Tuesday, 8 August 2017
The middle classes have conniption fits over every new gadget and every new fad, as if they’d never seen anything new before. Which is odd, because capitalism depends on endless novelty. But the Upwards are appalled every time.
They make predictions about the terrible harm the innovation will do. And then they identify a special innovation disease…
They usually get over it in 10 years, though some still say they “don’t do Facebook because I don’t know how it works”. It’s not done to notice that the Smartphone flap is the same flap we had about the Internet, television, radio and the telephone.
Upwards can’t just join things, or buy things – they have to “succumb” or “give in”. I finally succumbed and: bought myself an iPad, Blackberry Curve, Moleskine notebook; joined Twitter, created a Tumblr, turned on CNN, got SKY, bought Emily a mini balloon. (I’ll never understand Protestant guilt.)
Secretly, they think they ought to be carving all their own tools out of wood with a home-made flint knife. They have food processors and Mac books and tablets and Smartphones – but they can always project their tech disapproval onto the new phenomenon. Is this “virtue signalling”?
Prediction: TV will rot our childrens’ brains and turn them into zombies.
Since the 50s and 60s, TV has been accepted seamlessly into middle-class lives. It never rotted anyone’s brain, or ruined anyone’s eyesight.
Policing: You must watch TV with the lights out or it’ll damage your eyes. Sit at least 15 feet away, you’ll see better from there. (Probably true for middle-aged people.)
The Great Tellytubby Flap is now forgotten, and there is no sign of a blighted Tellytubby generation speaking in baby talk.
Jet travel was presumed to be evil in a uniquely modern way. Vicars preached sermons about the “jet age” and the irresponsible “jet set” who can always “jet off” somewhere else.
They can cook your innards if you leave the door open, it’s not real heat, the food isn’t really cooked, it gets as hot as a nuclear reactor, it cooks from the inside out (thanks to Giles Coren).
THE CHANNEL TUNNEL
We can’t have a channel tunnel because rabid continental foxes will invade Britain. (We’ve moved on to “Driverless cars may be hit by leaping deer”, and “Driverless cars can’t recognise kangaroos”.)
In 1674 the Women's Petition Against Coffee was filed on the grounds that coffee made men impotent, gossipy & “'Frenchified”.
Charles II not only banned coffeehouses, but also forbade people from selling coffee, chocolate, sherbet, and tea from any shop or house.
A 1706 pamphlet warned of the dangers of coffee, chocolate and tea.
In 1822 William Cobbett wrote that tea leads women into prostitution & has boys ‘lurking in bed’.
A 19th century cook book for the poor advised parents that sweetened white sauce was better for your children than “a sloppy mess of tea”.
"After that dreadfully cold place, what I really want is gallons of hot tea, if you, as a nerve specialist, can bear the thought of it.'' (Whose Body?, Dorothy Sayers)
Now we complain about coffee-shop chains: ubiquitous, tax-avoiding, worker-exploiting, and the coffee is sweet and milky.
The potato was denounced from the pulpit because it’s not mentioned in the Bible, and besides, they might give you leprosy.
Tomatoes (“love apples”) were thought to be poisonous.
(The middle classes have lost their fear of exotic vegetables, but now they need a new one every few months to stay ahead of the game.)
Trains shouldn’t exceed 30 miles an hour because the human body can’t stand such speeds.
We can’t employ women in business – they’ll grow beards!
In 1921, the Ladies Home Journal wrote that jazz music "stimulated the half crazed barbarian to the vilest deeds. It is harmful & dangerous". (They said much the same about rock'n'roll.)
Biros will ruin children’s handwriting.
Biological washing powder digests dirt – it might digest you! (60s)
Premarital sex will cause the breakdown of society! (60s. Now even fundamentalist Christians think it’s OK if you’re engaged.)
Speech-to-text will make typists redundant. (It’s hardly used. Secretaries were made redundant by bosses typing their own letters and memos into a computer. And still schoolchildren don’t get taught to touchtype properly.)
Technology will make journalists redundant, citizen journalists will take their place. Reality: BBC uses pix by "weather watchers", and a lot of “amateur video”.
