Sunday, 24 January 2016

Romance and Sex, Part 2

Ghastly American import
Valentine's Day is coming up – don't forget it's a commercialised American import! Pairing off has a lot to do with class – but that’s one of those things the British won’t talk about. They have to pretend that partnerships are all the result of True Love striking like lightning.
Turns out that when a woman is rejected by a looker, rather than lasso the nearest leftovers... she will actually spurn the average guy waiting in the shadows even harder, because she doesn’t need that noise watering down her social value... accepting the overtures of a “low-status” person “may imply one is of similarly low status”... “What people want is not immediate acceptance per se, but a sense of assurance that the person is acceptable to the sorts of people they want to be connected to.” We only care about the opinions of certain people—it’s called standards... Everyone knows this. (

Comment to the above: I find the fact that most romantic pairings are negotiations of social status so disgusting that I cannot let my guard down to date at all. (She says she gets many more approaches when she is underweight. “I know they’re attracted to the idea that they are good enough to be with someone that is that small.” Also that slimmer women marry “professional guys with a college education” while their heavier sisters end up with a dropout with missing teeth.)

My parents met in a nightclub. I met my boyfriend in one. (London Review of Books Jan 2016)

It’s tough being middle class, because you can’t step outside. You can’t follow bands or go to discos or “clubs”. You have to go to classical concerts. You can be friendly with people from different backgrounds, but they keep expecting you to go back where you came from. They may almost order you to. They think you won’t want to go out with them. If they do ask you out, it's for the wrong reasons – you’re a trophy, or else they want to use you to move up the ladder. And they say nasty things about “chavs” and expect you to join in.

Point out a relationship between a man and a woman on planet earth that does not involve some sort of monetary output or exchange. The truth is marriages are built on this premise as is dating. (Web)

We can put a man on the moon, but it’s lonely in the big city and though we all want a partner we pretend nobody does, and couples drop their single friends and are super-unsupportive. Methods of finding somebody: parties, bars and apps.

In the olden days, middle-class parents spent a lot on their children, sending their sons to Eton and Oxford, and taking a house in the London “season” so that their daughters could mix with the right young men at the theatre, opera and ballet. They gave a lot of mutual parties, and there were public balls with an MC who would introduce you to a dancing partner. The Victorians gave big parties and invited all sorts, but made sure to invite several singles. There were also trips to the theatre, skating on the Round Pond, archery, croquet and tennis parties. Parents made strenuous efforts to get their children married, and got together with other parents. But there was no unchaperoned dating in those days. The Edwardians built conservatories so that couples could "sit out" at dances and propose behind the potted palms.

In the early 20th century there was a round of house parties with the aim of pairing people off. It was reciprocal, like wedding presents. Once you’d got married and had a house of your own and your husband was making money you took on that role and gave the parties. Obviously the house owners were rich (low taxes) and had servants (low wages). They wanted the right sort of people to marry each other, and probably thought of it as a social duty. They also wanted to keep family money in their own class. As the century wore on, they became poorer, and most of the big houses ceased to be. The debutante “season” limped on for a couple of decades after the war. And was replaced by... university. (Teales and Weybridges in suburbs or small country towns went to tennis club dances.)

These days parents buy a house in the right area near the right schools (where the children will meet the right people), pay public school fees ditto, and shell out for university ditto ditto. Do they ever admit their motives to themselves or each other? (In Jane Austen, the girls – and boys – had to pretend to be totally ignorant of what was going on, and the girls had to pretend they didn’t want to get married at all, as Captain Wentworth points out in Persuasion.)

Writing in the Times about the death of dinner party, Shane Watson lamented: “There are no single men, there never were.” (Giving dinner parties was a terrible lot of work, and only really made sense when you had servants.)

Teales and Definitelies can be quite open about wanting to get a boyfriend, get engaged, get married, have children. Poor Upwards are forced to pretend to want to be writers and actresses, to be utterly wonderful and daring and unique. They settle down and get married anyway, just a bit later. Unless they think they are somehow too special to get married, and live together without the legal and financial benefits of marriage. They think cohabitation gives you legal rights, which it hasn't since 1753.

Writer Bruce Chatwin was married, though gay. He “hated the idea of divorce, while finding ‘something “awful” in the idea of two men living together’.” Meanwhile Lucian Freud thought birth control was “squalid”.

