',” says Jen Teale. “And we need etiquette on Twitter – people are so ill-mannered!”

"Perhaps we do need modern manners," sighs Eileen. "Can you think of any?"

"Bin the doggy-doo," says Jen. "And your chewing gum. And the rubbish you're about to leave on the beach."

"Avoid PDAs – public displays of affection," says Caro.

"But I love the way everybody hugs now," says Sam.

"I meant snogging in restaurants – I never know where to look. I've got some thoughts."

"Let's have them!" say the others.

"It is really beyond the pale to count someone else’s money. I mean people who complain that their single older relative is always going on expensive foreign holidays. How do you know he’s not travelling on the cheap and staying with friends? And you shouldn’t assume a single person is better off because they don’t have children to support – it costs more to live alone. And if Uncle Bob and Aunt Mary leave all their money, which presumably they’ve worked hard for, to the Cats’ Protection League – well, serve you jolly well right."

Eileen chips in: "You know, people are finding books in bookshops and then buying them from Amazon for less in the actual store, while bragging about it. The definition of bad manners!"

Caro continues: "Don’t send your Christmas cards too early – it looks needy. And there’s no way to tell if you’ve been dropped from someone’s list because if they’ve got one from you they feel they have to send one back. If you don’t get one back – did you put your latest address inside? I’m sure people used to send change of address cards – even in these days of LinkedIn and the rest they could be useful.

In any place of worship, don't read faster than the minister.

And thank everybody for Christmas and birthday presents – these days probably by email or the dreaded social media, but thank them. If the chocolates were past their sell-by date, don’t tell them. If it’s not quite what you wanted/last year’s fad/unflattering, say nothing – but thank you.

And a tip when present-buying – does the recipient have anywhere to put the casserole dishes/coffee-table books/doorstop? Spare a thought for where they live and how they are going to get back there. Are they going to have to shlep the garden sculpture/table lamp/birdbath home on the bus? You may wish your friend or relative had the decency to get married, or a least live as if they were, acquiring a large house and giving dinner parties, but you can’t force this to happen by giving them a set of dinner plates for 12. You may think the giftee will be encouraged by a thoughtful donation of placemats/paper napkins/a fondue set, but he/she is more likely to pass them on to a charity shop. As a general principle – don’t try to live other people’s lives for them.

Back to the sordid subject of money – people like us try to force unmarried women to couple up because there’s no way you can keep up the middle-class lifestyle on one salary. And publishers are notoriously poor payers. Of course your dear friend Perdita doesn’t give dinner parties – she lives in a studio flat which is all she can afford. Perhaps her parents don’t have the inherited wealth you think they have – what did I tell you about counting other people’s money? Yes, perhaps if she gave dinner parties you’d invite her to yours and she might “meet somebody”. And she’d be advertising her cooking skills. Don’t forget men are quite dim – if a woman lives alone in a studio flat they assume she wants to “keep her independence” or somesuch waffle. So why not just invite her anyway?

If one of your friends has a famous ancestor or relation, don’t drag their name into the conversation, or spot a family resemblance, or gleefully tell others about the connection – in your friend’s presence, when they haven’t mentioned it themselves. In fact, if you and a friend are meeting new people, don’t tell the new people anything about him or her. Maybe he or she doesn’t want strangers to know that she’s written a novel, or won a prize at the local flower show. You may think “But I’d brag about it if it was me!”, but it’s not you. Perhaps you think that having a friend with a famous ancestor raises your status, but keep that to yourself. In fact, if you are about to introduce friend A to friend B, don't give B a pre-match briefing about A. Let B make up their own mind.

And when a friend or family member is ill or disabled, please refrain from trying to manage their condition for them. Let them set the walking pace – you may slow down too far. If they’re walking briskly, it may not mean they’re fine, they could be looking for somewhere to sit down. Don’t tell them how to get up out of chairs – offer them a hand! Don’t urge them to do things they lack the energy for. Avoid recommending alternative cures, or insinuating that they haven’t tried hard enough. Don’t tell them that their migraines aren’t migraines because they aren’t one-sided, or that they aren’t on the autistic spectrum because they can feel empathy. They are probably more informed about their condition than you are, who picked up a few ideas from an article 20 years ago. And don’t tell them that if they can walk a few steps they don’t need a wheelchair!

