Sunday, 18 January 2015

World of Interiors, Again

A Radio 4 Interviewee who grew up on a council state says that the built environment expresses the class system – you know which layer you are in by looking at your surroundings. (But of course “There’s no such thing as class any more”.)

Daily Mail always mentions how much someone’s house cost (to locate them socially).

The fashion for a collection of junk shop flower paintings leaning against the wall has reached adverts.

If Upwards want to sit at a kitchen table they have to go to a posh café. For about 100 years, they have felt that they ought to aspire to Bohemia rather than Suburbia. They wouldn’t like it really.

Upwards hate people to make money out of property – unless it’s them – and it has to happen by accident. In the 70s and 80s they would buy a “shell” – a ruin that they spent years doing up themselves. They babbled of high ceilings and “beautifully proportioned” rooms, and spent all their weekends chipping paint off the original ceiling roses. (They have laptops and cafes now, and outsource the plaster-chipping.)

Were the houses built with high ceilings to prove that you could waste the space? Or because of Victorian superstitions about “foul air” and the miasmatic theory? It’s why Victorian schools were huge, high halls. The hot, “exhausted” air rose to the ceiling and fresh air came in through the windows and the pupils froze. One plus is that you can have tall windows that let in a lot of light, but tall rooms are harder to heat.

Property programmes are always asking “Are you going to change the layout?” This still shocks Samantha Upward slightly – are you really allowed to turn a kitchen into a bedroom? Houses had drawing rooms, dining rooms and kitchens (and perhaps halls, snugs and booteries). The most she and friends would do was “knock through” and talk knowledgeably about “RSJs”.

Upwards and Weybridges aspire to a big house at the end of a long, long drive so that you’re cut off from other people – they call this “tranquillity”. The drive is gravel, not tarmac. The Middletons have a tarmac drive at their large house in Berkshire – and what’s wrong with that? Too like a road? Not eco-friendly? Upwards love to get together and complain about people who “concrete over their front gardens”. Nouveau-Richards have a sea of gravel right up to their front door, so that 30 guests can park at once. Upwards can’t actually afford to move to the kind of house that has a drive, and besides they secretly love living in cities.

In American sitcoms, a vivid crocheted Afghan over the back of the sofa is a sign we’re in a blue-collar home. Same goes for ceiling fans.

Nouveau-Richards have “hobby farms”.

Oscar Wilde said that a gentleman never stands at a window. In the 60s, council estates were given windows that you can’t lean out of and shout down to someone in the street. (Oh, OK, they didn’t want people to fall out either.)

More here, and links to the rest.

Get the Look

According to the wonderful Great Interior Design Challenge:

a bit of bamboo
rustic: some exposed wood
French: carved wood painted grey
modern Shaker: a light made out of a silver birch log
authentic:  either “with a Middle Eastern feel” or “an old door turned into a coffee table”

I’d describe my style as modern vintage with a hint of kitsch... I like everything to be quite minimal, but at the same time I really love period features... I’m light, bright and a little bit crazy. 

The client wants a “sophisticated boutique style”. She gets “French sunshine with hints of traditional and a bit of a contemporary feel to it”.

I really like the vintage contemporary look.

It’s very colonial, I can feel it! Bamboo and everything... (Her colonial scheme includes a feature wall of mirrors.)

She’s got to keep it classy – don’t go too themey!

This is rustic meets industrial because rustic is really on trend just now. (The contestant’s “industrial” touch consisted of painting a standard-lamp black because factories are full of black stuff, yeah?)

And from Ebay:
Vintage retro Art Deco Edwardian style

Large vintage convex mirror – copper Arts and Crafts with Regency style! (It looks like a porthole, with token vestigial “rivets”.)

I think that, to Americans, "colonial style" is 17th-18th century. To Brits, it means bungalows in Poona.

More here, and links to the rest.

Decor Quotes

Mansion house

Don’t buy big just because you can. McMansions are so aesthetically awful, ecologically offensive, and ostentatious. Do you really need eight bedrooms?
(Males, Nails, Sample Sales by Stephanie Pearson)

I know you like shape, form, colour and texture! (Great Interior Design Challenge)

There’s a strong luxury presence out there – especially at the classic end. (Manufacturer of de luxe bedroom furniture on BBC Breakfast. Think he means "rich people".)

It is all the more shocking when you see the miserable-looking 1920's and 30's art-deco houses that the upper-middle class have traded for their former elegant 19th century residences. ( forum on the way immigrants live in Brussels’ 19th century centre while the rich have moved out to the suburbs: the city is just “the wrong way round”. Because of course 19th century houses ought to be inhabited by rich people, and it’s all wrong that they are forced to live in ghastly Art Deco monstrosities.)