Old anecdote: Lady Jane Snooks got married. After the honeymoon, a friend asked her: “Well, how did you get on? You know, what’s it like?” Lady Jane: “It’s much too good for the working classes.”

Another old anecdote: Lady touring factory: And how do you find marriage, Edna?
Edna: Ooo, miss, it’s like 'ot treacle runnin’ down yer back!

More here.

Thursday, 31 December 2015

A Poem for New Year

When disaster overtakes you
Never show it, though it breaks you.
In a crisis truly crucial
One must carry on as usual.

If the chaps all round you panic
Be depressive, never manic.
Though your road be steep and slippery
Cultivate stiff-upper-lippery.

Catastrophic misadventures?
Clench your fists or grit your dentures.
Just be calm and just be static.
Doesn't do to be dramatic.

When the sky begins to redden
At the dawn of Armageddon, 
If a feller makes a fuss
He just isn't one of us.

Afferbeck Lauder

Friday, 18 December 2015

Happy Holidays!

...I favour tacky Christmas decorations, the more Poundland the better, and like nothing more than framing a wall mirror with gold tinsel, the last word in naff, I’m told (the Savoy’s creative team decrees any tinsel a “no-no”...). Now I’ve bought an illuminated reindeer in rope-lights: just what our garden needs. It’ll set off my blue drip-effect icicle lights nicely, though even my daughter, aged 11, cringes that it looks like we’re attempting some “cheap Frozen theme”. Let’s just say my husband doesn’t share my penchant for house bling. Once he bought a pricey posh wreath and within 12 hours it had been stolen from the front door ... I’ve never turned my entire house into one of those pulsating light shows with a waving Santa on the roof (more’s the pity) but I’ve no problem with those who do. Quite the opposite. It shows generosity of spirit to give passing strangers a cheery boost at your own expense. And OK, there are eco-concerns but it’s only a few days a year unlike those shops which keep the lights on 24/7/365 for no reason. No, it’s snobbery that drives most grinches on this issue. As it happens I’m slightly disappointed with my reindeer: I’ve been far too subtle. I should have got a bigger one. I should have got three. This weekend I might risk domestic discord and buy a seven-footer. (Carol Midgley Times Dec 2015)

Upwards loathe “merry” Xmas, Xmas not Christmas – and “We’re not allowed to call it Christmas!”

They hate Black Friday – American import, and chavs buying chavvy things as usual. Materialism! They are embarrassed by Sun-style patriotism, and the idea of “loving your country” (especially when it means “brown people go home”). But they do love slagging off the Americans, whom they amusingly call “Merkins” or “Usanians”. They want to ban all Americanisms. How? 

What really galls the Upwards is all the MONEY people spend on Christmas – and now Halloween. Bang goes sixpence right and left – and nobody seems to care! But isn’t it good for the economy, or something?

Someone has suggested we rename it “Greedmas”. Upwards really don’t like to see common people buying things. And they still resent poor people having televisions. Does it all go back to the Puritans and Cromwell banning Christmas celebrations? (Apart from the interregnum, the festival was always a blow-out.)

Apparently the rich compete to invite bigger and bigger Xmas house parties (you have to have a house that fits 26, of course).

Wrapping paper – where did that go? Everybody uses gift bags now. How sensible is that?

Upwards have to wrestle their Xmas lights around the (large) tree (“I refuse to give in! I must have REAL lights!”) because they can’t buy an artificial one with lights built in. Caro’s mother is still attaching real candles to the branches, in Victorian tin clip-on candle holders. Such a shame Stow-Crat Hall burned to the ground on Boxing Day – but it was all insured, they carried the valuable contents onto the lawn, and they don’t have to worry about the roof any more.

This year, the Upwards have an Xmas tree made of recycled wood with traces of distressed paint, adorned with antique glass baubles. They do not hang evergreen wreaths (“garlands”) on their doors. They just might accept one made entirely of bare twigs. And no Xmas decorationss in the home before December. (Oliver Cromwell would have loved them.)

As usual, a vicar has told small children the story of St Nicholas and parents are up in arms, wailing: “They’ll stop believing in the tooth fairy next!” Upwards come up with 99 twisted reasons for lying to your children about Santa. It teaches them how to believe. It teaches them how to be skeptical. It gives them faith in a benevolent society – even though this is a myth. (Parents see the adult the child will be, and reasons for folk rituals always change over time.) And it’s “Father Christmas” not “Santa”.

