Monday, 29 September 2014

Classy Quotes 18

Are you one of those weathergirls?

My daughter sounds uneducated because she says ‘like’ so much. (writer-in to Mariella Frostrup in the Obs, Sept 14. The girl is living abroad at the moment, but the writer wonders what will happen to her when she returns to the "real world".)

She had decided tastes and a long list of hates. These included: the sort of woman who wants to join a gentlemen’s club; the bits of paper that fall out of magazines; female weather forecasters; visitors to Chatsworth who complained that the countryside was ‘dirty’; the words ‘environment’, ‘conservation’ and ‘leisure’; supercilious assistants at make-up counters; dietary fads; skimmed milk; girls with slouching shoulders and Tony Blair. (Daily Mail obit of the Duchess of Devonshire)

I received little praise if things went well. I remember once saying this to her ladyship. ‘What do you expect me to do, Lee, keep patting you on the back?’ Given an answer like that I never laid myself open again. (If Walls Could Talk: An Intimate History of the Home by Lucy Worsley, quoting from a butler’s memoirs)

A character in Dickens’ Barnaby Rudge says he has “risen from nothing” – he means his father was a butcher.

We were professional people; the other people who lived in our street were not and they were not asked to the party. Most of them were better off than we were but I was the only man who owned a dinner-jacket. Nora would have been shocked if I had suggested that she was a snob. She explained her attitude carefully. “It isn’t a matter of social standing, Tom. I haven’t anything in common with them.” (Change Here For Babylon, Nina Bawden)

She liked listening to the light programme and reading the popular women’s magazines – I would find them carefully hidden under the sofa cushions—and she was ashamed of these things. (Change Here For Babylon, Nina Bawden)

They were tremendous houses in Adelaide Crescent; they started off with a basement and went right up to an attic, there were 132 stairs in all, and the basements were dark and like dungeons. The front of the basement, with iron bars all down the bay windows, was the servants’ hall... We were ushered into a hall that I thought was the last word in opulence. There was a lovely carpet on the floor, and tremendously wide stairs carpeted right across, not like the tiny little bit of lino in the middle we had on our stairs. There was a great mahogany table in the hall and a mahogany hallstand, and huge mirrors with gilt frames. The whole thing breathed an aura of wealth to me. I thought they must be millionaires. (Below Stairs, Margaret Powell)

There are some very regrettable people come settling round here lately—people one can't dream of knowing. It's a great pity. (Non-combatants and Others, Rose Macaulay)

Clare Balding has written several books about her upper-crust, horsey family. The Times interviewed her. Hers is the traditional dysfunctional English family – where stinginess is championed and scorn a form of tenderness. Her father is “pouring sherry into his Cup a Soup while muttering disparagingly about people who drink at lunchtime”. Her brother Andrew is cast as the family idiot and gently bullied throughout.

When Balding introduces a new pet to her mother:
“A white dog? Good Lord, how London can you get?"

My mother is a firm believer in: “There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing,” Balding tells me. "She’s very 'stuff and nonsense. Crack on. Are you bleeding? No. Go on with you then. Are you concussed? No, you’re still talking. Crack on.'

Her mother agreed to join her on a radio ramble. Balding was thrilled, but didn’t let on:
That would be too close to being emotional or even “soppy”. And she might think I am going to give her a hug or something awful.

(Times September 2014-09-06)

Oh it is hard you will agree
To know your place in Britain's meritocracy
It's most important you should know
The people who're above you and the ones below

If Parliament's where you would be
Be sure you come from Oxford with a good degree
For then you may in your accent smooth
Persuade the shiftless workers to the polling booth

A redbrick university
Puts you on the lower branches of the tree
And even there you'll have a ball
Scorning those who never reach the tree at all

Lawyers, doctors, dentists pass
Their examination to the middle class

Especially if they just scraped through
I'll give you ten to one that they'll look down on you

If proper status you would win
Be sure to hang your curtains with the right side in
No one's below you, fancy that
Then your only consolation is to kick the cat

(Kick The Cat, by The Spinners)

When a middle-class man moved to Bruton in the West Country: "I was slightly traumatised. You couldn't get a decent coffee, a Bloody Mary or decent bread." (Times 2014-08-04)

Like many cities at that time, it was rigidly class-structured, with each class having its own way of life, diet and types of eating-house. (Amazon review of The Victorian City. Is it different now?)