My grandmother used to tell us to butter and jam only the mouthful of toast you were about to bite.  Somehow we stopped doing that, but why don’t we revive the practice? Stops you getting marmalade on your laptop and butter down your sleeves. Laptops at the breakfast-table are hardly comme il faut, of course, but I often breakfast at my desk."

"It's not just about what to say when meeting the Queen!" says Jen.

"When meeting royalty," Caro explains, "You’ll be told when and to whom you should curtsey. Put one foot behind the other and bend your knees briefly while bowing your head slightly – no need to bend right forward like Theresa May. Keep the back straight and the bum in. Sorry, Mrs May. If you can’t manage this, nobody will mind. A slight bow will do. But try to adopt a pleasant smile, rather than a grin. Another thing – curtseying was designed for a long, concealing skirt, and looks rather ridiculous in a mini or trousers. Plan your outfit carefully!

Sam feels Caro has held the floor long enough: "If you invite someone to stay overnight on the floor of your student bedroom, organise some breakfast, and, if they’re still around, lunch. I once stayed with a student and breakfast wasn’t even mentioned. After I made a fuss, I was given a slice of melon! When later I mentioned lunch, she waited while I stopped at a newsagent’s and bought a cheese sandwich – which I had to eat in the street."

Eileen adds: "If someone asks you for help, don’t tell them how they can do the thing themselves. If they ask you for the number of a taxi firm to drive them home from your house, don’t say: 'If it was me, I would have found out the number beforehand.' Pin cards from local taxis up in your hall. Your friend needs to get home – now is not the time to proceed with your plan to train them to stand on their own two feet."

Gideon says: "I hope it's not patronising to offer help to a woman? I mean, isn't this whole thing just an excuse to get out of doing anything for others? Call me old-fashioned, but if a woman is walking straight towards me along a narrow pavement, I chivalrously step into the gutter! And if we're walking along a pavement together, I take the gutter side."

"You don’t have to hide your pregnancy bump any more in a Mothercare smock with a Peter Pan collar, but apparently you shouldn’t “flaunt” it," says Jen. "I think this means you should pretend it isn’t there. Isn't that pointless?"

Sam remembers: "I know what's rude! When you throw a party in a shared flat and don't tell your flatmate because you hope he/she will be out. Or you throw a dinner party and don't invite your flatmate so that he doesn’t know whether to join in, retire to his room, or remember a sudden appointment and go to the cinema alone."

"When you take a chilled bottle of dry white wine to a lunch/dinner party," says Gideon. "And your hosts put it to one side and carry on serving something warm and sweet, and never open your contribution."

"Telling people 'I know where you could have got that for half the price'," says Jen.

"Whispering in public!" rejoins Caro. "This woman in the doctor's waiting room... When I didn't respond she just whispered more loudly! She was just asking if I was OK, but I'm getting a bit deaf."

"I do so agree!" says Gideon. "I tell people 'You'll have to speak up', and they just repeat what they said in a normal voice."

"Howard won’t have anything with a 'photo ID' on it," says Eileen. "He says the state intrudes into our lives too much already. I mean, we had to get all the dogs and cats 'chipped'! But what gets me down is the nagging – endlessly being told I eat too much and don’t exercise enough and I ought to eat kale and wear a 'fitbit'. I mean, what’s that if not intrusion into my life? And some people seem to positively like it – being nagged, I mean."

Gideon says: "I was always told it was 'impolite' to discuss politics. It means people can go on being racist and not understanding the issues because it’s 'rude' to put them right."

"There’s an unwritten rule that if two men get into an argument about politics, science or philosophy, women do not chip in," says Caro. "This is merely a territorial contest between alpha stag beetles (or animal of your choice). Another unwritten rule: if one of your acquaintance likes to harangue the company at length about the evils of vaccination, the charms of astrology or the fact that the earth is flat, it is bad manners to disagree with them. Especially if they are a man.

These rules should be broken at every opportunity."

More here, and links to the rest.