Who buys that M&S Xmas food that’s all slightly wrong? Or do I mean “traditional with a twist”? Xmas pud with an apricot jam centre? Upwards have pudding, not Christmas cake. Chocolate logs with robins and holly are very Weybridge/Teale.

More here, and links to the rest.

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Classy Quotes 20

Strapless maxi dress
Writer Chris Kraus recommends landlording as “a way of engaging with a population completely outside the culture industry. Kind of like in gay culture, where hookups are a way of escaping your class.” (London Review of Books)

“We attract the very top echelon of clients from around the world. This development represents a real threat to our livelihood here at the Goring... “It is one of the premium suites in London, accommodating senior royalty, presidents and superstars. All require privacy, and this is how we manage to sell this suite in a very competitive market.” (Jeremy Goring, chief executive of the Goring Hotel, doesn't want social housing built opposite the hotel, especially not in full view of the royal suite.)

The noble Lord says that he does not want a housemaid to carry a coal scuttle up two or three floors. He says there should be a gas fire. I have always believed this was a free country. (The House of Lords discusses the Clean Air Act.)

It is not simply a question of there being too many people, it is the wrong kind of people. (Darran Anderson, Imaginary Cities on certain people's fears for the future.)

Heston Blumenthal: I was at the opening of Soho Farmhouse... and they said, “Oh, when people phone to book we Google them. If they’re not interesting then we don’t give them a table.” Observer 2015 Aug (“Farmhouse”!)

There is, she concedes, “a U and Non-U side of the lighthouse”. U would be living on South Green (Georgian houses; unrestricted views); Non-U is found on the road to the front. (Observer on Southwold, 23.08.15)

You know what liars these people are— they'll do anything to get themselves into the limelight. (Edgar Wallace, the JG Reeder series from the 1920s)

In the brilliant 60s film Jigsaw, a neighbour sums up the murder victim, saying she was still wearing a dressing gown and curlers at teatime (and sleeps with the gas fire on). “She was wearing lipstick with the curlers – she was that type of woman.”

George Orwell being rude about the Upwards of his day:
The more-water-in-your-beer reformers of whom Shaw is the prototype, and the astute young social-literary climbers who are Communists now, as they will be Fascists five years hence, because it is all the go, and all that dreary tribe of highminded women and sandal-wearers and bearded fruit-juice drinkers...

Famously, there is the attraction of socialist doctrine for “cranks”:One sometimes gets the impression that the mere words ‘Socialism’ and ‘Communism’ draw towards them with magnetic force every fruit-juice drinker, nudist, sandal-wearer, sex-maniac, Quaker, ‘Nature Cure’ quack, pacifist, and feminist in England.

And finally, rising to an apparent pitch of impotent frustration:
If only the sandals and pistachio-coloured shirts could be put in a pile and burnt, and every vegetarian, teetotaller and creeping Jesus sent home to Welwyn Garden City to do his yoga exercises quietly. (

Orwell also wrote of: “The lower-upper-middle-class” who own no land but still feel they are “landowners in the sight of God”.

David’s most spectacular career move... was his marriage to a cousin of the queen, the thus royal Lady Pamela Mountbatten. He unwisely boasted his “grand” engagement to Tony Armstrong-Jones. “Oh, I don’t call that grand,” was Tony’s testy reply. A few days later Tony announced his own engagement to Princess Margaret. (Redeeming Features, Nicky Haslam)

Town and Country have identified a new class: the Upper Middletons. “UMs bring neither vast wealth nor lineage to the table. Instead they bring qualities never before seen in the English upper classes — warm, close family relationships, loyalty, reliability and that most socially derided asset: niceness. UM parents may want their children to marry and mix with real poshies, but they do not do this by copying them. In defiance of the ancient English upper class code, they actually like their children, so refuse to pack them off to prep school at seven. Instead, children stay at home to be loved and nurtured, instructed in good manners and kindness until the age of 13, when they go off to an unflashy co-educational boarding school – Bradfield, Millfield or Marlborough”, says the Times. “Their children are perfectly turned out, polite and, dare we say it, slightly boring. They have nice manners, are popular, attend school parties with perfectly wrapped gifts and get decent grades,” Town & Country said. In London, they live in Battersea, Putney and Richmond, but they prefer “underwhelming” Buckinghamshire, Berkshire and Hertfordshire. They often run small businesses that keep them close to home. Their sports are skiing and tennis. “They don’t have great taste; they have ‘nice’, high-street taste. UMs never wear black (too fashionable). They adore a pop of colour, a stripe or a floral and, for the females, a daring split skirt or plunging neckline. Their weakness is white jeans, which both sexes wear far too often,” says T&C. (They do sound nice, don’t they?)