The film is redolent of the class-consciousness characteristic of that period – there is little no possibility of anyone wanting to improve themselves. (Amazon reviewer of In Which We Serve uses “class-consciousness” to mean “once a villein, always a villein”, hinting that now we are modern and enlightened, we expect people to try and move up the class ladder. Who is happier, though? The working classes cosy in their tiny terrace house, the lower middles bickering in the parlour, or the toffs hiding their feelings over the tea table? They have more space, but it seems to have pushed them further apart emotionally.)

With funds channelled into private schooling and little to spare, we hovered between austerity and middle-class privilege. (Emma J Page, Times 2014-08-02 Oh, we did!)

More here, and links to the rest.

And more here.

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Class and Noel Streatfeild

Hello, boys!

Noel Streatfeild, the children's novelist, came from a middle-class background, but worked as an actress for 10 years before starting to write. Ballet Shoes, her first children’s book, was published in 1936. She recalled, "The story poured off my pen, more or less telling itself ... I distrusted what came easily and so despised the book." But according to writer and playwright Samantha Ellis (and internal evidence), Ballet Shoes was a retread of an adult novel, The Whicharts. So much for the story “telling itself”.

To create the children’s book, she removed snobbery, cruelty, anti-Semitism – and sex – from the backstage story. The Whichart girls are three half-sisters, bastard children of a Brigadier, brought up by his devoted, discarded and childless mistress, Rose Howard. Though he leaves them some money and a house, they struggle financially until someone suggests to Rose that she send the children to stage school to learn to dance, and let out rooms to lodgers. (But they hang on to a nanny and a cook.)

From a young age, the three girls work in panto, and then the chorus of musical comedy – just as in Ballet Shoes. But they are not cute, innocent and whimsical – they are pettish, spiteful and amoral. Maimie, the eldest, quickly becomes the mistress of a theatrical impresario. When he drops her, she moves on to Herbert, who has made money in the garment trade. In the Ballet Shoes version, the girls live in a strange world in which they work, but don’t have boyfriends.

The Whicharts describes a world that has disappeared, in which children can work in the theatre from a very young age (eight?). After the war, rules became stricter, and dance academies trained children for a life that no longer existed.

Noel S stresses that the eldest two children’s mothers come from “nice” backgrounds, as does Rose. The youngest child’s mother was a dancer from Balham, and this fact is quite frequently cast in her teeth. Daisy is the most talented of the three, but ends up moving in with her real grandparents who have moved up in the world and to Surbiton.

Through her characters, Streatfeild expresses her contempt of shabby theatrical lodgings and the people who stay in them. She has the prejudices of her era and class – despising “slop” (sentimentality) and “showing off”. The story is not aspirational, like Ballet Shoes – she does her best to make the life of the theatre sound unpleasant.

The eldest girl, Maimie, is pretty and a “show-off”, but not an inspired dancer. The middle child, Tania, is hard-working and competent, but would rather be a mechanic. Only the youngest, Daisy, is a natural dancer (those Balham genes). The other two sneer when she is marketed as a “child wonder”.

As the story becomes more about Tania, the "plain" one, it becomes a better read, especially when she falls in with some genial but incompetent Shakespeareans who are doomed to forever tour the provinces.

Streatfeild refutes some well-known platitudes. Tania ponders: “All that bunk people talked. ‘Life is what you make of it.’ All that muck!... Daisy would probably make money because she really could dance.”

As for Maimie, she becomes a chorus-girl and “This changed her.” (So much for “Change comes from within”.) She wishes she had more money. “Money can’t buy happiness, you know,” says Rose. “Oh, my God! Fancy handing that slop out to me... Look at us! Taking in boarders. Too few servants. Too few clothes. Us children dancing to help things out.” Brought up by the ladylike Rose, the children think of themselves as middle-class, like the other girls at their school.

When Maimie gets her hands on some money of her own, she buys “rubbishy, showy clothes”. But she wants a good time, and “a good time was going out with boys... in her new showy clothes she was a great success”. (So much for “inner beauty”.)

