Monday, 18 June 2018

Class Is Dead, Long Live Class 4

Stand-up comedian @SamWhyte asked Twitter: "When you were a kid, how did you know someone was a bit posh when you went round their house? So far we've got more than one type of cheese in the fridge..."

I've divided the answers into social strata.

Served food without a pile of bread and marge for if you were still hungry. (In our Upward home, all our meals came with bread and butter on the side, but nobody ever ate it. It was just make-work. And we continued with the pantomime for years.)

Soda stream. (I could never understand why my Upward parents wouldn’t get one. They didn’t want to spend the money, and they rationed sugary drinks. Even Kia-ora orange squash was only allowed at birthday parties. They thought that if we didn’t get much sugary food, we wouldn’t “acquire a taste” for it, and we’d “acquire a taste” for grown-up middle-class food like tough mutton and over-boiled cabbage. Liking sweet food is common – but it meant there was something they could withhold. Also they despised electric gadgets, though they did get a “waste disposal unit” for the sink, which made a horrible noise and ate a lot of Georgian silver teaspoons. I’m sure my mother used to push potato peelings down it with her fingers while it was on.)

Bidet, two sinks to wash up in, salad spinner.
Fitted carpets. Soft toilet paper. Colour TV.
Not sure if it was the master bedroom ensuite or the stone lion on a plinth in the garden.
One word - Lladró.
My friend's Dad had a study and always asked me what career I’d chosen - I was 10.
A serving hatch.
Fish knives and cake forks.
Fancy biscuits for every day.
Pot pourri, mahogany TV cabinet, VHS spinning shelves.
My friend was called Chris, until you were in his house and he was called Christopher.
Guest soaps in the shape of shells and a phone in the parent’s bedroom.
Phone table, guest room, ottoman, front garden, utility room, breakfast room.
A front room called the "morning room".
Taking your shoes off in the house.
Home-made puddings every day.
Keeping the Radio Times in a faux leather folder with ‘Radio Times’ on the front in gold letters.
Coca Cola when it wasn't a birthday party.
Choc ices in the fridge, a whole box of crisp packets, being allowed to take food between meals.

Soap on a magnetic arm. I often think I dreamt this, but the bar of soap had a little disk of metal pressed into it, and it hung off a magnetic thing.

In the 70s our back yard (with outside toilet and coal shed) was converted into an extension. My mum still calls it her 'East Wing'.

When I was a kid, the posh ones wore 100% shop-bought clothes. It might seem amazing now but things like shorts, sweaters, socks, scarves and dresses in the 1950s were just about all home-made among most of my class-mates.

Supper is a bowl of Frosties. (I once stayed with an aristocratic family who lived in a stately home. But they had cereal for supper, in the kitchen, and then watched TV. I tried to persuade my parents to do the same, but they wheeled out the line about “learning how to behave in formal situations”, and “setting a good example” for my eight-year-old brother.)

I was born in the 1940s and lived in privately rented housing (with an outside toilet). But when I suggested to my mother that she put her name down for one of the council houses with all mod cons the snobbery kicked in, and she said "only common people lived there"... It was more to do with the infinite gradations of class, and whether people sounded their H's or not. My mother's mother was from the upper servant sphere, and I think she saw council-house tenancies as for the labouring classes. It was quite intricate.

White pepper in its original container from the shop.
Dairylea was considered posh in our street.
We had Walls Viennetta for pudding! Mint flavour. (Lucky things.)
Variety cereal boxes “were considered profligate in our household". (And ours.)

A hardwood stereogram with a glorified giant toast rack next to it full of classical albums.  A very small black and white TV for those rare occasions when there was a good documentary on BBC2.

Playing classical music while eating homemade lasagne with a side salad at a dining table in a room with no TV on. Followed by homemade tiramisu for dessert. Oh, and it was called dinner, not tea or supper.

Using a cup and saucer, dads went to work in a suit to an office not down the pit, wine with evening meal, went abroad for holidays not to Hornsea or Ireland, rugs on polished wood floors. (Guilty as charged – though we did holiday in Ireland.)

Parents that engaged you in conversation. (Others say: “They talked at meals, instead of sitting in silence.”)

A spice rack. We only ever had salt in the cupboard. (The herbs were all dried, and these days Upwards grow their own.)

A separate immaculate living room that you weren't allowed to enter, let alone play in. (My parents tried this one, without much success.)