When we first met, his mother’s chief concern was that, being common, I might get our children to use dummies, which she disapproved of. (Woman quoted in the Guardian)

Competition is fierce, but I think Hilary Rose in the Times magazine wins the snobbery prize:
In fact, I think, too much daytime skin in general looks a bit trashy in town, doesn’t it? I’m thinking mainly of those sunburnt women who walk down Oxford Street, hoisting up their strapless maxidresses. Then again, Oxford Street’s awful full stop.


Social capital ... the quantity and social status of their friends, family and personal and business contacts. (Wikipedia)

Social hierarchy is determined by whether you’re more West Street or Devonshire Street on a night out. (Buzzfeed on Sheffield)

Living in Guildford has its advantages. People in Surrey are too posh for Trick or Treating. (Judge Dreadful ‏@KeefJudge)

I worry about people who think that AUTOMATICALLY because of gender/age/cultural background, certain people have it easier. Not always true. (@matthaig1)

Melanie Phillips think it is patronising and middle class to say that working class people would find boring work boring. (@JonnElledge)

Well I have always found @McVities Jaffa cakes to be utterly classless whether Eton in #Holloway or #Islington. (@RuthRobinsonLon)

Took my builder cousin into a branch of Fired Earth and he almost literally hasn't stopped laughing about the prices for three hours. (Sathnam Sanghera ‏@Sathnam)

More engineers have regional accents because it’s a meritocracy. (Bloke on Infinite Monkey Cage He adds that the media is full of posh people because it’s not a meritocracy.)

Most of the time I feel middle class. Until I met someone who is actually middle class, then I feel working class again. (And a real snob would think “So sad – they think they’re middle class!”) (concretism ‏@concretism_mus)

I think the north stops when you go far enough into the Midlands that people start calling you “babs” instead of “duck” or “love”. Or when people have tea instead of dinner and dinner instead of lunch. Or when chippies start asking if you want gravy with your chips. (Guardian July 2015)

Grand Edwardian life: the vast houses, the vast house parties, the vast shoots, yachts, hydrangeas, tiaras and aigrettes. (Nicky Haslam, Redeeming Features An aigrette is an ornament worn in the hair - probably comprising diamonds and feathers.)

The Times magazine Aug 2015-08-01has a piece on “smart casual” – the new relaxed style. It’s the old “how to be middle class” under another name. These are some signs you are not “smart casual”.
Changing your towels often
A year-round tandoori tan
Wearing heels at home
Sending lavish, Miss World-style floral bouquets
Designer beach kaftan
Regularly rotating your designer handbags
Teeth veneers
One miniature dog

Smart casual signs:
A sailing/staycation tan
Ditching heels all summer
Cotton book bags
Teeth whitening
Minimum two dogs, one of them Shetland-pony size

The whole idea is to make your home resemble a holiday cottage, and when not at work to look as if you were just about to stroll onto a beach or sailing boat. When entertaining, the smart casuals pile the kitchen table with cutlery and food, and everybody mixes and matches. No formality. “the whole experience is more rustica than roux. More squeeze of lemon than creamy sauces.” (The middle classes have thought “creamy sauces” common for decades: perhaps ever since the aspirant copied them in the form of cheaper white sauce – thickened with flour. Remember Sole Veronique?)

More here, and links to the rest.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Proper Deportment 2

"Well, he would, wouldn't he?"

Deportment is another of those things that have allegedly disappeared, like etiquette. OK, so we no longer learn to walk tall by balancing books on our heads, but it still matters.
In the mid-18th century, smiling showing the teeth was thought to be a vulgar affectation. In Scandal, Joanne Whalley raises her upper lip too high when she smiles and talks – it does something to the voice (makes it more nasal?). All the opposite of the stiff upper lip.

