Monday, 8 December 2014

The Best Days of Your Life



Convinced that "posh people" have perfect lives? Thinking of sending your child away from home to get the "best education money can buy"? Think again.


I burst into tears.
It was like something out of Charles Dickens. (Nicholas Parsons on arriving at prep school aged 7)

Everybody I've ever met who attended a private school has been a superlatively trained con artist/psychopath. (@sredniivashtaar)

Home schoolers and the Christian equivalent of madrassas cut off children from outside sources of information... When they grow older and leave such a sheltered environment, adjusting to the secular world can be like immigrating to a new culture. One of the biggest areas of challenge is delayed social development. (Salon.com)

Tom Parker-Bowles told how his mother regretted sending him away to board so young. After [his daughter]'s seventh birthday earlier this month, he said to his mother: 'You sent me away eight months after this.' He continued: 'My mother was slightly appalled, saying she'd never do it again, but it was the thing you did, you know.' (Daily Mail He sends his children to day schools.)

Parents send their children to boarding school so that they will become instant adults without having had a childhood. (AM)

At university he had to say he went to a small school near Slough so that he wouldn't be discriminated against. (via AF)

If the public schools were so good at improving their pupils, the Cabinet would be full of geniuses. It's not. (Danny Baker)

Like all dysfunctional institutions, from boarding schools to prisons, Westminster appears to have normalised codes of behaviour that elsewhere would mark their practitioners as weirdos. (Marina Hyde Guardian April 2014)

When I was nine I was sent to boarding school, which I despised. The first five years were hideous because I wanted to be at home. I guess I resented my parents a little and it put tons of distance between us. One of the things I took from boarding school is that it made me emotionally self-sufficient. We never sit down as a family and say “Are you OK?”, “By the way I love you.” No thanks. That suits me, but I can see it’s not for everybody. (Al Murray G May 2014)

Our job is not to toughen our children up to face a cruel and heartless world. Our job is to raise children who will make the world a little less cruel and heartless. (LR Knost)

Many people tell me they [visit Eton] and their prejudices are shot to pieces because they see people who are rounded and just incredibly accomplished and bright and hungry. (dot.com millionaire and public schoolboy Brent Hoberman, The Times 22 March 2014)

Choice is considered a dirty word by many educationalists, but parents – weirdly enough – are actually quite keen to push their children into better schools. This site helps them beat the system. (The Daily Telegraph, Aug 2010)

The middle classes outsource everything – even parenting. (Caitlin Moran, paraphrase, Times June 2014)

In the late 18th century, public schoolboys stole ducks, rode home for the holidays (on the stage coach) lashing pedestrians with whips, and throwing stones to break windows. “In 1818, a wave of lawlessness and rioting spread from one public school to another…” "Gentlemanly families ceased to send their sons to public school..." (Muriel Jaeger, Before Victoria, demonstrating that corporal punishment and deprivation make children well-behaved.)

We were surnames and numbers in a quasi-military bureaucracy and we were often made to feel as if we were infuriating hindrances to its smooth running... We were woken in darkness by the clanging of a bell. We had 20 minutes to wash and dress and be on parade on the asphalt outside for roll-call. Then, to barked orders from a duty monitor, we marched in ranks of four, military fashion and still in darkness, the quarter-mile to the dining hall for breakfast… Square-bashing before sunrise – later it would seem ludicrous, yet we also marched to lunch, to the accompaniment of the school brass band – twirling maces and oompah brass – as if every day were a passing-out parade at Sandhurst. (Nigel Richardson, Breakfast in Brighton A former child soldier in Sudan was interviewed on BBC Breakfast. He said that at 11 they were expected to be adults, they were shown horrible sights, and never got enough sleep. Which is also how you brainwash new cult members...)