Engraved napkin rings. “Visitors were assigned a napkin ring from the guest set, kept in a special velvet-lined box in the sideboard.”

Dinner didn’t arrive on your plate, there were serving dishes on the table or a hostess trolley, with serving spoons and napkins. At home I just got given a plate of food. Served dinner at the table – owned tureens and stuff. (A lot of extra work, and assumes someone else will do the washing-up.)

I remember being completely bemused by the concept of a milk jug. 
Nobody left the table before everyone had finished. (Someone comments “I had to suffer that too.”)
Dishwasher, and they put whole peppercorns in the dinner.
Kids who referred to mum and dad as their ‘parents’ and their nan as ‘gran’ or ‘grandma’.

No visible religious iconography.
Imperial Leather soap.
Gold-top milk.
Brown bread.
Original art on the wall. (Sometimes by relatives or friends.)
An old upright piano.
Large, well maintained back gardens.
Melon as a starter.
Grapes on the sideboard.
A landing half-way up the stairs.
Garden furniture made of wicker.
Gravy boat on the table.
Salad in a bowl, without a sliced boiled egg but with vinaigrette.
Mayonnaise (home-made, not Hellman’s).
Telly in another room.
Not opening Christmas presents until after lunch. (Probably to teach children “deferred gratification”.)
Multiple kids who don’t share a room.
Downstairs and upstairs toilets.

Air fresheners plugged into the wall. A knitted lady hiding the toilet roll in the bathroom. Not being allowed ketchup at dinner because it’s too ‘common’ and finally not being allowed food upstairs.

A "formal dining room" they never normally went into. (One family only used it for Christmas.)
Decorative plates hung on the wall.
Dream topping and angel delight for pudding. 
A transparent plastic mat over the carpet the length of the hall.
Quiche and laminate flooring.
A 32-piece shiny cutlery set complete with fish knives in a purple velvet box.
Pampas grass... and it didn't smell like people lived there.
Video cassettes kept in cases that looked like hardback books.
Good outdoor garden toys.
Double glazing and radiators.
Doilies, antimacassars.
Mid-week fizzy drinks, a plastic wipeable table cloth.
A non-standard bathroom colour.
An immaculately tidy house

My mate lived in a house that had a name. His dad had a bar with a full-sized snooker table in it, and a woman who just did stuff around the house but didn’t live there. 

Colour telly in more than one bedroom.
Shag pile carpets that got hoovered every day.
Globe drinks cabinet.
A silver carriage for the After Eights box.
One whole room of house devoted to an electric organ – or a complete orchestra of instruments.
Two staircases and a housekeeper.
A room called a "den".
Onyx table lighter.
Leather sofa. Stairs you could see through. Shop cake.
A marble chess set on a wooden board always set ready to go but nobody ever dared play it.

More here, and links to the rest.

Saturday, 16 June 2018

Class is Dead, Long Live Class 3

Class is dead? Only if you redefine class as something that happens to be dead.

Writer Sophie Hannah says that when people learn she comes from Manchester they assume she comes from a “deprived” background. She has had to tell people: "My parents went to Oxford University, actually, and we all drink Earl Grey tea."
Those people were well read and well travelled; they loved meeting people from other cultures and countries. They prided themselves on their curiosity about the world around them.
 (Kerry Hudson,, on nice, educated people who recycle – but sneer at chavs.)

The rich accumulate wealth not just in the form of money but in enjoyment of the suffering of others. (@theseantcollins)

It was a curious social pattern, looking back. It was snobbish, I suppose; on the other hand, a certain type of snobbishness was much looked down upon. People who introduced the aristocracy into their conversation too frequently were disapproved of and laughed at. Three phases have succeeded each other during the span of my life. In the first the questions would be: ‘But who is she, dear? Who are her people? Is she one of the Yorkshire Twiddledos? Of course, they are badly off, very badly off, but she was a Wilmot.’ This was to be succeeded in due course by: ‘Oh yes, of course they are pretty dreadful, but then they are terribly rich.’ ‘Have the people who have taken The Larches got money?’ ‘Oh well, then we’d better call.’ The third phase was different again: ‘Well, dear, but are they amusing?’ ‘Yes, well of course they are not well off, and nobody knows where they came from, but they are very very amusing.’ (Agatha Christie, An Autobiography)