Modern Manners 2

My mother in law used to think it showed you were upper class if you were really rude to shop assistants - put them in their place sort of thing. She was a snob and it caused lots of arguments! (via Facebook)

The woman - never invited back - who told me she was a vegetarian, but didn't tell me that she was allergic to eggs. "I'll just pick it out of my quiche," (she actually said this), sighing alongside an accompanying smell of burning martyr. "I don't want you to go to any trouble."
(LW, paraphrase)

Visiting Americans were stunned at the rudeness with which the British upper classes addressed the unfortunates below them. (Great British Fictional Detectives, Russell James)

Stop making a fuss about how bad you are at pronouncing foreign names. Don't preface your attempt with a lengthy apology. It's deeply othering. If you encounter a name you don't know how to pronounce and you haven't an opportunity to ask, I strongly recommend you just do it. Thank people for their patience but crucially, just move on. At some point the jokes about being bad a pronouncing a name stop being about the pronouncer and become about how weird and foreign the name is. I know you feel uncomfortable and awkward and you don't want to get it wrong. But just move on. (@jeannette_ng)

Thanks for X product, which I’ve enjoyed using while committing Y task. Looking forward to seeing you during Z event. (Template for a thankyou letter from Daniel Mallory Ortberg)

An indignant friend tells me an anecdote about a woman on a bus who had put her bag on the seat (so that she was taking up two places). She didn’t move the bag even though he stood beside her without speaking for five minutes. 

Unbelievably, in the 70s posh people still changed for dinner. We stayed with some grand people who assumed we were as upmarket as they were. Mrs Thing was quite annoyed that we hadn’t brought skirts to change into. “Couldn’t Mary lend you something?” Mary was about five foot two and a size 12. I was five foot nine and a size 16. (If you're a tall woman, people have a strange blindness to your real height.)

I stayed with my parents at a hotel on Loch Maree where all the guests dined together. The proprietress said nothing to me, but approached my mother to say “Could you ask your daughter to wear tights in the evening instead of bare legs?” At least I was wearing a skirt! Bare legs were still taboo in the 70s, though they became OK in the 80s. In the 70s it was only OK to go without stockings if you applied fake tan that smelled of biscuits and turned your legs orange.

Don’t overload your fork, says the Royal Butler.

In the 17th century bell-ringers were penalised for wearing a hat or spurs in the belfry.

More here.

Thursday, 7 February 2019

What to Wear 9

"Sumptuary" laws forbade the wrong kind of people to wear sable or ermine, like the aristocracy. Elizabeth I proclaimed: None shall wear in his apparel: Any silk of the color of purple, cloth of gold tissued, nor fur of sables, but only the King, Queen, King's mother, children, brethren, and sisters, uncles and aunts; and except dukes, marquises, and earls, who may wear the same in doublets, jerkins, linings of cloaks, gowns, and hose; and those of the Garter, purple in mantles only. (And you couldn't wear pantofles of velvet unless you were the son and heir apparent of a Knight.)

In the medieval period,  “luxuria” – the temptation of fine clothes – was a sin. Don’t blame everything on the Puritans. Disdain of the wrong people buying too many luxury goods (materialism, consumerism, media-fuelled shopping frenzy) continues.

A lot of School of Oriental and African Studies students dress like they’re off on an episode of Time Team, fresh from private school. (Via FB)

Coco Chanel... proposed that her wealthy clients dress among other things like fishermen (in Breton tops), like male horse riders (in, shock, trousers), and like their maids (in, double shock, black dresses). Times Nov 2018 (See also espadrilles borrowed from sailors in the South of France, sailor trousers, gaucho hats, baseball caps, military caps, Baque berets, ballet skirts and ballet shoes.)

“This season’s tailoring” is always “softer”.

Judging by the Toast catalogue and others, a youngish Upward woman wears a baggy dress with a full skirt to below the knee, no tights or socks, and flat lace-up canvas shoes, probably in dark green. With it she wears no makeup, no smile, and her hair in a messy updo. If it’s cold, she puts on a droopy cardigan. The clothes are made of “good” materials like cotton, and cost rather a lot. She is trying so hard not to look as if she is trying to look sexy that she looks sexy, or that is the idea.

No Upward could wear sling-back shoes in the 60s – they were too sexy in a sluttish kind of way.