"School places these days — I mean, it’s a bloody lottery, isn’t it?” That’s what well-heeled parents like to say to underline the awful powerlessness they feel, as their best efforts on behalf of their children are thwarted...  Here, “lottery” is being used metaphorically, in the sense of “not very like a lottery at all”. It means “a situation over which we can use money to exert almost complete but not, infuriatingly, absolute control”. (Sam Leith ES 2014-02-24)

“It is almost a truism that [prep schools] – and the public schools which they fed – were and are instruments of social indoctrination. Here are little microcosms of the sort of authoritarian and hierarchical society that their products were expected to go on and govern… Eton’s forms and hierarchies were easily internalised… I have a craven teacher-pleasing tendency: a deference to authority and a desire to excel within parameters established by others rather than to challenge those parameters. I am a more conventional – sometimes timid – thinker than I would like.” Old Etonian Sam Leith goes on to say that the present government seems to be a continuation of private school by other means. But, he says, the other effect of private schools is that some alumni react by becoming “anti-establishment rebels”. They are “oppressive dictatorships in miniature”, says Francis Wheen, who left voluntarily at 16. (G 2014-02-09)

You have to become autonomous much too soon. (TF)


The following quotes are from Nick Duffell's The Making of Them:


Boarding children, despite their prestigious schools, have to grow up amongst their peers and never really come home again.

It is easy to pretend that the serious bullying only went on in Tom Brown’s day; unfortunately, this is not the case. To those who maintain that the schools have changed out of all recognition in the last 20 years, I would say that possibly the worst excesses may be in the past. Some schools now have radiators and carpets.

The girl’s way is to undermine by verbal abuse and to withdraw... affection, approval... privacy, free time... The insidious thing about the treatment at girls’ schools is that it all comes over as normal and respectable.

Many of my generation will remember how difficult it was to openly want anything.

Physical size and cutting wit... could make you more popular and more safe.

Normalised parental neglect
... they must speedily reinvent themselves as self-reliant pseudo-adults.

Bullying pervades British society, especially in politics and the media, but, like boarding, we normalise it...

Boarding is worth billions and has a massive lobby.

Socially condoned abandonment. (Amazon commenter) 

I left home for school over 30 years ago and haven't had a real home since. (Amazon commenter)

More about education here.





Monday, 24 November 2014

Class is Dead, Long Live Class

Have you seen her curtains?
I think she's wearing them!

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Dad was also an alderman (guessing that's what the get up is). Profoundly petit bourgeois. (‏@oitimesthree Comment on a picture of Margaret Thatcher with her family in the 40s.)

Quite recently, a group of friends told me that “class has disappeared”. But in the week of the Rochester white van England flags Twitterstorm, Reuters calls England “class-obsessed”.
And the Office of National Statistics (ONS) has produced the “National Statistics Socio-economic Classifications (NS-SEC)... the new occupational scale to replace the Registrar General's scale”.

If you want to say that something has “disappeared”, you can always redefine it very narrowly. You can also redefine “disappeared” so that it means “a bit less common than when I was young”. OK, so class doesn’t exist any more – in the “once a villein, always a villein” sense. There is, as people like to say, more “social mobility” now. I think this translates as “equality of opportunity”. If you get an education and work hard, you can climb up the class ladder. But that assumes there is a ladder for you to climb up.

I’ve always wanted to climb down. Weybridges, Teales and Definitelies have more fun. Nobody has said it out loud – but since the war and the disappearance of servants, the middle classes have learned to live more like the working classes. And they seem quite happy. (Except that they whinge all the time – but they’ll always do that.) What does that mean? They cook and clean for themselves, they eat fast food and takeaways and ready meals, they eat cheap food that’s easy and quick to prepare (often borrowed from European peasants). They live with their children - they’re involved with their children’s lives. They don’t eat meat for breakfast, lunch and dinner. They no longer change three times a day into outfits that need hooking up at the back by a helper. In the 70s there was a fashion for living in your kitchen – time to bring it back.

I live in an area that has a reputation for being 'upper-class', but - having worked all over the country and with a wide mix of people in many different situations (from minor royalty to refuse operatives!) - I would say that the old ideas of class have more or less gone, but snobbery (and inverted snobbery) most certainly has not. I very rarely encounter anyone these days who gives a fig about what social class others come from, but that won't stop them decrying another's choice of curtains etc (or indeed partner!) as being beneath/above them etc. Personal experience does indeed confirm that the most vociferous supporters of the 'class' system are those who traditionally (like my decidedly 'middle-class', but with working-class roots, wife!) consider themselves 'working-class'. (A friend writes.)

Yes, this phenomenon has gone, it has completely disappeared, there is still this phenomenon that is very very like it, but it is something completely different.