Our behaviour is also still a giveaway: lab studies show that working-class people are more likely to employ eye-contact, laughter and head nods when interacting with others, compared to a more disengaged non-verbal style from the middle/upper classes. And class can be read at greater than chance levels even from stimuli as basic as Facebook photographs or seven words of speech. So we feel a certain class, and others can detect that class fairly easily... Working-class people are more likely to consider the world as a mass of forces and risks to contend with and accommodate... Meanwhile, middle/upper-class people are more motivated by internal states and personal goals... The issue is how they should shape the world, not how it pushes back on them. This is indicated by a higher sense of perceived control, and more confidence that good things happen to people due to their choices... University deans and administrators asked to list qualities of their culture tended to endorse words more about independence – the natural state of the solipsistic upper-class person, charting their course into the future – than interdependence, which tends to be a particular priority for first-generation university goers, looking to give back to their community. (BPS Digest)

You could tell what class a person was by the way they smoked their cigarettes. Lower classes kept the ciggy stuck on their lips while they were talking. (imdb)

Taxpayers Alliance/IEA Tory fringe meeting on helping the young: Biggest clap for 29-yr-old in audience saying young folk can’t buy houses cos they are too “entitled” and waste £ on “fake tans”, football “season tickets” and out twice/week drinking “10 pints”. (Solomon Hughes‏ @SolHughesWriter)

Samantha Upward is vainly looking for “reality” in the cracks between Youtube and McDonalds. “Why do I have to know what a McDonald’s is?” wails a London Review of Books contributor.

Both Upwards and Weybridges feel that correcting facts is bad manners. This enables them to believe any old rubbish.

A friend of a friend moved to Marlow. A rather grand chum wailed: "Marlow? But there'll be nobody there you could be friends with!"

An obituary of writer Sue Margolis describes her parents: “Donald Wener, a dapper, moustachioed RAF man turned civil servant, and Audrey (nee Dixon), a nurse turned bank clerk”, and ascribes her success despite being bottom of the class as a child to the “aspirational ethos of the lower-middle-class culture of Gants Hill.” 

150 years ago, the landed gentry were the ruling class. They lost their power, but we still somehow feel that they are the best people who lead perfect lives that we should imitate. They may not run the country – to such an extent – any more, but we think they are superior to us.

Writer Jilly Cooper nailed the class system in the 70s – but she didn't get everything right. She claimed that Social Class D are inarticulate. Perhaps she’d never met any Cockneys or Irish people or Welshmen or Liverpudlians or…

More here, and links to the rest.

Friday, 15 June 2018

World of Interiors 13

The venue currently called Harry Cockers had been through many identities in the previous decade, as various kinds of bars and restaurants became fashionable. Its latest manifestation was very thirties, with bright jagged lines along every surface, and wall-panels showing geometrically stylized silhouettes of dancing figures in evening dress. (Simon Brett, Dead Giveaway)

Alex Polizzi: Depersonalise! It’s not your house! 
Also Alex Polizzi: It’s so beige, darling. Add some personality! (@sleuthstress)

a) Remove the naff knicknacks.
b) Add some more upmarket knicknacks.

Perhaps the attraction is “I am staying in an upmarket hotel therefore I am an upmarket person.” And then they can put the price up. By “beige”, Alex doesn’t mean “everything is the colour of straw, sand or digestive biscuits”, she means it’s “dull”.

Bed runners have reached Travelodge, reports an informant.

An article points out that property programmes always recommend “knocking through”, and that the “void” has become bigger and bigger.

A recent (2018) study showed that American houses are getting bigger and bigger, but American families live in about a third of the space. Diagram shows an unused dining room, a barely used “reception room” and a lived-in “family room”.

The NRs have built a lovely new house with a light-filled atrium. It has all the usual rooms, but they’re quadruple the usual size, and the furniture looks a bit lost. Mrs NR has space for yoga in her enormous bedroom, but she wonders what to do with the huge field that surrounds the house. She can’t even put a swimming pool out there – it’s in the basement. Caro suggests a croquet lawn and herbaceous borders, and Samantha offers to create a shrubbery with winding paths, and a pergola with vines.

Per the New Yorker, vast US McMansions have “lawyer foyers” and “garage mahals”. The lawyer, presumably, never gets further than the foyer. “Hall, please – only theatres and hotels have foyers,” says Caro. “And it doesn’t rhyme with lawyer, vous voyez?” “Or is it modelled on the office of a New York law firm?” asks Samantha.