Sometimes a large, plain girl goes all out for personality – bright clothes and lipstick, clanking jewellery, very emphatic delivery with lots of face-pulling and eye-rolling, every sentence full of ironic use of words. Or an attractive girl pulls ruefully amusing grimaces the whole time and makes herself look ugly. The new girl on Antiques Road Trip is willowy and pretty but wildly over-enthusiastic, grinning, pulling faces and clapping her hands. Particularly grating is her mock bow when shaking hands. (But perhaps she's been told to ham it up.)

Upper-class men have very immobile faces (stiff upper and lower lip), but some upper-class women can’t say anything without laughing like hyenas and pulling faces. (There was a character in George Orwell's The Clergyman's Daughter who hung onto her schoolgirl mannerisms for too long.) It goes with shrieking “Find somewhere to park your bottom!” instead of saying “Do sit down”. They never say “Excuse me”, but “Can I just squeeze past?”

“Don’t admire your surroundings. Look faintly bored,” says Scotty to Danny in London Spy as they visit a gentleman’s club in Pall Mall. Those are upper-class manners – Stow-Crats take marble columns, gilded furniture and vast entrance halls for granted.

Upwards, on the other hand, treat the world as if it was a diorama or a museum. They are always looking about them and chirping “What a beautiful sunset!” or “Oh look – original Victorian ironwork!” Stow-Crats despise them for this, and so do Teales, who are mortified if their companions “speak loudly in public”. Jen can’t understand why Samantha wants to “draw attention to herself”, and besides, who's interested in some rusty old iron? Some cool young Upwards abhor this behaviour too – Chill! Don’t be surprised by anything! Please!

We have to say that “there are no social rules any more”, but a Times piece on body language goes into minute detail on social kissing, hands on backs etc. It condemns the possessive arm across the shoulders. “The forearm touch – supposedly entirely acceptable as a kind of first base for establishing a connection. Be careful of this one. It may be officially OK, but it can also be seriously annoying.” But apparently brushing against people as if by accident is effective. “Hand-holding is practically kissing.” And if there are no social rules any more, why are we so obsessed with correct checkout divider use?

I don't mind what anybody does with a checkout divider, but I do mind parents who shush their children constantly in public. Children naturally cry, scream, laugh, crow, and it doesn't bother most people. It’s the shushing that infuriates. I heard a controlling dad in a museum emitting a constant stream of “Ssh sssh ssssh Dougie Dougie Dougie no no no stop stop stop sh sh sh”. Perhaps Dougie had learned to ignore it.

People used to say that ballerinas “walked like ducks” with their feet turned out. And friends criticised me for “striding along” in town on my own. At school they constantly told me off for hunching, looking at the ground, and walking too fast. We weren't allowed to trudge, stomp, shuffle, or clatter. And we were supposed to walk everywhere with another pupil.

An early 20th century social reformer gave a home to city girls in the country, where she trained them to be laundresses. But she complained they were “listless and walked with their heads down”. (Alison Light's Mrs Woolf and the Servants). And lower-class women allegedly sat on the edge of a chair.

Samantha Upward and Caro Stow-Crat used to sneer at Jen Teale for smoothing the back of her skirt before she sat down. Jen doesn’t have so many clothes and couldn’t afford to keep buying new ones, so she looks after the ones she has. (Oddly, people made this gesture in the mid-60s when everybody wore pencil skirts and they didn’t need to – was it a hangover from the 1940s or earlier?) In the film Cast a Dark Shadow (1955) Margaret Lockwood’s obviously common character holds her hand out to be shaken too high and with an affectedly drooping wrist; she also hitches up her tight skirt before she sits down.

Why is it genteel to crook your little finger while drinking a cup of tea? Miss Manners (etiquette guru Judith Martin) says that original teacups had no handles. You held the cup by the cooler rim, but the cup itself (full of hot tea) was too hot to rest your fingers on. Another explanation is the smallness of many teacup handles – you can’t get all your fingers on them. Besides, you need to stick out your third and fourth fingers for balance. The etiquette blunder is to crook your little finger in an attempt to seem ultra-refined.

She apes the graces of the city,
Can frown and ogle; nod, forget...
But ah! Poor wretch, the native trace
Of vulgar birth, you’ll ne’er erase
Some absent shrug, unguarded phrase
Broad laughter, or unmeaning gaze,
These oft the mean extraction tell...

Some dudes “have the impudence of bowing to ladies whom they do not know, merely to give them an air”.
A well-bred person must learn to smile when he is angry, and to laugh even when he is vexed to the very soul.
To study the expression of the countenance of others, in order to govern your own, is indispensably necessary.
“Egad! I must not make a noise, because it will not be good breeding."
(Pierce Egan, in Real Life in London, recommends hypocrisy.)