Oh, I do see. The people who say “class doesn’t exist any more” mean that “nobody believes it’s hereditary any more – it’s all about socioeconomic groupings now”. Which it is. Which it always was. And perhaps nobody dares use class labels in public any more.

But there’s a lingering belief in some kind of hereditary principle – how could that possibly work? Unless we’re still pretending that Normans are genetically distinct from Saxons. Perhaps people fear they aren’t in the top layer (and unless you have a hereditary title you aren’t), and dread that anyone “above” them will despise them.

So perhaps when people say that the class system has disappeared, they mean they disapprove of it. Or rather, they want to be seen and heard to disapprove of it. And also, they fear that if they admit it exists, their hearers will assume that they place themselves quite high up the rankings, and look down on those “below”. Some assume that anyone who mentions class or writes about it thinks they are an aristocrat and despises everyone else as a pleb, and goes about wearing a tiara graciously waving at genuflecting serfs. (I never wear a tiara, and out of the list above, I have been to Bond Street and Jermyn Street. Anybody can. But they might move me on if I started busking.)

And if there’s no such thing as a class system any more (and how could such a thing just disappear?), why doesn’t Patsy Palmer get asked to narrate nature documentaries?

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Kitchen Suppers

Kitchen inspiration
CRIMES

Calling it a kitchen/breakfast room, because you want people to think that for proper meals you use the dining room.

An island or breakfast bar instead of a table. You can’t get your knees under an island/breakfast bar, and those bar stools are terribly uncomfortable, so all you can do is eat and run. You can’t sit down and eat, do homework, work or cook! You have to mix, and roll pastry standing up. And nobody else can sit and chat to you while you peel, chop or fry. You need a couple of sofas.


But perhaps posh people are getting the message:

“At the top end of the market, it is unusual now to see a property without two kitchens,” says Lochie Rankin from luxury property search agent Lichfields. “Many expensive houses have a main kitchen and a catering kitchen used by staff, often in the basement, with huge industrial-style ovens and fridge freezers.” The upstairs family kitchen, with coffee machines and comfy sofas, will be the setting for the informal “kitchen suppers” made fashionable by Sam Cam and the Chipping Norton set... “The trend for two kitchens has been getting an awful lot bigger,” says Rupert Sweeting, head of the country house department at Knight Frank. “More kitchens have arrived partly because people just don’t want dining rooms anymore.” [And the final touch is a third, outdoor kitchen in your garden.] (yahoo.com, Nov 2014)

They are trying to get back the sociable cosiness of the working-class live-in kitchen. Cooking and eating round a camp fire is also bonding. OK, you can have togetherness in a dining room, but it is tainted by a history of sitting there while servants dish up food you haven’t cooked, the older generation bullies the younger, and the entire ceremony becomes about “proper table manners” rather than food, conversation or enjoyment.

“People want larders. The possession of a larder signifies to many people that they have arrived. Most people come from homes that did not have anything like a country house larder.” (Lucy Alexander Times Nov 5 10) Modern kitchen designers, she says, are still hooked on the sleek, modernistic, science lab look for kitchens and don’t really know where to put a larder. She blames Downton. But you couldn’t stir a Christmas pudding for 20 people in a giant china bowl on a worktop. You need a table. (It wouldn’t be easy to butcher a turtle, skin a rabbit or clean a pig’s head, either. No room – and you'd hit your head on the cupboards.)

Nobody has pictures in their kitchen any more – or even decorative wall plaques or hanging plates.

“Cabinets date terribly quickly, so you change the handles or the doors.” (Antiques Road Show)

For people who wear Boden, a company called Plain English Kitchens has been around since the early 90s. They have their own Farrow and Ball style colour range (airforce blue, rust red and shades of camouflage). But basically they are fitted kitchens in “natural” materials, with an industrial chic look. The units probably have recessed brass handles. (Guardian, Feb 2014) “Country” kitchens have the same old “science lab” layouts with more folksy units.

Samantha Upward buys a dresser and a table and a Belfast sink (ripping out old 70s units), and hangs pans from hooks on the walls. She either strips the dresser or paints it white. She complains that people never cook in their “state-of-the-art” kitchens (and besides they cost £10,000). All her equipment is either bought in France (made of enamel to a design nobody’s changed for 50 years because there’s no need to) or in antique shops (also enamel, but cream/green rather than blue/red). She likes blue and white striped Cornish ware, or green Denby ware. Upwards have always loved hardware shops, maybe because the products are generic and never change. And because they love working class paraphernalia - but only when it’s 50 years out of date.