Starting in the 1930s, modernist design brought indoor and outdoor spaces to flow together with greater ease. To seek out even more air and light, interior spaces became less distinguished from one another. A new moralism underwrote the opening of the house plan, too: that a house’s design should facilitate a lofty attitude in its occupants... The hope was that light and openness in the physical environment might elevate the social and creative virtues of the individuals who lived there. (

See the Victorians designing cemeteries as arboreta with winding paths, explicitly hoping that the “chastely designed” monuments would “elevate the taste” of those who strolled there. Betjeman’s “bright canteens” were intended to cheer up the workers. But remember what they were replacing: mid-century cemeteries were grim, and Edwardian workers’ facilities were dimly lit and painted cream, green and brown.

Samantha shocks her friends by rebuilding the knocked-through walls of her Victorian terraced house, and turning the back “space” into a kitchen instead of building a science lab over the garden. She remodels the 60s kitchen as a "scullery" with a sink and washing machine, and she has her eye on the old lavatory at the bottom of the garden. Why not restore it?

More here, and links to the rest.

Friday, 12 January 2018

World of Interiors 12

Arranging books on shelves with spines inwards is a ridiculous “trend” much touted in early 2018. (To achieve the same effect, cover your books in neutral-coloured paper, as people used to do.)

"I suppose we’ve always reused things", says Caro Stow-Crat, over lunch with Samantha Upward at a new eaterie accessorised with redundant kitchen equipment. "An old hot water can is splendid for watering the garden. But I get a bit depressed by all these empty cake stands and old fire buckets. It’s OK to reuse things, but as decoration? I suppose it’s the same as hanging up copper warming pans and carpet beaters, like they did in the 50s. Now, what can I do with granny's spill vases…?"

"Put pencils in them," suggests Samantha. "Oh, look, a lovely old wooden Camembert box. And a Horlicks mug... I must confess I stole a Fortnum's chocolate box from a girl at school. I used it as a pencil case and kept it for years. We call it "repurposing" now!"

Country Living Magazine shows a bedroom with a wooden four-poster bed (though the posts are too short to hold up a canopy). The floorboards are exposed but have been sanded and sealed too aggressively (they’re orange and look too new). The door is made of recycled wood and looks like a stable door (in a Georgian house). There are recycled planks stuck to the wall, forming a backdrop to a Victorian picture of some sheep in a gilt frame. The whole effect is of a titled family down on its luck that has been forced to camp in an outbuilding.

Though it's not quite as decadent as the “abandoned houses of the Hebrides” aesthetic, which shades into “servants’ quarters of derelict Irish country house”.

The School of Life’s perfect home is, again, Georgian. The floorboards are exposed, though they at least look antique. The Georgians would have put down drugget, and covered it with Turkish carpets. There’s a chest of drawers floating randomly in a corner, and an open trunk on the floor. A distressed leather pouffe is the crowning touch – or is it a Gladstone bag?

DECOR CRIMESIn a Victorian/Edwardian house, it's naff to expose the fireplace and put a copper hood inside, then add a wood mantelpiece of the wrong period. The fireplace would have had an inner “surround”, with a cast iron grate in the middle. The Edwardians and earlier would have been appalled at exposed brick in your living-room. A Victorian room would have had a wide mantelpiece (with drapery on the mantelshelf), and the Edwardians loved elaborate overmantels. (I've just seen a room in a house for sale painted entirely in peach – including the fireplace, mantelpiece and grate.)

In a Victorian house, don't strip the doors: paint them cream.

And don't knock through and extend so enthusiastically that you end up with odd bits of wall sticking into spaces. In this arrangement, the same dull fitted carpet “flows” through the entire ground floor. Everything is too new, but there’s one ye olde artefact in the wrong place (the potato weighing scales in the living room).

Think twice before adding a “glass box” extension to a standard semi. So you remove all downstairs dividing walls and build a huge glass-roofed extension into the garden, removing all character from because you need lots of space to... do what exactly?

The entrance hall, which was big enough to contain a large fireplace, had probably been designed to be used as a breakfast-room. The first thing seen on coming in was... a wood-carving of a helmeted guardsman with a shield and spear standing on a pediment carved with animal heads. (The Great Indoors, Ben Highmore on a Jacobethan castle – from the 30s.)