Staff should not read the computer manual – they might learn something, and ask for more money.
Staff must not be allowed to choose their own font. (Fear of fonts has become snobbery about Comic Sans.)
The general public can’t be let loose on “desktop publishing”! (Fonts again – “It’ll look like a Victorian theatre poster!”)
As for ordinary people having personal websites: “Garish colours! Terrible design! Yellow type on blue!”
People start blogs and then can’t keep them up.
Facebook friends aren’t real friends.
Remember when VDUs emitted radiation and were bad for your eyes?
Computers caused RSI (repetitive strain injury). Tapping keys – the shock! – the vibration! – as if secretaries hadn’t been bashing typewriter keys for years, which is far more like hard work.
Workers will have to “multitask”! (It’s such a relief that thanks to email we don’t have to answer the phone all day. We’ve got quite used to computers. What can we panic about now?)
Computers cause computer addiction. The Internet causes sex addiction. Or just Internet addiction.
When mobile phones first came in, when – about 20 years ago? We were told not to leave them plugged in overnight, and not to leave the charger connected to the power because it wastes energy. James Thurber had an aunt who thought electricity leaked out of empty sockets…
Other people use their phones to Instagram pictures of their food. I only use mine to check my blood pressure.
They’re still asking languidly: “What is the point of Tumblr? Or LinkedIn? Or Pinterest?” or something else that has been around for years despite lacking their approval. And they’re always announcing the death of email, Twitter, Facebook and blogs.
Twitter is a torrent of vacuous bleating. (Says a non-user.)
Facebook is helping the left to eat itself: I’ve long suspected that the site is terrible for people’s mental health. (Spectator)
The internet is a powerful engine for increasing income inequality and lowering the level of public discourse. (Jonathan Franzen)
When videos were new and expensive, only a few people had them. A friend gave a party to watch the Agatha Christie episodes she’d recorded. People thought they should turn on something for guests, as they used to turn on “light music”. But you don’t really want the York Mysteries over breakfast or Wallace and Gromit over dinner.
Kate Winslet bans “devices” from her home, like our French teacher who wouldn’t let her children read comics, back in the 60s.
Whenever a vast, destroyed work of art is 3D printed, an Upward writes an article saying that this is wrong because the money would be better spent on young, contemporary artists, etc. Their real problem is that 3D printing is vulgar because it’s done by a machine. And these things are so big, and so popular, and they're in a public place where crowds of people can come and admire them.
Now it’s smartphones: "All screen activities are linked to less happiness", says an article saying no good will come of these things. And they turn children into zombies.
Did doctors ever see a flood of patients with railway spine, hula hoop back, platform shoe ankle or texter’s thumb?
Miniskirts cause cystitis, frostbite, chapped thighs and fat thighs.
Mobile phones/bras/deodorants give you cancer.
The Twist causes slipped discs. (It was a popular dance of the 60s.)
Previous modern health worries dissipated when the predicted health mayhem never emerged and the feared exotic agents became thoroughly familiar. (New Scientist Oct 6 2012)
More here, and links to the rest.
Sunday, 25 June 2017
I admired a friend's house: she had a dish full of blue and white sherds which she had collected from the beach, and chandelier crystals hanging in the windows. I tried to copy, but the results always looked lame.
A childhood friend had a bedside light in the shape of a toadstool house with figures of elves. She also had a collection of glass swans and Wade china animals displayed on a shelf. I couldn’t understand why my mother wouldn’t let me have any of these beautiful things.
It was a shock when contemporaries moved from grubby student houses to grown-up flats with fitted carpets and proper furniture, and hoovered the carpets and kept the place tidy. I was also surprised that it had been their plan all along.
In Crouch End you are judged by the neatness of your log pile.
Bournemouth's ignoble coast cowers to the right, heralding the pine-trees that mean, for all their beauty, red houses, and the Stock Exchange, and extend to the gates of London itself. So tremendous is the City's trail! (EM Forster, Howard’s End)
New buildings must be “in keeping” – but with what? Apparently it’s “the local”: a style that sprang straight from the earth, like Georgian and Victorian buildings in London stock brick.