Ultra-Bohemian Rowena Upward buys benches and sinks from a real science lab and installs the lot in her kitchen. She grows herbs in the fume cupboard.

Where have all the kitchen tables gone? They are standard furnishings in hipster cafés. Ask your local café if they can spare one.




Sunday, 19 October 2014

More World of Interiors


Why is it the super rich never seem to have any taste in curtains? (Feargus O'Sullivan)
Syrie Maugham started the trend of stripping and repainting French provincial antiques. (Wikipedia)

Poverty has its whims and shows of taste, as wealth has. Some of these cabins were turreted, some had false windows painted on their rotten walls; one had a mimic clock, upon a crazy tower of four feet high, which screened the chimney; each in its little patch of ground had a rude seat or arbour. (Barnaby Rudge, Charles Dickens)

Today your bedroom is the backstage area where you prepare for your performance in the theatre of the world... The living room... a sort of stage-set where homeowners acted out an idealised version of their lives for the benefit of guests... The inexpensive and slightly lowbrow connotations of gas meant that it was still shunned by the upper classes: they stayed loyal to candles. Lucy Orrinsmith, author of The Drawing Room, Its Decoration and Furniture (1878), suggested that one’s ambition ought to extend beyond a coal scuttle decorated with a picture of Warwick Castle and a screen showing ‘Melrose Abbey by Moonlight’. Instead, homeowners should look out for quirky, exotic flourishes for their best room: ‘a Persian tile, an Algerian flower-pot, an old Flemish cup, a piece of Nankin blue, an Icelandic spoon, a Japanese cabinet, a Chinese fan … each in its own way beautiful and interesting’. (If Walls Could Talk: An Intimate History of the Home, Lucy Worsley)

Middle-class Upwards are still following Orrinsmith's instructions almost to the letter. But Rowena Upward, the ultra-Bohemian, is collecting Jacobethan furniture, little brass animals – and anything decorated with Warwick Castle or Melrose Abbey. She has an eye on a bamboo Edwardian overmantel which she plans to fill with knicknacks. She even intends to crochet frills for all its brackets. It won’t quite go with the Jacobethan – but perhaps she’ll go all-out for 1880, with potted palms on stands and round tables with velvet covers to the ground.


DÉCOR CRIMES


Sofas from the 1950s often had plastic trays clipped onto their arms to hold food or drinks. (If Walls Could Talk: An Intimate History of the Home, Lucy Worsley)

The “random cladding” movement in architecture. (Adam Furman)

In a poncey club sitting on a sofa made from a slab of pumice with no back to it. They know how to make you feel welcome. (Mark Gatiss)

Bow windows with bottle-bottom glass, plus Georgian fanlights, on a 60s council house.

Hotel room en suite bathrooms with glass walls so you can watch TV in the bath. (What if you’re sharing the room???) And many hotel rooms have TVs in the bathroom, some disguised as mirrors or pictures.

“Classic” French provincial bathroom cabinets (including a basin on cabriole legs with faux drawers).

Buying a Georgian house and removing all the fireplaces so that there’s no obvious place to put the furniture and it stands around looking awkward.

Dummy chimneys on new houses.

Bars in Dalston with the “poverty look” - distressed wood and reused school chairs - which are too expensive for local people.

Crazy paving – on the wall.


GET THE LOOK

The Pig Hotel “all shabby-chic Georgian splendour, roll-top baths with views over parkland...” (Times magazine 2014-08-16) Nothing can be both shabby AND splendid. Unless you specifically mean “shabby splendour”. And if the Georgians had had roll-top baths they would not have sat in one looking out over parkland. Oscar Wilde used to say that a gentleman never stood at a window – or was it Lord Chesterfield?

Using a rumpled but neat look. (onekinddesign.com)

“Shaker style” now just means “wooden kitchen units”.

Rustic” is now a catch-all term that has drifted a long way from its roots in clothes and furniture actually made by genuine rustics (You can have a rustic or “woodsy” wedding, according to Etsy.)