White walls and a large black-and-white photograph of pebbles .(The Great Indoors, Ben Highmore)

Dangling replica antique light bulbs (Edison bulbs). They give out a dim, cold light that you can’t read by.

Fake shuttered concrete internal cladding.

Garish carpets in public spaces.

Very dim lighting in public spaces and museums.

“Restoring” Victorian ghost signs.

Giant sculptures of human body parts in public places (a half-sunk visage in Cavendish Square, huge nudes outside St Pancras church blocking the view of the beautiful caryatids).

Terrible modern art in medieval cathedrals.
Frosted glass partitions.
Buildings in the shape of a giant human head. (Le Guetteur 2015)

Sentimental garden sculptures, “sculpture park” sculpture, memorial sculpture.

From The Times
carpet in bathrooms
armchairs ditto
TV in every room
Roman blind in kitchen
pedestal mats in the loo
cat litter in kitchen (and cat food)
utensil rack above hob
Victorian pulley clothes drier (maiden)
Aga in the city "They’re used mainly for heating country houses.”

More here, and links to the rest.

Monday, 1 January 2018

What to Wear 7

The Daily Mail has some style rules for women at work, 2016:

Replace your droopy cardigan with a tailored jacket.
Update your scuffed handbag. They recommend something “structured” with panels of patent leather.
No scuffed shoes, trainers or flip-flops.
Avoid flashy, clanking jewellery, but don’t replace it with tiny, timid, conventional pendants and earrings.
Avoid too much animal print.
Keep updating your image, and get your teeth done.
Shoes and bags – invest in quality.
Don’t wear anything too tight (skinny jeans, or a pencil skirt that ends up as a concertina of wrinkles).
No ripped jeans.
Dark denim is classier than bleached.

Caroline Stow-Crat comments: "My 'scuffed' handbag was handmade for my grandmother and is still going strong, thank you very much. And I would ban animal print in offices – or anywhere! How about a nice velvet blazer with an antique brooch on the lapel?" She wonders when a bowtie, a perfectly normal accessory worn with men's evening dress, became a “dicky bow”? A "dicky" is a fake blouse consisting of a Mao collar and enough material to show through a V-necked jumper. It's a useful way of using up remnants, and will delude your friends that you own more blouses than you do.

In the US, people look down on jeans with rhinestones, writing or flowers on the back pockets – or without back pockets.

Two-buttoned sports jackets were naff, and “never brown in town”. (JP)

A lady would not go to a wedding in her riding clothes, and she would not go shopping in a ball gown. At a basic level, she shows her taste and decorum by dressing quietly. She does not seek to draw attention to herself through her dress. Elegance is found in understatement. A lady’s apparel should be neat and tidy.
(Victorian etiquette manual)

In September 2017, John Lewis removed “boys” and “girls” labels from its children’s clothes. In response, a Catholic priest vowed never to visit the department store again, with or without a cassock. Caro wonders why small children are all dressed in pyjamas these days.

The piece of Burma jewellery worn glitteringly over one breast instead of in the centre where any sensible woman would have worn it. Or the shoes cut away so that the big toe was open to the weather. Or the clip-on ear-rings.
(A character from London Belongs to Me by Norman Collins worries about his daughter’s choice of friend. The Burma company made Art Deco rhinestone brooches.)

"My dear! and got up regardless... one of those little hats with an eye-veil... three-inch diamanté heels... such bad taste with a semi-toilette... fish-net stockings and all...’ (In Murder Must Advertise, by Dorothy L. Sayers, two typists speculate about an unexpected visitor to the office. Another Sayers character, Miss Murchison, wears skirts that are “the regulation four inches below the knee” – in the 20s - and “not too much face powder”.)

"You won't mind Robert not wearing evening dress," she said. "He never will if he can help it. I shall just slip on a semi-toilette myself." (All Roads Lead to Calvary, Jerome K Jerome But what was it? A more restrained kind of evening dress?)

In the 1950s and 60s, there was a type of older lady who wore hot pink lipstick, a fur coat, magnificent faux jewellery, a Chanel-style suit over a corselette, long lacquered nails and lots of rings. She walked about in a cloud of expensive perfume. She had been elegant all her life. She pretended she’d heard what you’d said, and understood what you were talking about, and laughed rather desperately. She may have thought it common to keep saying “What did you say?”, associating deafness with lower-class ailments like adenoids. EM Forster in Howard’s End calls it “degraded deafness”. Poor Jacky is always saying “What?”, but she is “not respectable”.