Entering Dromborg Castle is like stepping into the past. The interior has exquisite details, including hand-carved moldings, fluted columns, high ceilings, floor-to-ceiling windows, and antique lighting. The master suite has an appointments suitable for a lord and lady of the manor, complete with two dressing rooms, Tudor arches, marble tubs, and a sitting room. A chapel, men’s lounge, map room and wine cellar help complete the illusion. ( describes a nouveau riche home, Feb 2012)

With his black-walnut furniture, his jig-saw and turning-lathe methods of decoration, his lincrusta-walton and pressed terracotta, his chromos, wax flowers, hoop skirts, chokers, side whiskers and pantalettes, went a horrific revival of mock modesty inspired by the dying efforts of the old formulated religious thought. (Are You A Bromide? Gelett Burgess on mid-Victorian décor and attitudes.)

his jig-saw and turning-lathe methods of decoration: fretwork, often produced by amateurs

lincrusta-walton: patent shiny embossed wallpaper

pressed terracotta: bricks with decorative moulding

chromos: gaudily coloured and sentimental chromolithograph prints

hoop skirts: crinolines

pantalettes: lacy trousers to conceal women’s ankles and more

More here and links to the rest.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Choose Your Words Carefully 2

What a drag it is gettin' old
Hippy Sloanes used to call practically everything “draggy”.

In the 60s Upwards and Weybridges were utterly shocked by... the Beatles’ song She Loves You Yeah Yeah Yeah. We’re British! We don’t say “yeah”! After that, practically every pop song had a “yeah” in it. The middle classes survived.

And now Prince William says wahldlife and terrrists (for wildlife and terrorists). Excuse me while I have a conniption.

A woman said she was attacked for “having the wrong accent” during an anti-capitalist protest in Trafalgar Square on Wednesday. She was assaulted after wandering into the Million Mask March attended by 4,0000 people. She said: “The person turned to me, saying, ‘not all of us have mummies and daddies to look after us’, then he lunged at me. I assume I was targeted because of my accent. (Times Nov 2014)

George Osborne and Tony Blair are vilified for trying to tone down their public-school accents. (And Tony Benn in his day, according to Jilly Cooper.)

Ben and David Crystal (actor/philologist) say that Received Pronunciation (talking posh) began to go out circa 2000. (But it has been vilified since the 70s, when lefty Upwards adopted a peculiar social-worker mockney accent, which has now quite disappeared. They shocked their parents and more conservative friends by calling children “kids”.)

I wish Upwards would stop saying “Can I just squeeze past?” when they mean “Excuse me”. It’s so passive-aggressive.

Teales don’t understand Upward overstatement. If Samantha Upward says of a hairspray-loving friend: “Her hair was glued into place!”, Jen will think she means it literally.

Sam wails that people say “slaw” to mean salad. (It’s Dutch for salad.)

Teales and Definitelies pronounce Deirdre (dear-dree) as Deedree. They also say “here” as “heee” rather than “hee-yah”. Stow Crats say “hare and thare”.

Teales (and northerners?) say “bip” for poop as in “poop your horn”. (Bipping or bibbing.) Is it because poop now means poo?

During apartheid, Upwards sneered at South African accents.

Posh young people used to call their parents “the parentals”, now they call them “the rents” (except that’s probably about 10 years out of date).

Weybridges pronounce Noah as “nor” and mayor as “mare”. (Upwards give them two syllables.) They also say “haff to be” and “hass to be”.

In the programme Under Offer, an estate agent from Durham says she couldn’t work in London because she’d feel uncomfortable. “I’d feel like a common, rough Northerner, because of the accent, which I don’t think I could change.” Her accent is lovely. So, still think class is a thing of the past?

More here.

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. (

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. ( 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 how corporal punishment and deprivation make children behave.)

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!

Ampersand Travel are offering this tour:

Learn how to be an English Gentleman on this six day tour of London and Berkshire. While in the capital stay at one of London's most quintessentially British hotels, The Connaught, well located in the heart of Mayfair. Go shopping with your private fashion expert to source the best of British hunting and shooting gear in some of London's most exclusive shopping streets, such as Bond Street, Jermyn Street and Savile Row. Once kitted out in style head to Coworth Park, a beautiful luxury country house hotel in Berkshire. At Coworth engage in a range of traditionally British country pursuits such as riding, polo, shooting, tennis and croquet. From Coworth Park you are well based to attend exclusive events on the British social summer calendar such as Royal Ascot, Wimbledon Tennis Championships, the Chelsea Flower Show, Epsom Derby, Henley Royal Regatta, Cartier International Polo Day and Last Night at The Proms. This tour includes luxury vehicles for all transfers and private Blue Badge guides for sightseeing tours. Anyone who books... will receive a complimentary copy of Debrett's 'Guide for the Modern Gentleman'.
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

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.] (, 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.