Tania “detests” going on tour. She “loathes” her lodgings. “...the woolly mats, the aspidistras, the enlargements of the landladies’ family, the curious smell of old food and dirty carpets, the shiny horsehair sofa with the stuffing coming out and all the springs broken... the bedrooms with the wallpaper hanging in shreds... the dreary row of equally awful little houses, the dirty paper blowing up the gutter...”

An aitch-dropping dresser (whose “humorous” speeches I skipped) notices that the sisters are "so obviously a cut above the other children.” Rose suggests some other careers to Tania: “Very nice people work in shops nowadays.” After Rose dies, Tania suggests pawning her jewellery to buy Daisy some audition clothes. “Nanny was really shocked. Pawn! Ladies and gentlemen didn’t pawn.” But she does.

Nanny’s name is Mrs Riggs, Daisy’s real family are Mr and Mrs Higgs – standard “working-class” names. Daisy describes the Higgs’ home: “Imagine! They’ve got the loveliest house with the neatest garden. All the flowers in rows – a different colour in each row – and such a pretty drawing-room – everything pink – and heaps of pink bows... And there were heaps of pictures all in bright gold frames... and lots of ferns – with green bows on them to match the carpet.”

Having discovered their granddaughter, the Higgs would “like to do well by her. Like her to have a chance of meeting really nice people. There were lots of nice boys growing up in the neighbourhood. Nice for Daisy to have a chance to meet nice boys...” Which is kind of them. We hope she meets and marries a nice boy. It’s suggested that Maimie turns down Herbert and breaks her heart over a married man. As for Tania... well, read it for yourself.

I would love to read Away from the Vicarage, the second volume of Streatfeild’s (fictional) autobiography, in which she becomes an actress in the 20s.

More literary snobbery here.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Class and Joanna Cannan II

Joanna Cannan: All Is Discovered

There is not a single likeable person in this book, apart perhaps for the murdered woman, a "peasant type" who only ever wanted to work on a farm. It is all about class. Joanna Cannan uses her story to pour scorn on council house dwellers and farmers’ wives who want to climb up the social scale thanks to cheap wallpaper, manmade fibres, fridges and convenience foods. It is the early 60s.

The only halfway attractive character is Arthur, an elderly man who lives in a "cream and green" council house and grows his own vegetables. But even he has every dropped H notated.

His wife Edie has aspirations and a seersucker tablecloth. There are “sandwiches to cut and fill with a new recipe from Women’s Weekly Outlook – pineapple with a dab of mayonnaise – and then she must comb out her hair, at present set in curlers under a headscarf, and change into her Terylene skirt and Acrilan twin set.” The couple have just dined on “baked beans, tinned luncheon meat and processed cheese”.

Even worse is Sylvia Lumley, wife of a farmer. She “teeters” across the farmyard in stiletto heels. She owns a miniature poodle and a “baby” car, and wears a mohair stole, a black lacy nightdress and an apple-green cordury housecoat. Not all at once.

She is not unfaithful, but likes to go on dates with men – usually her cousin Eddy – who take her out to dinner in a nearby town in posh restaurants like Antonio’s. She waits for her date sitting on the edge of a “couch” in a “niche”. The date is a frost – she is too “ingratiating and unsophisticated”. She chooses scampi followed by pressed duck, though “she would much have preferred vol-au-vent and chocolate mousse, and all the time she talked brightly, trying hard to please. She was unsuccessful and knew it.” She “had looked forward to a harvest of expensive entertainments in Sandbourne’s hotels, concert halls and theatre.”

When we see inside her house, we find that “the ‘lounge’ had recently been redecorated in one of Sylvia’s foolish attempts to follow a fleeting fashion with two wallpapers of cheap quality and unrelated design; roses rioted over the three-piece suite; the eye was further confused by patterned curtains, a patterned carpet, a rash of small brass objects...”

Cannan’s series tec is Detective-Superintendent Price – she loathes him. He wears “Strydeout” shoes that fall to bits in the rain. He has twin boys called Howard and Norman, and is married to Valerie, who has a “rat-like” face and is not interested in becoming more middle class. They holiday at Seaview, Ryde or the Pines Hotel, Budleigh Salterton. He uses words like “desirable”, refers to people as “that worthy”, and brags that he doesn’t read novels but “biography, travel, history and current affairs”. When he wants to let his hair down he takes off his tie, undoes the top button of his white shirt and spreads “its collar over that of his navy blue blazer”.