The Times had a field day when Pippa Middleton married a hedge fund manager. Apparently HFMs are VERY rich. But the couple are new, not old Chelsea: “Pippa is a nouveau-Chelsea girl.” 

“To us Notting Hill dwellers, these ladies seem to live in a fashion time warp. ‘Frankly, Pippa often looks like she’s going to work in an office as a secretary,’ says a neighbour. ‘You have to understand that fundamentally Pippa and Kate’s style is English suburban,’ says a society friend. ‘They’re very plain and safe in their choices.’”

An interior designer speculates about the couple's new home: “There will be white sofas with pink and turquoise touches. Not too modern... Perhaps a Perspex table with some colour... There will be a Plain English kitchen and lots of Farrow & Ball."

The Times adds that “having been raised in a middle-class household”, Pippa probably won’t employ many staff, but for big dinners she may hire a sought-after Italian butler. 
Basically, concludes the Times, “She is a Home Counties girl at heart”. And what could be more damning?

More here, and links to the rest.

Friday, 8 December 2017

Modern Manners

Caro Stow-Crat here. People are always saying that there's no such thing as etiquette these days, but we need modern manners for the modern world. I couldn't agree more. Personally, I won’t have people looking at their phones during meals. If you have to take an urgent call, excuse yourself and leave the room. And correcting your family’s Facebook posts is hardly good manners. It’s like interrupting them mid-anecdote to say: “It was 1985 – and we were in Boulogne.” Both are off-limits.
Oh, and never, ever tell a writer what to write about.

According to the owner of Ragley Hall, the height of rudeness is to send a postcard written in pencil. These days the equivalent is breaking off a relationship via fax. Or is that terribly old-fashioned? It would be text these days, or WhatsApp. You could even Instagram a picture of yourself and your new partner. Unless your wife does it first. Now there's an idea...

Rattling jewellery and squeaking shoes have been condemned since the days of Queen Victoria, but what about the clip-clop of high heels? Is it my imagination, or do cheap shoes make more of a noise?

When you eat, try not to make clanking sounds with your cutlery on your plate. To some people, a knife squeaking on a plate is as bad as fingernails down a blackboard.

I loved Howard's End, didn't you? But did Tracey Ullman really commit a gaffe by spooning jam directly onto her toast? I'm afraid so. She should have used the jam spoon to transfer some confiture to her plate. She should then apply the jam to her toast with her knife. And she should not have applied jam to toast in mid-air – butter and jam are spread while the toast is on your plate. The fact that the plate is small, and not flat, makes this awkward, but that’s middle-class manners for you. Everything is more difficult than it needs to be. (My friends the Teales would say “than it need be”. They love the subjunctive.)

Napkins may all be paper these days ("serviette" if you must), but the rules haven't changed. Unfold it and put it on your knee immediately you sit down. Arrange it carelessly rather than folding it neatly.

Puddings should be eaten with a fork if possible.

If you still smoke (we send guests out on the terrace), put the cigarette in the corner of your mouth, not the centre, and hold it between two fingers, not your finger and thumb. But do take it out of your mouth when you're talking. I still don't know quite what to do when somebody smokes one of those "vape" things. And they smell like boiled sweets.

British people sometimes say, “You must drop by if you’re passing,” or “We must meet for coffee”, or “We must have lunch some time”. Ignore them. British people never just “drop in”. They like to be prepared for guests by tidying the rooms they will welcome you into and hiding all the clutter. And they have to be mentally prepared. They need time to put on their clean clothes and their social persona. Unfortunately Britain lacks places where people can meet spontaneously. Of course, they may be giving you a hint that they want you to do all the hard work and make the social arrangements. It can all degenerate into a game of "After you, Claude".

If your date takes you to his favourite restaurant and flirts with his favourite waitress in front of you, break it off. Actually, just get up and walk out.

It is extremely rude and pedantic, when engaged in general conversation, to make quotations in a foreign language. (Gent's Etiquette, 1860)

Well-bred people never intrude where they are not wanted. (Marie Corelli)

Once upon a time it was considered the height of indelicacy and low breeding to mention the ‘liver’ or any other portion of one’s internal machinery. (Marie Corelli)

An ambassador explains: “there is really only one downside to having been an ambassador. Every person who comes to my house for dinner or a party brings me Ferrero Rocher chocolates. Each one thinks they have been incredibly funny and original.” He added that he doesn’t even like Ferrero Rocher. (Times, 2017)

More here, and links to the rest.