The bar’s done up in a style called “Sheboygan rec room”: dark carpet; wood-panelled walls; plush, aging armchairs; smallish TVs. (catapult.com)
Upgrade your home!
Add recessed lighting
Reface your kitchen cabinets and add new handles
Buy a rug
Paint the walls
Install crown molding (a cornice), but remember it “looks best in traditional homes and can look out of place if you have an ultra-modern minimalistic home”.
I remember some friends at the time telling me about country cottages they had viewed – most of them were impossible due to improvements that weren’t, like woodchip wallpaper and carriage lamps outside. Easily removable, but what about the filled-in fireplaces? Another friend exposed the fireplace of his Cornish cottage: it had a massive stone lintel, and filled the room with smoke.
GET THE LOOK Tropicana Regency, Versailles Provençale (Great Interior Design Challenge)
Metallic, exotically printed fabrics scream Great Gatsby!
"My style is simple but very ornate..." (GIDC)
“Fits in with the whole country feel.” Money for Nothing on a sideboard made of a rusty feeding trough and some teak table-legs. “They have a lovely big rustic interior,” says Sarah Moores. Does “rustic” mean “living in a pigsty”, though?
“Aztec” is now applied to kilims and ikat – anything with blocks of colour with a jagged edge. I don’t know how the Aztecs would react to that, but it might involve sharp knives.
READERS, PLEASE COPY
In Babbacombe’s by “Susan Scarlett” (Noel Streatfeild), mother figure Mrs Carson is always doing up rooms on a shoestring with some “gay” or “dainty” cretonne curtains and bedcovers. Cretonne is stout cotton printed with a pattern, usually flowers, and Mrs C bought the fabric in a sale. Clearly readers were meant to follow her example. But what was Streatfeild warning against? Reusing old, dark curtains?
In a 70s Archers episode, Peggy talked of redecorating in earth colours (terracotta and peach). Would Peggy really do anything so hippy? (In the 70s everything suddenly became brown, cream or terracotta because we were worried about the environment.)
IT'S DECADENT TO...Decorate your pizzeria like a shipping warehouse.
Clad your tower block in brick panels. (I’ve even seen brick panels put on the wrong way up, with the bricks vertical.)
Paper your walls in a simulated concrete design.
Antic has taken over 45 venues and turned them into “granny chic” pubs. (Guardian June 2016) Clients may not realise that the “delightfully twee establishment... is owned by an aggressively expanding business”. They combine exposed brick walls with skip and boot sale furniture. Their designer says her job is about “taking risks. You might think, is that horrible or is that lovely? I’m not sure.” (So not “taking risks” as in kayaking up the Amazon?) They turned an old job centre in Deptford into a pub and called it The Job Centre. Local people were narked, and it closed. They’ve bought a concrete pub in Elephant. The designer says: “Yes, it’s carpark chic. Maybe that’s where I should be going with it.” (The Guardian writes as if “granny chic” was new, but it has been around in East London for about ten years like a blight.)
He had... a very large flat overlooking Marble Arch, impersonal and full of antiques which he paid a friend to choose for him. 'This is one of the biggest flats in London, and I can prove that', he said. 'It has ten rooms, three bathrooms and the furnishings are worth a fortune.' (Nik Cohn on the late Irvine Sellars of Mates boutique, a feature of Carnaby St in the 60s)
In the 50s, it was terribly grand to own a house which still had a powder closet – it showed that the house dated from the 18th century when the gentry needed a small room for powdering their hair or wig. But have we stopped trying to pretend we live at Chatsworth or Versailles at last?
Dining room tables and chairs, end tables and armoires (“brown” pieces) have become furniture non grata. (nextavenue.org)
Could hipsters save the antique furniture trade? (Apollo Magazine)
While the modern style has stayed the same forever - people still have Eames chairs and Bauhaus chairs or whatever - because it's all about functionality and use and iconicism, the 'traditional' goes through huge fads almost in cycles. (papermag.com)
See the 30s Tudoresque vision of Merrie England, with a lot of brass and oak. It was a debased form of the late 19th century Arts and Crafts, and the fad for vast refectory tables and carved wooden chests. Late 19th century Louis IV revival (baroque, rococo) ended up as flimsy reproduction furniture and would-be Aubusson carpets: pensioner chic.