He has opinions like these: “I haven’t much sympathy with loneliness. I believe that it is almost invariably self-inflicted. Any man or woman of goodwill can find a niche in the community – only freaks and those who wilfully refuse to conform remain outside the human family.” And “This insidious ‘couldn’t care less’ attitude is spreading.”

The farmer’s daughters are “plain”, and behave like a parody of Cannan’s usual horsey girl heroines. They talk too much about their pets’ ailments, and rabbits with myxomatosis, and call things they approve of “jolly dee” (jolly decent).

About two-thirds through the book, Price drops out and we leave these scenes of provincial squalor. The murders are not local after all, but connected to rackets based in Soho – prostitution and what we’d now call people-trafficking. We meet a whole new set of characters who are repulsive but unreal. The case is taken over by one Frobisher, who seeks out a felon called Delano in a peeling Georgian boarding house. “He was in a passage carpeted with worn linoleum, smelling of gas, cabbage and old sins.” (They usually smelled of paraffin, incense and Alsatians, as well.)

Suddenly we’re in the world of 50s film noir as the story gallops to an end. Where is the witty and warm writer of A Pony for Jean?

Liz Jones met her daughters, the Pullein-Thompsons, who wrote many pony books between them: "The family never had any money; their parents believed that to worry about it was beneath them... ‘They had ideas above their station,’ says Josephine."

More here.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

World of Interiors, Continued


Why is it every so-called luxury development in the UK a mix of velvet, dodgy chandeliers, dark wood, silk or sateen cushions, beige... Brown stippled walls, ugly accessorizing, ugly vases, beige marble bathrooms? (Christian Harrup)

Nice kitchen, but the monkey statue is a distraction. (

Furniture from an all-over scheme is transported into an environment with a completely different style where it has no practical use, is too big or is the wrong colour. A jardiniere stand from a late Edwardian drawing room is surrounded by generic modern oak furniture, children’s toys and shabby sofas. Sometimes pieces of furniture look as if they were missing their friends. Interior decorators always try to persuade us that an eclectic mix will look marvellous, but this isn’t what they meant. The upmarket version is an arty interior with lime-washed carved oak, black distempered walls, stag’s heads, classical sculpture and that perfect chaise longue/Italian cassone/George III commode.

Half-baked makeover: you repaint the walls and replace the chairs but can’t change the banquettes. Or you add peach curtains and cushions but they clash with everything else.

One-bed flats, studios and bedsits with family-sized kitchens. And why waste space on halls and corridors?

Tudor panelling – in your bathroom. “It was all done by the present owner. He wanted it to be in keeping with the rest of the property.” Escape to the Country

Elaborate pelmets: so 80s – and they belonged in a stately home, not a bungalow.

Black tiles and black granite work top in a tiny kitchen: makes it look like a prison cell.

Volume builders copying a copy of a copy of a copy of “vernacular architecture”. Details are simplified, shrunk, dumbed down, slapped on without any knowledge of their original function. Particularly miniature oriel windows.

Corrugated plastic roof on your lean-to “conservatory”, especially when covered with the dirt of years.

A few very small pictures.


“We’ve got a large baronial lounge.” (Delboys and Dealers)

"Diana Dors had a sumptuous lifestyle. Home was Orchard Manor, a mock-Tudor mansion in Sunningdale, Berkshire. It had a mirrored indoor swimming pool, leopardskin sofas, a Rolls for the school run..." Daily Mail (She slept under a mink bedspread.)

“It’s kind of shabby chic cum glamping,” says the owner of house she can’t sell on Under Offer. Her home sports black baroque mirror surrounds, lots of gilding, and a zebra-striped cocktail bar. More hair salon chic than shabby chic. “Everything is top spec. The banisters are Brazilian mahogany.”