The Museum Selection catalogue name-drops frantically in an attempt to convince us that its style-free products are sprinkled with the fairy dust of famous writers and artists.

“Rackham Plaque, redolent of the dream-like paintings by Arthur Rackham” – but not based on any particular work.

“Petal Fairy Statue, recalling those depicted in tales by Andrew Lang...” It looks like a rip-off of the Flower Fairies series by Cicely Mary Barker, and looks utterly UN-like the illustrations to Lang by HJ Ford.

“English Tweed jacket, Beautiful wool tweed jacket evoking the silhouettes of 1940s originals” – but not modelled on them.

“Art Deco Mugs, inspired by the vibrant Art Deco ceramic designs of Clarice Cliff...” They’re a poor imitation. None of the “Art Deco” products look remotely Art Deco.

It continues through the ages, “echoing”, “capturing”, “evoking” – but never reproducing.

More here, and links to the rest.



Monday, 13 October 2014

Classy Careers (and Money)

The wicker workshop was a great success
“I’ve made an almost vulgar amount of money.” James Braxton, Antiques Road Trip

The Antiques Roadshow “clumsily punctuates [the personal and historical] narrative with a judgment of exchange value”. (paulmullins.wordpress.com archaeology blog)

Hire-purchase rules were relaxed after the war – middle-class Upwards were furious. Here were common people getting what they wanted now (probably over-shiny furniture), instead of employing “deferred gratification” – something they are still very fond of. Access ("Takes the waiting out of wanting!") was one of the first widely available credit cards in the early 70s. The middle classes had another hissy fit. American Express, Diners Club and Barclaycard were different because they were exclusive.

Upwards and Weybridges used to be very shocked if you bought anything in a corner shop: “It’s so much more expensive than the supermarket!” And of course you can only buy chav food like Heinz salad cream and tinned steamed pudding. But it’s in walking distance, and I haven’t got a car, in fact I can’t drive, and I don’t need to do a huge weekly shop because I don’t have a husband and family... (“You haven’t got a car!!!” I think they stop talking to me at this point. Happy thought: filch a lot of Waitrose bags to carry the corner shop food. Or invite them to dinner and serve up spam fritters and spaghetti hoops.)

Is “artisanal” the new exclusive?

Latest middle-class careers: hand-make bespoke ordinary things like leather satchels, bicycles or fountain pens. I’m not sure how you’ll get organic materials into a bicycle – wooden pedals? Wicker basket? Hessian panniers? Is there a basket shop in East London called “The Wicker Man” yet?

Why don’t middle-class people open internet cafes? For the same reason that they can’t learn to tap dance, act in musicals, or become estate agents.

Is the educational end-game that all children should aspire to pass exams, go to uni and get a white-collar job? Who’s going to do the blue-collar jobs? We need bus drivers, firemen, shop staff...

An Upward wrote in to the Guardian complaining that if schoolkids don’t learn French they’ll “have no knowledge of other cultures”. Reminds me of getting an Arts Council grant: with breathtaking culturecentrism, the form required us to promise we would “contact other cultures”. But Upwards can always send their children to an inner-city primary school - they'll contact many other cultures. Some of the pupils may even be French.

More careers here.
More money here.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Class and Barbara Pym III

Look out for the peonies on the altar...


Class, Religion and Decor in Barbara Pym's Jane and Prudence

Jane is a fortyish vicar’s wife who has just moved to a country parish. Her friend Prudence is 29, and works in some unspecified publishing job. She shares an office with two female colleagues who are always discussing when the typists are going to bring their tea. (Because they couldn’t possibly make it themselves.) The hours of work were officially ten till six, but Prudence considered herself too highly educated to be bound by them.

Jane, the central character, treats her husband’s parish like a big joke, and tries to find suitable men for Prudence to marry. Prudence is an attractive girl who has had strings of admirers since Oxford – but shouldn’t she have chosen one of them by now?

As the story progresses, Jane becomes more and more irritating. She loved Oxford (where she taught Prudence), but she has never got over it. Her memories of “riotous fun” involve gathering autumn leaves and going to evensong. Her “bright” conversation annoys people. Her subject was obscure 17th century poets, and she once wrote a book of essays. But since she got married, she hasn’t cared enough to become good at anything. And: There came a day when one didn’t quote poetry to one’s husband any more.