Tuesday, 20 June 2017
|Renoir was a fan|
Caro Stow-Crat opines:
In this hot weather, I use a paper fan I bought in China Town, and I got some lovely electric fans in the pound shop. Living in a draughty old historic house can be an advantage.
Can I just point out, though, that if you wear trousers, skirt or dress made of thin material, thong panties are perhaps not the perfect base layer?
There are no social rules any more – but what about queueing and correct use of the checkout divider? Yesterday a young man let me go in front of him in the checkout queue – what a gent!
Never comment on what other people are eating, even if they’re on the “clean, paleo, detox” diet and longing to tell you all about it.
I'm sure none of you would do this: You bring a bottle of the kind of wine you like (very dry, ready chilled) to a party. The host/hostess puts it to one side and never opens it, and gives you a glass of warm chardonnay.
And don’t forget Miss Manners’ good advice: If you know your IQ score, don’t tell anybody.
Upper-middle-class Upwards frown on sitting next to an electric fan when it’s hot. They’re not quite sure if they’re allowed to own one. What about the planet? And besides, fans are a) too pleasant and b) too practical. In earlier decades, Upwards never approved of sitting too close to a fire, or the TV.
As a teenager, I got on a bus on the hottest day of the year. Opposite me on the bench seat were three ladies in thick woollen overcoats. Sweltering, I opened a window. They frowned and said, “Are you warm? We are not!”
In an office with no opening windows, turning on the aircon can be perilous. Sometimes it gets turned off because "draughts give you flu".
Etiquette in general
Some people imagine etiquette is all about this kind of thing: "As at dinner, it is the duty of a hostess to give the signal for leaving the room, which she does by attracting the attention of the lady of highest rank present by means of a smile and a bow, rising at the same time from her seat." The same site gives rituals for arranging your train over one arm correctly when attending a vice-regal drawing-room.
“The unreal set of manners and bizarre systems of etiquette that they force themselves to follow, like our own upper classes.” (New Humanist) OK the poshos have some odd codes, like tilting your soup bowl away from you and not wearing black stockings in the country, or any jewellery but pearls before dusk, but they’re not really as bizarre as people imagine.
Middle-class unwritten rules are far weirder. Writer John Mortimer had a schoolfriend to stay, who at the end of the holiday remarked: "I'll tell you something about your father. He can't see. He's blind, isn't he?" Mortimer comments: "It was a question our family never asked. Naturally, I didn't answer."
You didn’t raise your voice in public, because you didn’t want to attract attention to yourself, and you didn’t want everybody to “know your business”. Some older people are still a bit shocked at others talking loudly in public. Upwards and Weybridges even kept the radio or gramophone turned down low.
Women used to be warned against “clanking” jewellery and “squeaking” shoes – circa 1880. Were you supposed to glide silently? Rustling taffeta petticoats were probably out, too. (It was fashionable to wear several very long chains, and multiple brooches. How did you stop them “clanking”?) Your voice was supposed to be soft, gentle and low as well. This got transferred to jangling charm bracelets when these became fashionable in the 1940s and 50s.
More temperature tips here, and links to the rest.
More etiquette here.
Tuesday, 6 June 2017
What comes across... is the charmed, lazy life of overpaid Oxford academics – the short hours, endless long vacations and sabbaticals, the high-table boozing, international conferences, holidays to sponge off the Cecils, the Spenders... the general unaccountability. (The Times on Iris Murdoch’s letters.)
The upper-middle-class Upwards think it’s OK to make cracks about people who breathe through their mouths, can’t do joined up writing, and eat at Harvesters. They are far the most snobbish of the classes. I knew a woman who judged boyfriends by their mothers' curtains.
Upwards hate “celebrities” because they are celebrated for success in common fields like football, pop music, reality TV and Hollywood movies. Also they make a lot of money. Upwards resent popular culture, because it’s evidence that they aren't the only people here. They like to say that “vacuous celebrities” are celebrated for doing things that don’t take talent or hard work. But then they manage not to “see” stage schools, or footballers in training. Unfortunately writing literary novels or even acting in Shakespeare will never get Upwards anything like the media exposure. And they aren’t allowed to go on X Factor.