Rachel and Justin build a house in Alderley Edge (known for blingtastic footballers’ homes):

“There are lots of houses going up that are glitzy and footballer-style,” says Rachel, “but we’re in a village and we wanted it to be in keeping – we wanted a Georgian box. People have this awful impression of Alderley, but it’s not what they think. There is a lot of bling, but not everyone is like that. People stereotype Cheshire but, actually, the people who’ve lived here for years aren’t like that at all.” Their house has 4 storeys, 5 beds, 4 baths, recep, dining room, huge living area and “a ballroom sized basement themed around country sports (an expensive add-on to the plans after Justin saw something similar in Country Life.) “Although she had no training as an interior designer, Rachel felt she had a natural flair... “Although our style’s quite traditional, I’ve tried to put a fresher, modern twist on it. I wanted the rooms to be very colourful, to be smart but cosy.” [She teams chocolate, lime and violet.] Taupe is fashionable, and I can do it for clients, but it’s not me... I wanted a simple, hand-painted kitchen, in Farrow & Ball’s Bone, with Mouse’s Back walls... We haven’t done the dining room yet, but I’m tempted to use De Gournay emerald silk, with handpainted chinoiserie. Don’t tell Justin.” [The dining room has a fake vaulted ceiling “which they limestoned to look like an authentic wine cellar in Bordeaux”]. “Much of the furniture came from antique shops over the border in Staffordshire or Derbyshere ‘because there’s nothing really left in Cheshire’, and every room is lit by antique chandeliers.” (Times June 2014-06-22)

More here, and links to the rest.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Get the Look 2

The 60s were all about colour
Yes, I’m addicted to property and makeover programmes. You don’t need to know any design history, just throw around words like cottage, rustic, country, original, shabby, Victorian, French farmhouse. As somebody said, the French wouldn’t recognise it. And it all seems to mean “paint everything grey”.

If you want to “preserve the character” of your older home, strip back the fireplace to a hole in the wall (and call it an inglenook), and install a woodburning stove. Remove ALL other original features. “Preserve the Victorian character” seems to mean “remove all Victorian characteristics”. (And “Victorian” seems to mean “olde worlde and rustic”.)

The 17th century Shakers wouldn’t recognise a “Shaker kitchen”, either, and nor would the 70s designers who revived the look.

“30s-style, inspired by..., reflects the...”
“It’s shabby chateau!
French farmhouse, rustic probably” (some carved wood).
“Love the kitchen, it’s got the country modern feel.”

“They’ve reclaimed these floorboards from a Victorian church.”
“Right – quite rustic!”

“It’s got a cottage feel to it.” (Escape to the Country)
“The 60s were all about colour!” (Great Interior Design Challenge has never heard of Op Art.)
“It’s glamorous, opulent, classic, shabby chic, French rustic.” (Great Interior Design Challenge)

“The new bathroom is elegant and captures a period feel.” (Homes under the Hammer)
It’s kind of vintage but modern and relevant.” (Homes under the Hammer)
“It’s not cottagey, but it’s got that old-fashioned look to it.” (Homes under the Hammer)

“The kitchen is sympathetic to the style of the property.” (Escape to the Country But it’s not IN the style of the property.)

“But don’t get carried away too much, or you’ll end up living in a museum, and you don’t want that.” (Nick Knowles’ Original Features)
“I want to be faithful to the period (1900), but not so it’s like a museum, maybe a modern twist on the 1920s.” (Homes under the Hammer So that’s “completely unfaithful to the period”, then.)

A B&B in Bath has a “subdued, minimalist style”, with whitewashed walls, sisal carpets, oriental vases and crystal chandeliers (and you can get a "standard king-sized" room). (The Times Feb 2014 Yes, it’s a chandelier, but it’s a subdued chandelier.)

“The council is poised to knock down 16 houses in Dalston Lane thought to date from 1807 and replace them with new buildings in ‘heritage likeness’.” (Hackney Gazette, January 2014 The terrace was reprieved, and an organisation has offered to do the renovation. Hackney Council has turned down the offer. Aug 2014)

“Design is cyclical. Look how retro design is back in vogue. What we have done is take designs that have served us well over the years and remodelled them and they look very current now.  Nothing came close to the popularity of the daisy-chain patterned fabric designed by Pat Albeck, which arrived in 1964… her daughter-in-law has reworked the design for a teapot.” (John Lewis spokesman, Times, April 2014. They couldn’t quiiiiiite bring themselves to revive the original. The “reworked” design on the teapot looks nothing like the original Daisychain.) More here, and links to more about decor.
Pat Albeck's Daisychain fabric

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Class and Decor in Love, Nina

"The kitchen has a massive dresser… all covered in trinkets and pretend fruit, little animals and people and little cups and in each little cup a little thing… The knives and forks are giant…. The floor is planks of wood with gaps… I have a giant mirror, like out of a posh pub. The surround is ornate and painted bright orangey red. … Some people have water filter jug things but they’re a bit of a faff, to be honest… If everything else in your house is all charming and junky, why would you want an ugly plastic jug?"