Hippy style in the 60s included necklaces made of dried melon and pumpkin seeds. You washed them in a colander, dried them in the oven and dyed them with food dye, before stringing them with a needle and thread. When times were hard, you could eat the necklace. It was a tremendous amount of work, and few people did it. The fashion came just before the full-blown hippy era – as teenagers we were desperate for finery, and our Upward parents looked down on children wearing jewellery. Fake pearls from Woolworths were beyond the pale. We learned how to make the seed necklaces from girls’ comics. It took up so much time, and you’d be doing something. And once hippy fashion got going, necklaces of dyed exotic seeds from stalls in Oxford Street were affordable, if not edible.

Blue collar, white collar – a working man couldn’t afford to wear a clean white shirt every day. Dark colours didn’t show the dirt.

Formal wear for women is physically restrictive. Wearing a skirt used to involve a tight girdle and stockings, and a tailored jacket in which you couldn't raise your arms or slump. Tailored jackets and blouses are still like this.

Samantha Upward might wear a tunic over jeans, especially if it’s flowery and from a wacky, bohemian Swedish designer. With it she wears boots over-decorated with tooling, flowers or coloured leather rosettes, that describe themselves as “vintage”. The ensemble makes her look like an elf. Mrs Definitely wears a tunic over leggings – it hides everything – but she’d look better dressed as an 1900s flower-seller in a blouse, skirt and hat.

Caro Stow-Crat only wears clothes that are recognisable garments with a long history: blouse, shirt, skirt, trousers, cardigan, jacket, jumper, coat. They may have changed their shape several times over the past century or so, but they have endured. She avoids the “detailing” that manufacturers love to add to clothes for the older lady. And she never wears a tunic.

More here, and links to the rest.

Wednesday, 6 February 2019

Choose Your Words Carefully 8

Class is a thing of the past, people keep telling me.

I have been told that I was too Northern in a show – a Northern drama, actually – and I was told that I needed to tone down my accent because a character with a well-paid job wouldn’t want to marry me. (Mandip Gill)

David Hockney said that when he arrived at the RA in 1959 from Bradford his fellow students mocked his northern accent. “They’d come up and say, ‘Trouble at mill, Mr Ormonroyd?’”
 (Times Feb 2019)

A couple of minutes into the interview, the man interviewing me said he was stopping the interview. He told me that I was applying for a job teaching English but I wasn’t speaking it properly myself! (A man from Rossendale applies to do a PGCE teaching qualification.

I've met lots of people who've had elocution lessons, especially northerners. They are often perceived as 'posh' by others. (Dr Sandra Jansen of the University of Leipzig)

How ‘well’ we speak can have great social currency... Studies have even shown that speakers of prestige language forms are judged more handsome and physically attractive. (Language Myths, Laurie Bauer and Peter Trudgill)

There are different varieties of a language associated with different regions and different social sets. The way you talk will show what group you belong to, and people will decide on that basis how to treat you. (BBC Online)

A BBC manager once told presenter Steph McGovern she was too common to read the news.

Sir, Years ago I took a screen test before appearing on BBC TV’s Antiques Roadshow, on which I subsequently appeared as a ceramics specialist for nine years. I spoke to camera about an object, and when I had finished the director, aghast, said: “My God, you sound upper-class.” Things do not appear to have changed (“BBC is ordered to reveal staff’s social class”, Sep 15), and it is high time the BBC realised that discrimination does not only happen de haut en bas, and that all discrimination based on factors that a person cannot change is pernicious. (Sally Kevill-Davies, letter to the Times, September 2017)

Not the Whole Story is a delightful memoir. I was going to describe it as “gorgeous”, but that is one of the modern vulgarisms to which Angela Huth objects. There is a list of these at the back of the book, which made me feel every inch of my own vulgarity. “Munching” and “leafy” are both sniffed at, as are “floral tributes” and “passed away”, but fair enough — as a former deb and hobnobber with royalty, you’d expect Huth to be la-di-da. (The Times)

The Headmaster of Harrow School says his pupils speak mockney well into adulthood in an attempt not to appear posh. (Posh young people have done this for years – listen to Princess Diana.) (Jan 2019)

In Georgette Heyer's detective story Envious Casca (1938), common characters say “I took the liberty of saying” and “I happened to pass the remark”. Another (a pretty blonde), says: As a matter of fact I very nearly went to COLLEGE, and I should have, only that it seemed the most frightful waste of time!” She peppers her speech with “foul” and “ghastly” and “frightful” and “lousy”, to the other characters’ disgust. She even says “Oh, I do think you’re the limit!” And “I think it’s all completely deathly!” She also claims to be “highly strung”. Roydon, a playwright, is referred to by the butler as “a person by the name of Roydon”. The family call him “this Roydon fellow”. A valet is referred to as “this Ford”. And someone says of Roydon: “People not out of the top drawer are always inclined to be touchy.”