They like to think that they have chosen their friends, and that they aren’t a “type”. They're very touchy about being classified or given a label (hipster, chatterati). Some of them like to say that if everyone stopped talking about class it would disappear. They’re not aware that databases like Mosaic ("consumer classification for consistent cross-channel marketing) are dividing us into finer and finer categories so that people can sell things to us (they’d be outraged).
Upward grandparents are the ones who worry about the whole family sliding down the social scale.
Fifty years ago, Upwards and Stow-Crats told their children that certain things were Done and others were Not Done. No further explanation needed. If you drank wine out of a tumbler or ate peas with your knife, in no time at all you'd find yourself living in the kitchen, using an old newspaper as a tablecloth, and pouring milk into your tea straight from the bottle. And you'd probably be dropped from polite society.
Upwards don't become aldermen, they sneer at them, also at Freemasons, Rotarians and Roundtablers, who have worked out a way of having a social life while doing something useful. The Upward equivalent is the book group, the poetry workshop, the writing circle, the music weekend - and that’s about it. They aren’t very organised about meeting people and making new friends – perhaps because they are terrified of mixing with the Wrong People. They shudder at “public speaking”, but if required to do a book tour they may take lessons in "presentation skills" from an out-of-work actor.
Middle-middle-class Weybridges celebrate English culture – change-ringing, topiary, battle re-enactments, Morris dancing, narrowboats. Upwards are keen on preserving working-class culture once it’s safely in the past – see the current fad for plaid shirts and distressed wood.
Miles and Juliet lived in a neat circumscribed executive estate in Pangbourne and did everything right. They bought every possession (including the right opinions) that the young executive should have and their lives were organised with a degree of foresight that made the average Soviet Five-Year-Plan look impetuous. (Star Trap, Simon Brett)
There used to be some Teales who would never discuss other people in any way. It made talking to them quite difficult. Was it Protestantism forbidding “all uncharitableness”? Jen always knows when to stop talking for the two minutes silence, and when the clocks go back/forward. Poor Samantha Upward is always being caught out, and frowned on.
The early 60s were so Teale! They smelled of face powder, Yardley lipstick and lavender. Then it all went wrong and we were forced to whiff of patchouli and avoid ironing our clothes. Thank goodness the 70s brought the Teales back: American tan tights, A-line mini skirts, man-made fibres. Long hair parted in the middle became a symbol of conformity rather than rebellion as long as it was “healthy and shining” and went with over-plucked eyebrows, highlighter on the brow bone and a vapid smile.
Jen folds letters very neatly, lining up the edges and pressing down the folds. When her colleague Sam makes a mess of something she says: “I got carried away!” Teales, especially co-workers, take the Upward “scatty act” at face value, and are very disapproving.
But even Teales have their dark side. When not holidaying at nudist camps, they join suburban covens.
Picture by Versluys and Uittenbroek.
The Stow-Crats, Harry and Caroline, are very self-deprecating — they can afford to be.
Poor Lady Lucan! The TV audience found her “cold”, and thought it incomprehensible that she’d had no contact with her children for 35 years. She said: “I bumped into George once in a park. We didn’t say much.” George is her son. Her abusive husband provoked her into emotional outbursts and filmed them as evidence that she was “unstable”, so that he could get a divorce and custody of the chidren. She made it clear that people of her class weren’t allowed to experience or show emotion of any kind. It was redefined as madness. (This was clearly a shock to people who are used to reality TV, and interviewees breaking down in tears on cue.)
From a Times obituary, 2014: After a rackety youth on the continent gambling and having affairs, she settled down. Her husband had to teach her how to make a cup of tea. When she moved into a flat, she wondered why it was so cold – she didn’t realise you have to turn radiators on.
It used to be the thing for Stow-Crats and Weybridges to despise all foreigners, while Bohemian Upwards fawned on them.
Thursday, 4 May 2017
Coffee shops, ranked by poshness:
"Oh we've got this little independent place we go to."