When she sees someone she knows: She wanted to rush in to him, to greet him with some exaggerated mocking gesture, ‘Buon giorno, Rigoletto,’ posturing and bowing low. Did people ever behave like this? Thank goodness she resists the impulse.

Soon after the move, Prudence asks her: ‘Have you met any interesting people – people of one’s own type, I mean?’
She has met Fabian Driver, a local widower. Jane tries, rather inefficiently, to bring them together. Prudence could give cultured little dinner parties with candles on the table and the right wines and food... Prue could have this kind of life if she wanted it; one couldn’t go on having romantic love affairs indefinitely.

As usual, Pym’s characters discuss class through other subjects, such as soft furnishings:

‘Oh, but it looks “lived in”,’ said Jane [of her vicarage living-room], ‘which is supposed to be a good thing. I thought Mrs Pritchard’s a little too well-furnished – those excessively rich velvet curtains and all that Crown Derby in the corner cupboard, it was a little over-whelming.’
Jane’s curtains, brought from a previous house, are too short and narrow to keep out the draughts that pervade Victorian vicarages, and she can’t be bothered to replace them, so her predecessor’s were “excessively rich”.

A visitor notices: ...the fireplace, whose emptiness was not even decently filled in with a screen or vase of leaves or dried grasses.

When Jane meets the Pritchards, she is amazed to find that they travel in a “motor” and have “luncheon” with the Bishop. But well-bred people talked like this even today, Jane believed.

Jane muses on the surroundings of young men living in lodgings: ‘I always feel so sorry for young men living in lodgings, especially on a Sunday afternoon. I wonder if he has a sitting-room with an aspidistra on a bamboo table in the window and a plush table-cloth with bobbles on it, and some rather dreadful pictures, perhaps, even photographs of deceased relatives on the wall.’

Prudence’s smart flat has a “general effect of Regency”, and pale green bed linen. Prudence drinks expensive Lapsang Souchong tea “out of a fragile white-and-gold cup”. But Jane ponders: Those light striped satin covers would ‘show the dirt’ – the pretty Regency couch was really rather uncomfortable and the whole place was so tidy...

Miss Doggett snoops around her companion’s bedroom: One would have imagined that a gentlewoman would have her ‘things’, those objects – photographs, books, souvenirs collected on holiday – which can make a room furnished with other people’s furniture into a kind of home.

Jane’s husband, Nicholas, is glad to be working in a genuinely old church: He would no longer have to say to visitors in his gentle, apologetic tones, almost as if it were his own fault, ‘I’m afraid our church was built in 1883,’ as in the suburban parish they had just left.
As usual in Pym novels, there is much discussion of shades of meaning in the Church of England – is the local church “high” or “low” enough? And where you worship depends on your social class: Here Fabian came to the large Methodist Chapel, but of course one couldn’t go there; none of the people one knew went to chapel, unless out of a kind of amused curiosity.

Prue ponders going over to Rome, but can’t face: ... listening to a lecture by a raw Irish peasant that was phrased for people less intelligent than herself... Of course... one just couldn’t go to Chapel; one just didn’t. Nor even to those exotic religious meetings advertised on the back of the New Statesman, which always seemed to take place in Bayswater.

Jane explains the difference between low and high: Evensong in a damp country church with pews, and dusty red hassocks. No light oak chairs, incense or neat leather kneelers.

The ladies of the parish decorate the church every week. One of them describes a wonderful arrangement she’s seen: She’d put red and pink flowers on the pulpit, rhododendrons and peonies with some syringa and greenery. Red and pink together is a middle-class taboo, and rhododendrons and peonies are far too colourful and showy.

Prudence enjoys novels that are: ...well written and tortuous, with a good dash of culture and the inevitable unhappy or indefinite ending, which was so like life.

The end of the novel is indefinite rather than unhappy. The story contains many tips on how to land a husband, but marriage may involve "struggling with the washing up for six", curbing your husband's penchant for little sentimental affairs, or not realising that his affectionate tolerance for you may be wearing thin. (We also discover that two characters from a previous novel, who had crushes on the two halves of a married couple, have married each other.)

More Pym here.




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.