Monday, 27 November 2017

You Are What You Eat 12

Thirty or forty years ago, holidaying Upwards loved French pavement cafés and Italian piazzas, but back at home they led their lives behind closed doors. They didn’t eat out often, because they could only go to expensive French restaurants, or Italian restaurants in Soho. They couldn’t go to cafés (all working class), or chains like Wimpy and the Golden Egg (lower middle class, full of tourists). They didn’t go to pubs much (noisy, smoky, full of the wrong people). They spent as little time as possible in public places (crowded with the “hoi polloi”). They hated to see and be seen. We went to endless “bring a bottle” parties in each other’s homes. But then we began to go to community festivals and fringe theatre and comedy gigs and salsa classes and gyms... Some American research concludes that people meet in public places more now than they did 30 years ago.

According to the broadsheets, burger chains have “transformed the British dining experience” in the last ten years. They mean upmarket burger chains in central London (Byron, Five Guys), not Wimpy, Wendy, McDonalds, Burger King and Star which have been with us for decades. You’ll find a McDonalds everywhere, but the others are more often seen in working-class areas, are much cheaper, have no gourmet touches and don’t qualify as a “dining experience”. You can get a decent burger in some pubs, too, with proper chips.

Oh, no, it’s not burgers, it’s the sandwich: The world-beating British sandwich industry is worth £8bn a year. It transformed the way we eat lunch, then did the same for breakfast – and now it’s coming for dinner. Guardian Nov 2017 (Food can only “transform British lunching” if someone is making billions out of it.)

The papers also say the young are discovering low-alcohol wine (and Tesco has a new range). Not like the old paint-stripper versions of the past! (We had perfectly decent low-alc wine and beer in the 80s, thanks. Always wondered where it went.)

Old St pop-up breakfast snack: Brazilian cheese bread with cassava flour. (@HamishMThompson)

Have been underfed stupid arty food: going for pizza now. (Friend writes from biz conf in Milan)

Now that all hipster cafés are tricked out in recycled wood and distressed school chairs and Edison lightbulbs, caffs are catching on to the trend. They provide decent coffee (and distressed wood), but menus can be slightly strange. There's one in Broadway market that offers English breakfast, chips and gozleme, but can’t get its head round the sandwich. You get very thick bread (two slices) with far too much filling, and a lot of shredded iceberg lettuce that falls out when you try and bite it. Which you can’t, because it’s about the size of the complete works of Shakespeare in one volume. And you don’t get a knife and fork.

But to Upwards, the thinner the sandwich, the more common it is. Like a fish-paste sandwich on white bread with the crusts cut off. Damp, bland and easy to eat (cut in triangles with a sprinkling of cress, please). Sandwiches like this come with a handful of potato crisps, in a half-timbered café somewhere like Marlborough. It’s decorated with oak beams, copper pans and Victorian china, and it's called the Polly Tea-Rooms. (It is, really.)

Central London is now full of noodle bars, sushi bars and burrito bars – for the visitors. An American ex-colleague once told me: "It’s OK to go to Dublin now – there are Thai restaurants!"

Apparently Wetherspoons are “cheap and tacky” and “chav central”. (Thankyou, internet. Update: the boss of Wetherpoons is printing pro-Brexit messages on beer mats.)

Wine-tasting and wine snobbery were popular with the middle classes in the 70s, epecially among young couples who had just bought their first house. It was like announcing that you were now an adult and had bought into the bourgeoisie. See also weddings in picturesque country churches.

Mary Berry has announced the death of the dining room. In her new house, she’s repurposed the room and is extending her kitchen so that she can eat in it. 

At Prince George’s school, “the canteen serves such dishes as lamb ragout with garlic and herbs, pork stroganoff with red peppers and smoked mackerel on a bed of puy lentils”. When the news got out, there was a run on Puy lentils. Upwards like these because they are a tasteful shade of dark brown and don’t go mushy when cooked, unlike the bright orange lentils you can get in the corner shop. I’m so glad I’m not going to Prince George’s school aged four. Someone should airlift his class some chicken nuggets and chips.

More here, and links to the rest.