Although, oddly, Upwards don't go to independent bakers...
Well, my 8am has been all about kicking a deflated football around a playground & trying to fight off a herring gull from my brioches. (@_katherine_may_ She can even name the species of gull.)
I'm not saying this campsite is middle class but some girls cycled by extolling the virtues of the 'duck vegan wrap' they had for lunch, the man in the next tent has a coffee grinder and one of the children, when asked during the Bushcraft session what food they are allergic to, replied 'Sushi'! (ABS)
The surgeon told me that there were three types of knife/finger accidents: the oyster-opening one, the avocado one, and the separating-two-frozen-burgers one. A paradigm of the British class system perhaps? (Letter to Guardian, April 2017)
Middle-class problems. A friend invites you round, and says she’ll cook. (This is not “being invited to dinner”.) There are several other people there, and you drink wine and chat for hours, and then she cooks some noodles mixed with ONE cut-up fried courgette for the six of you. You get home at midnight and make cheese on toast.
Middle-class problems. You go to some evening “do”, like a talk or the opening of a picture show. There is wine, and trays of very superior nibbles, tasty but tiny and you only get a handful. Do you suggest to a friend that you go and get a pizza somewhere, or is this supposed to be dinner? If it is, can you grab a whole plate of chicken goujons?
Middle-class problems. The same thing happens at weddings: how do you make an adequate lunch out of tiny sandwiches and mini-quiches? Plus, you lose count of how many you’ve eaten. Is there or isn’t there going to be a sit-down meal at 3pm? On the way home, you eat walnut cake at a garden centre because you are starving.
Middle class problems. You go to a café with a lovely menu full of fashionable food and vegetarian options. But the shredded red cabbage comes in tiny chips, in a ramekin, without dressing, so there is nothing to stick it together. You try to eat it out of the ramekin, but it falls off the fork and you only get a few tiny fragments at a time. Do you tip out the ramekin onto your plate and ask for a spoon, or give up? There is some baby spinach and rocket as well – a few leaves to make the plate look covered, splashed with a very hot mustard dressing that you want to avoid. The pastry on the vegetarian dumplings is so hard you can’t cut it with the very blunt knife provided. It slips and the rocket goes everywhere. You try to eat a rocket leaf but it is too big and sticks out of your mouth, making you look like a manatee browsing on seaweed. You yearn for the days of risotto or chicken supreme, where you got a bowlful of small bits of stuff in mush. You didn’t have to cut anything up, it all stuck together, and every mouthful was the same. And it was pale beige. And FILLING.
Middle class problems. You go out to a posh restaurant where every course is “plated” – a tiny stack of stuff amid smears and blobs of sauce. As soon as you try to eat any of it, it falls apart. It amounts to about three mouthfuls and there’s no way of scooping up any of the sauce. The other diners don’t mind because they eat biscuits and cake all day and are never hungry. Dining at expensive restaurants is just a performance.
When I went to university I was surprised to find that the canteen served “tea”, ie supper, from 5, and shut at 7. I went a few times on my own (I like stodge followed by trifle), but girls didn’t go – it was all groups of boys. When – and what – did the girls eat? We had kitchens, but I never saw anybody cooking in one. I moved in the second term to some converted US airforce barracks and had the communal kitchen to myself. The canteen was working class (though I met friends for lunch there), and there were a couple of middle-class coffee shops – literally on a higher level. I think people sold sandwiches in the student union, and there was a supermarket. And when the very classy Sainsbury Centre opened we Art History students ate lunch there in the lovely restaurant nearly every day. You could get a cheap cheese roll at the Chaplaincy, and there was a burger bar on an even lower level than the canteen. We got a free (fried) breakfast at our converted airfield but again – girls didn’t go, and eventually I got the message. There was a bar at the airfield too, but I never went there either.
From Facebook: Whenever I use the automatic checkout machines and walk away I feel guilty as if I haven't actually paid... (Combines Upward love of needless guilt with Upward obsession about purchasing behaviour. See the Upward who feels guilty saying “Nothing to declare” when he has nothing to declare.)
More here, and links to the rest.