In Dodie Smith’s It Ends with Revelations (1967), two young girls are trying to update their speech: ‘We’re trying to oust “sort of”, “I mean” and “you know” from our vocabularies.’ They’re also distressed, when listening to a recording, to find that they “mince” and pronounce “no” as “noe”.

Received Pronunciation (RP) has changed.: here’s Jack de Manio telling us how to speak. Don’t be slovenly or affected! But nobody says “lib-rar-y” any more. He almost says flexibiliteah and
kee-anteen. Clariteah and accuraceah in delivereah. You’ll naytice... He warns against supstance and dretful – these have vanished.

Radio 3 used to be the last holdout of RP. Announcers could never speak off the cuff, they had to read out misinformation from cards (“Beethoven anticipated Wagner”). Women announcers were picked for their deep, even voices (almost as good as a man). Now they all ramble chattily, failing to enunciate and dropping their voices at the end of sentences, and I find it hard to understand what they're saying.

Caro Stow-Crat talks about people going “puce” with rage or embarrassment, rather than red. Puce was originally a pale red, like rosé wine, but these days it is used to mean – well, the colour people go when angry. Gammon.

January 2019 Eileen Weybridge and Jen Teale are talking about “Project Fair”. To Caro it’s “Project Feeyah!”. Samantha Upward compromises on “Fyair”.

Jen and Eileen say pryvacy and proh-ject; Sam and Caro say privvacy and projject with a short I and O. Teales and Weybridges usually shorten vowels, e.g. oggle for ogle, but sometimes lengthen when they should shorten. Samantha has a crisis of conscience every time she has to say the word “extol” in church.

A posh way of showing contempt is to put the word “now” in an odd place: It has to now be called… The question now is... We then go on to… (Passage to India, E.M. Forster) I now thrash him within an inch of his life. (Howard’s End, E.M. Forster)

Teales and Weybridges take an “Aspro” for a headache (unless they’re the kind who “don’t take tablets”). Stow Crats and Upwards take an “aspirin” because the word is generic and they can’t mention brand names because it means someone is trying to make money and that’s “trade” (Caro) or “capitalism” (Samantha).

The Stow-Crats have attics – the rest of us just have “lofts”. Mr Definitely makes a killing doing “loff conversions”. For Weybridges, the spare room is the “guest room”, where you find special “guest soaps” and “guest towels”. Caro shudders when Jen calls a roast potato a "roastie" and pronounces the t in often – but admits she's an awfully good sort.

Superpose for superimpose is very Weybridge. Elderly Weybridges used to pronounce profile as “profeel”. In Shakespeare’s Quatercentenary (1964), most people pronounced it “courter senteenary”. A few middle-aged Howards pronounced it “kwatter centennary”. It was quite annoying.

Hello Dahlings! Just been to @royalacademy Summer Exhibition dontcha know.” Someone on Twitter is trying to sound posh. For the record, posh people do not call each other “darling” the entire time. However, “darling” is the only endearment they can use. They only use “dear” when delivering searing put-downs. And they would never call anybody “dearie” or “love”. “Doncher know” is extremely old-fashioned upper-class speech from the Edwardian era.

For a long time, my mother wouldn’t talk about people “watching television”, they were always “looking at television”. She also called programmes "films". But then she discovered The Antiques Roadshow. Now elderly Upwards talk disparagingly of "Instachat" and "Facegram".

If Upwards turn up at a friend’s for lunch and the family has clearly just had a screaming row which is still simmering, the visitors later report that “there was an atmosphere”. This atmosphere of things unsaid and seething resentment may persist in a house for years, while everybody goes through the motions and pretends not to notice anything. But that's privilege for you.