Now that I am old and white-haired, still have a ridiculously posh voice, and sometimes walk with a stick, people treat me with exaggerated respect. They say “sorry” to me all the time, for no reason at all. Thank you, people, but really there’s no need to cringe. If you want to pass me, please do – but must you hunch, scuttle and throw me an apologetic look? And if I am singing in a group in public and you want to take photographs of these quaint people doing something eccentric – don’t. But if you must, please don’t hunch and grin while doing so.

My mother acquired a title when my dad was knighted and became a “sir” (way, way down the pecking order for titles). She hired a husband and wife as cleaners and they behaved very oddly – ducking as she passed, as if they were trying to make themselves smaller. The wife would even throw out an arm to cover her husband, almost curtsying, and barely speaking above a whisper. Mum ignored all this and was as friendly as possible – it worked in the end.

American writer Florence King once worked as a teacher – she hated parents to “kowtow” to her, especially an “embarrassing” grandmother “thrice my age who called me ma’am and kept bobbing up and down in near-curtsies”. (From the brilliant Wasp, Where Is Thy Sting?) I’ve even had a café proprietor bow and make a praying gesture when throwing me out. “We’re about to close!” – they clearly weren’t. Cafés don’t like single old people to sit over one coffee reading the paper or working. I’ve even had a waitress put a hand under my elbow to eject me – while fawning politely.

Some persons appear always as if admiring their shoe-ties. (Enquire Within Upon Everything)

When books of advice instructed youth to breathe deeply, stand tall and look people in the eye, perhaps they were really trying to say “don’t cringe and scuttle”. They also meant “don’t slouch, sneer and bite your nails”. But if you are 5ft 9in, “stand tall” may not be the best advice. Perhaps I should have stayed sitting down.

More here.

Friday, 13 November 2015

World of Interiors (in Quotes)

My parents replaced the old 50s stuff with a refained sort of repro Queen Anne with cabriole legs. (Blog commenter)

The flat above the café... was furnished in a style which seemed to have been copied from a Mae West film; the bedspread was of ruched orange silk, Spanish shawls and ostrich-feather fans copiously collected the dust on the walls, and pierrot dolls sprawled drunkenly on every horizontal surface. There was also a framed sampler, embroidered in cross-stitch and depicting a girl in a poke-bonnet and crinoline watering some hollyhocks. (West End People, Peter Wildeblood)

A throwback to the Celtic Tiger style, it looks like a car showroom. (New house near Dublin, Times March 2015)

Julian Fellowes confesses that he often thinks class is a hideous practical joke. ''For instance, the bathroom thing. There are people with comfortable bathrooms off their bedrooms, with carpets and things, and we always considered them rather middle class.” (NYT)

However rich the Astors, however grand and gilded the Cliveden salons, however luxe the food served in them, the upstairs arrangements were curiously spartan. Single gentlemen’s quarters were narrow bedrooms off school-like corridors, not very near a huge communal washroom. (Redeeming Features, Nicky Haslam)

Wicker chairs, a square of art carpet... On a bamboo table was an old vase which had been clumsily filled with golden chrysanthemums. (An arty interior from Edgar Wallace)

I don’t like modern design. I want something cosy and homely. Woodburner. That sort of thing. (Homes Under the Hammer)

Architectural fads are like pizza toppings, there's always a new one. (Maria Smith)

If something’s out of fashion, it’s probably about to come back. (James Lewis, Flog It!)

Everybody wanted to live in a Victorian cottage – and now everybody wants to live in a loft. (Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is)

Ebony elephants - there were also brass ash-trays, embroidered match-cases... a complete set of Dickens cigarette-cards, an electro-plated egg-boiler, a long pink cigarette-holder, several embossed boxes for pins from Benares... (the contents of a White Elephant stall from The Ministry of Fear by Graham Greene)

A water-colour of the Bay of Naples at sunset and several steel engravings and a photograph of the former Mr Purvis in the odd dated uniform of 1914. The ugly arm-chair, the table covered with a thick woollen cloth, the fern in the window. (Also from The Ministry of Fear, describing a furnished sitting-room that hasn’t been updated for 50 years – not since the 1890s. Note the framed photo as a class marker.)