From Love, Nina by Nina Stibbe, a book of letters written while the author was working as a nanny for a writer in Gloucester Crescent, London - in the early 80s or thereabouts. She's describing a high Bohemian interior in Gloucester Crescent, London in the early 80s. Rich Bohemians bought Victorian cutlery, which was big and heavy. They exposed floorboards, but were too impractical to realise that you needed to fill the cracks. Dressers (Victorian, stripped) were a good idea, but they cluttered them with twee nicknacks.

"Some new people have moved into the crescent and put lace curtains up at the windows (where there used to be Venetian blinds). A kind of half-curtain. They’re the talk of the Crescent. Everyone keeps saying, 'What about those curtains!'" (Nobody has lace curtains in NW3 – they're so suburban.)

"Mary is getting her house done bit by bit. She’s had a dark brown shag-pile carpet in her bedroom… And the walls are dark brown too. It’s all very brown."
(This sounds more 70s.) 

"MK is an art lover and has a wide variety of pictures…  She’s got a picture of an emu just standing there (side view) and one of a big vase of daisies (unrealistic yellow) on a green background, also a cricket match on a green background. In fact, quite a few of her art things have a green background. Not bluey-green, but bright plasticky green."

More here.

Saturday, 2 August 2014

What to Wear, Part 4

Working class young people will always create an over-the-top fashion, or version of the current fashion, and often look fabulous. (Which is why “advice to young people” always tells you to “avoid extremes”.)

Danielle Sheridan in the Times, 2 August, writes about tattoos almost entirely in terms of class:
"Tattoos were once the preserve of sailors, prostitutes and criminals: a warning as much as a decoration. Now they are most likely to be found daubed on to the skin of Britain’s middle class.
Over a quarter of the section of society once known for its love of pampas grass and teasmaids now sports some ink..." Tattoo parlours are now "stylish" rather than "dark and scary". Tattooist Mr Coppoletta says: "Coming through the door now is mainly professionals, aged between late 20s and 40s. They have careers."

Women’s magazines used to warn against baggy, grey, torn underwear. Were Upwards so poor that they couldn't afford new pants – or too miserly? Trouble was, sexy underwear in the 50s and early 60s was all made out of nylon (in red, trimmed with black lace), which the middle classes couldn't wear. And then Janet Reger happened (silk French knickers), and manmade fibres became more like silk. But in the 80s Upward women agonised over looking sexy – surely it was common?

Stow Crats say: "No rings during the day apart from wedding and engagement rings that you never take off." Presumably you can wear a “cocktail” ring at the cocktail hour – a large stone that can be either genuine and priceless or outrageously faux. In the 50s and 60s huge arty pottery rings were acceptable. (Presumably the women who wear all their valuable rings – engagement rings and eternity rings from several marriages – have nowhere safe to keep them.)

Hippies wore bells round their neck in 1967, sometimes attached to a string of beads. Indian traders immediately bought up all the budgie bells they could find (or are they temple bells?), attached them to beads, shipped them West and sold them to young people at a huge markup. They had been a spiritual aid. They became instant fashion and were sold off stalls in Oxford Street. They were bought by Teales in Pinner who wore them at a festival one weekend and then threw them away. They saturated the straight world almost immediately. And then you couldn’t giv’em awye.

From clogs to clogs... Shops like Fat Face take an ordinary jacket shape but make it in loose woven, unevenly dyed fabric and give it shell buttons. But then some cruisewear label does a knockoff with more polyester and fake coconut-shell buttons. And the topstitching creeps back.

Samantha Upward is amazed that Americans are still wearing plaid Bermuda shorts. (Americans have an admirable "if it ain't broke" attitude to clothes, and left their stylish 40s uniforms as they were while we Brits were creating frumpy 60s versions which then became fossilised.)

More here, and links to the rest.