More here, and links to the rest.

Saturday, 6 October 2018

In an English Country Garden

Those aren’t plastic flowers, those are “faux botanicals”.

Weybridges know the Latin names of house plants. Fiona Stow Crat gives hers nicknames. 

An Escape to the Country participant says his ambition is to have enough grass for a sit-on lawnmower.

No good house should have to suffer the indignity of being covered with climbing plants. It is architectural bad manners almost on a par with plastic doors and windows. (Letter to Times, May 2017)

I was once sternly told not to plant Russian vine in my garden – so I did, and it flourished. I couldn’t understand why my mother wouldn’t plant any beautiful, romantic Virginia creeper, found all around us in Surrey climbing up half-timbered Arts and Crafts villas. She also vetoed pampas grass (suburban) and my father outlawed nasturtiums (too orange), but she grew them anyway.

In the 70s a clump of pampas grass in the centre of your front lawn was supposed to signal the home of wife-swappers. (What did other wife-swappers do? Just come and ring your doorbell?) The pampas grass would be in the middle of a perfectly kept lawn in front of the house, with no fence or wall. This was thought to be American and hence utterly naff. If you didn't have pampas grass, you probably had a laburnum. (What happened to them? Health and Safety? The seeds are poisonous.) Laburnums were naff, as were any "weeping" trees including willows and silver birches. In fact silver birches were verboten whether they wept or not. According to Nicky Haslam, hydrangeas were posh in Edwardian times.

Garden no-nos from the Times 
Times writer Anne Treneman has inherited a garden – she bought it from someone called “Malcolm”. Unfortunately it contains:

pampas grass
poisonous plants
orange flowers

She also frowns on:
tiny Zen gardens
invasive bamboo
anything that grows too big (Don’t plant a Scots pine in a  suburban front garden)
climbers (that strangle your TV aerial)

To the Brits, horticulture is about the gardens of stately homes, not breeding disease-resistant bananas. Cecil Beaton (The Glass of Fashion) makes the point that flowers were part of your interior décor, and you renewed them every week, or every few days. If you had “grounds”, your flower garden was designed to produce flowers to decorate the house. Per Nicky Haslam (Redeeming Features), this is called the “cutting garden”.

Until the mid-60s, women still “did the flowers”. In a large country house, either the wife or one of her daughters had the task of picking the flowers and taking them (in a wooden trug basket) to the “flower room”, where there was a big sink, and vases on a slate shelf. Here she arranged bouquets for the drawing room, dining room and hall, and possibly guest bedrooms and her own.

In the 50s and 60s women went to flower-arranging classes (a relative was very witty about being told to put “blooms” in a “container”). They dabbled in ikebana, and read Constance Spry. Post-war domestic writer Ethelind Fearon (The Reluctant Gardener) advises on which plants to grow and how to turn them into “arrangements”. This sometimes involved clipping leaves into more aesthetic shapes. And then women got jobs, and we did without flower arrangements, or substituted trailing variegated ivy (60s) or spider plants (70s).

When Upwards, forced out of inner London, move to Stratford or Walthamstow, all they can find are houses with “state of the art” kitchens and gardens that have been “cleared”. They immediately start making the garden look wild and untidy again. If they can afford it, they “rip out” the gleaming cabinets and replace them with dangerously rocky 50s “kitchenette” larders and a pine table. If they’re really well-heeled, they pull down the extension and turn it back into a patio.

Monty Don in the Times on John Seymour’s self-sufficiency books: Nobody apart from “a few bedraggled hippies on wet Welsh hillsides” really wanted to fend for themselves. (Self-sufficiency also required you to use your children as slave labour. Though didn't the Downton Abbey inhabitants live off their estates? They were self-sufficient in venison, peaches and everything else – easy if you have enough land and can pay gardeners and farm-hands.)

‘Well, well,’ said Colin. ‘Some front garden!’ 

It was indeed a model of surburban perfection in a small way. There were beds of geraniums with lobelia edging. There were large fleshy-looking begonias, and there was a fine display of garden ornaments — frogs, toadstools, comic gnomes and pixies. 