In Georgette Heyer's No Wind of Blame, written in the 30s, a second husband grumbles about the first, a big-game hunter, leaving the house full of elephant’s foot umbrella stands and a gong made out of hippo’s tusks.

The living room was smartly furnished in an up to date style – a good deal of chromium and some large, square-looking easy chairs upholstered in a pale fawn geometric fabric. (In Agatha Christie's One Two Buckle My Shoe, the flat’s inhabitant is trying to give the impression of middle-income conventional 30s taste.)

In the early 50s, American Muriel Beadle spent a year in Oxford – her husband was a professor. In These Ruins Are Inhabited, she is shocked to find that Oxford isn’t a theme park – Anglo Saxon towers are mixed in with department stores and supermarkets. She is also surprised by the many Victorian buildings, and confesses that England is marketed to Americans as cathedrals and thatched cottages, with everything else cropped out.

Nor did our new house... look quite as much like Anne Hathaway’s as I had thought it might... The room was so little. So full of things. Samplers under glass. Della Robbia plaques. Venetian watercolours in heavy gilt frames. Corner cupboards stuffed with porcelain... Lamps with lace shades and velvet bows. A ship’s clock. Ceiling lights with crystal drops... I let my thoughts drift back to the big living-room in our Spanish-style house, with its unadorned white plaster walls and its wide open spaces of rug.

I once worked at an American firm whose offices were laid out like urban sprawl. We were all so far apart that if you set off with a message you’d forgotten it by the time you reached your destination. In the open-plan areas everyone had too much space, and was just too far away to talk to easily. The US staff found raises voices vulgar, and all business was conducted in a murmur. It was such a relief to get back to a cramped British office where you could talk to the person next to you and yell across the room.

More here.

More here, and links to the rest.

Friday, 6 November 2015

Get the Look II


Stylist strips a genuinely retro room from the 60s and replaces all the décor with “the retro look”. “Now it’s a sophisticated retro living room.” There’s a pale sideboard, and an oval coffee table. (Britain’s Ugliest Rooms)

Dear ebay – there is no such thing as “Art Deco Nouveau Victorian”, or "vintage retro Art Deco Edwardian style", for that matter.

Oh, so a 1791 building containing jukebox, baseball photos, a fibreglass rhino & Egyptian cat is "Dickensian"? (Douglas Murphy ‏@entschwindet)

Exposed stone and olde beames – Victorian? The Victorians would have a fit.

industrial chic (Joss & Main) metal pendant lights made for the market and given distressed paint effects (“Channel the loft look with this industrial-inspired lighting selection.”)

contemporary classics, polished Parisian (more styles offered by Joss & Main)

Weathered and Worn: industrial chic décor for the whole home
The Treasure Trove: accents brimming with country charm
(they include a distressed chest and a wire dressmaker’s dummy made as an item of furniture)
Seaside Soiree:
coastal cookware and serveware (aqua crockery, copper pans)
A Rustic Welcome: industrial-style hallway refreshers
(“reclaimed” wood and an antique-looking mailbox)
All from Joss & Main

Pacific Lifestyle
(John Lewis – it’s a copper lantern)

Zoe on Money for Nothing, on decorating a utility chest of drawers: "slightly more traditional, more heritage, more arts and crafts design... masculine, and kind of audacious, and making a statement." (It’s a vaguely Art Nouveau flowers, leaves and fruit design.)

Seven urban warehouse boutique style family homes over four floors

Classic retro with an industrial twist – passionate about mid-century and simple retro designs – with a bit of kitsch thrown in – how you can make them appealing and attractive now... (French Collection)

It’s that shabby chateau look we’re all looking for. (Mark Franks)

The furnishing and appointments of the room were of that style which is believed to be oriental by quite a large number of people. (Edgar Wallace)

I am to dress like a German Milkmaid, a Romanian flower-seller, and an Edwardian rapscallion without invoking "cultural appropriation". (A model explains her “style”. A German responded that they don’t have milkmaids in Germany – it’s all done by machine.)

Time to quote this George du Maurier heroine again:

Fair Client" "I want it to be nice and baronial, Queen Anne and Elizabethan, and all that; kind of quaint and Nuremburgy you know—regular Old English, with French windows opening to the lawn, and Venetian blinds, and sort of Swiss balconies, and a loggia. But I'm sure you know what I mean!" (Punch, November 29, 1890).

More here.