‘I’m sure Mr Bland must be a nice worthy man,’ said Colin, with a shudder. ‘He couldn’t have these terrible ideas if he wasn’t.’
(Agatha Christie, The Clocks)

More here, and links to the rest.

Thursday, 4 October 2018

What to Wear 8

Caro Stow-Crat says: “Please, no fancy dress after 40. Though Harry did once go to a fancy dress ball as a bishop...”

A welcome erosion of class structures has seen top hats relegated first to the top shelves of cupboards and wardrobes, and then donated to become a staple of Amateur Dramatic Club costume collections. (Lucy Adlington,
Stitches in Time) Thomas the Tank Engine’s Fat Controller (Sir Topham Hatt) was originally the “Fat Director” – a 20s caricature capitalist in a morning coat and top hat, grown fat on the profits of a private railway company. When the railways were reprivatised, why didn’t he revert to being a director? He's still an outdated stereotype.

Caro wonders when a bowtie became a “dicky bow”? A dicky is a fake blouse consisting of a Mao collar and enough material to show under a V-necked jumper. It's a useful way of using up remnants, and will delude your friends that you own more blouses than you actually do. A “dicky bird” is what common people call a bird.

Samantha says “I refuse to buy my grandchildren clothes covered in writing and logos”. She buys them clothes at Muji and Uniqlo. Sharon Definitely buys her daughter Madison pink T shirts that read “Little Lady” but also “Girls Can Do Anything”. Her son Jayden dresses in scaled-down army uniform.

Lower middle-class Jen Teale uses shoe deodorisers, Caro chucks smelly trainers, but Samantha insists on wearing them out. She may Google for an old-fashioned home remedy (baking soda) that doesn’t work. She wonders how young people keep their trainers so white - Meltonian Shoe Cream? Oh, those happy shoe-cleaning parties at boarding school!

“Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.” This advice made sense in the days (80s and earlier) when a secretary wore a blouse and skirt, while the lady boss wore a suit.

I’m old enough to remember when we called face veils “yashmaks” and made jokes about them. Perhaps those old white men who moan about “political correctness” could cast their minds back. Nobody forced us to stop joking about yashmaks, we just stopped. We don’t give small children replica guns any more, either. Or sweet cigarettes.

Young people holiday in the far East and come back with batik sarongs. (In my day they went to India and came back with kurtas and kaftans – but not saris.) But no Upward goes to Whitechapel or Ridley Road market to buy a long flowery dress as worn by Muslim ladies, or a glittery shalwar kameez – or even a cotton shalwar kameez. They’re very cool in hot weather and are perfect for the office. Likewise, Boris is appalled by niqabs but not by a Carmelite nun’s outfit. The Times (August 2018) shows “manxi” dresses that are very like a Muslim woman’s dress, but no connection is made. Is this crossover? Cultural appropriation? Caro wears a genuine pashmina to the opera, over an oxblood taffeta evening dress with a wide skirt. Her great-grandmother wore a genuine Indian paisley shawl.

When I arrived at university in the 70s my sunglasses with pale pink frames puzzled other students. I seemed to be middle class – didn’t I know that the colour pink was common? And pink plastic! I also wore a pink mohair jumper – I was going through a 50s phase. I was ahead of the trend – lurid mohair jumpers were a punk fashion in the later 70s. And this was in a decade when we were supposed to be breaking down barriers of all kinds and creating an egalitarian society, free of all prejudice. They dressed entirely in blue denim or brown corduroy. (Can you still get brown denim? They never seemed to grasp what “prejudice” meant, either.)

In 2018 Teales wear 7/8 jeans, white T shirts and cardigans or jackets in a subdued, plain colour. Usually blue, navy, and grey. They look almost Boden. They achieve this look by buying cheap clothes and discarding them as soon as the material goes sad and shabby. They ruthlessly “edit” their wardrobes, and wash everything after one wearing. They iron their T shirts. Upwards, on the other hand, have “favourite” pieces they are sentimentally attached to and persist in wearing them however grey, bobbly and sagging. They fail to notice that modern fabrics don’t last like the old-fashioned kind. Teale clothes, being featureless, have no associations and are just replaced by more of the same.

More here, and links to the rest.

Canny Upwards in the 70s used Catherine Milinaire's Cheap Chic as a style bible.