Friday, 30 December 2011
The decor was extraordinary — suede walls, fluffy white carpets, smoked glass, salmon-pink tented ceilings. Jimmy Savile’s house, Mail Oct 2011
I know that the new owners will completely gut the house, extend it and add period touches that were probably never there in the first place. Steerforth, Age of Uncertainty blog on selling his mother’s house in Teddington
The “mansion” of bastard architecture and crude paint, with its brass indifferently clean, with coarse lace behind the plate glass of its golden-oak door, and the bell answered at eleven in the morning by a butler in an ill-fitting dress suit and wearing a mustache, might as well be placarded: “Here lives a vulgarian who has never had an opportunity to acquire cultivation.” Emily Post
Does your butler have a moustache? Shame on you!
Patio heaters have reached London N16 – but outdoor pizza ovens are still beyond the pale.
Someone reached this blog by typing “why do posh people never match their furniture?”. Why don’t they? They inherited it. ("The trouble with Michael is that he had to buy his own furniture" - Michael Jopling on Michael Heseltine)
Upwards always want to live in a converted rectory, not a manse or vicarage.
According to the Middle-Class Handbook, overhead lights are for emergency use only – like when someone drops a contact lens. Middle-class Upwards in the 19th century thought gas and electricity a bit vulgar (so unforgiving to the complexion). But why did the electricity/gas companies install central ceiling lights (traditional location for a chandelier) in the smallest cottage? Just as people lift details from the grounds of stately homes and put a bonsai version into their own half-acre (terraces, topiary, ponds, lawns), they lift details from the great houses themselves and stuff them into a much smaller interior: huge fireplaces, central chandeliers, dining tables, roll-top baths. And after Downton Abbey, everybody wants a butler’s pantry even though the society that produced them is long gone (for most of us).
Houses with exposed beams make Upwards shudder: in envy, because they could never afford a house that old; in horror, because beams have been devalued by imitations and also because they’re emblematic of an out-dated kind of cottaginess. It really is terribly hard being an Upward.
Upwards and grand Stow Crats whinge about collections of houses being called a “close” when it isn’t a cathedral close; they also complain about houses called Something Lodge that are neither a gate lodge nor a hunting lodge. Also American high-rises called the Something Arms like a pub, with no reference to any coat of arms.
They also hate anything bogus, like modern “antique” solar-powered “carriage lamps”, or wishing wells with no well. Or an inappropriate detail, like a Regency-style (Quality Street) bow shop window shoved into a Victorian terrace or 60s house. Caro Stow Crat doesn’t like bygones in the living room either – why display an ancient knife-cleaning machine (bought at a country house sale)? Hipster Rowena, now over her 50s phase, is either buying up 70s pottery owls and orange raffia lampshades or sets of pigeon holes from old offices and chemical-stained workbenches from redundant labs.
Suitability is the test of good taste always. Emily Post
More here. And here. And here.
Friday, 23 December 2011
The very lovely Middle Class Handbook site complains about “customising” food, a ghastly habit we’ve picked up from across the pond. “Can I get a Four Seasons without one of the seasons?” Grand British people ate amazingly wonderful food but you weren’t supposed to comment on it. See E.M. Forster’s Room with a View: Lucy Honeychurch’s prospective mother-in-law talked of removing “that Honeychurch taint” because Lucy asked how the pudding was made.
Middle-class Weybridges pour scorn on anyone who dares to go vegetarian or be allergic to anything, or even have religious food preferences - it’s just putting people out and making work for them. More downmarket Teales are far too kind and polite to mind, and will try and accommodate food combining, veganism or the Atkins diet.
Some Weybridges are ashamed to be a “picky eater” – they force themselves to eat whatever’s put before them. ("I don’t want to make the hostess feel she has to supply an alternative.") Upper-class Stow Crats will tell you if they can’t eat anything (politely), but don’t go on about it. Samantha Upward messes unwelcome food about on her plate and hopes nobody will notice. Some Upwards force deliberately horrible foods onto guests to see how they cope (real-life examples: turnip soup, tomato icecream). A friend kept trying to make me eat mussels because I’d said I was allergic to them (still am). And there are those who hate anyone to state a preference because they think it may be an attempt to pull rank or manipulate.
Big Brother star Chantelle had never given a dinner party before Dine With Me and hadn’t a clue how to cook anything.
Research by Kantar Worldpanel shows that hummus consumption is dominated by social classes ABC1 and tails off in those aged over 44. ("There's a grand tradition of taking peasant food from around the Mediterranean and making it posh food here.”) bbc online October 11, 2011
Sam flinches at “Happy Meal” and Boots "meal deals". A “meal” is where you sit down at a laid table and work your way through soup, entrée and pudding. Anything else is a snack or a picnic. Or “eating between meals”, which you don’t do. (This may be a tad old-fashioned.) But she hates the word: she also flinches at combinations like “not at the meal table!” or “come over for a meal!”. She even flinches when wildlife presenters refer to animals “getting a meal”. Wouldn’t a rabbit be “dinner”?
When Upwards have nothing to do they can always whinge about the way food and drink is getting sweeter because that’s what common people like. It’s naff to “have a sweet tooth”. They used to pretend they liked melon with powdered ginger, and strawberries with black pepper – rather than sugar and cream. Yes, that caught on!
You Are What You Eat Part One here.
Thursday, 22 December 2011
End stage: the real money moves in, 10 estate agents open in the high street and professional couples buy and do up all the Victorian houses within reach. A few electricians and builders suppliers hang on, but the woodyard is now a Fresh and Wild. New shops sell 50s furniture, framed 20s music covers etc. Soon the incomers will open their own school instead of moving to Crouch End as soon as their children are school-age. (Update: schools have improved, and the incomers are staying put.)
So what’s the difference between the new and old Stokey incomers? We thought we were moving into a village. They see an area that now has things they like (retro toyshops, restaurants) and cheaper Victorian houses. They move in and terraform the place to their requirements. They don’t open tastefully whimsical cafes with Poole pottery and embroidered tablecloths, they open patisseries selling elaborate little cakes at £5 each. They don’t go to Gambian drumming workshops, they drive their children to oboe lessons. They wouldn’t visit a holistic clinic for acupuncture (especially not one in a crumbling, pokey and rather dirty Victorian house), they want a luxury spa. They don’t go to the Mother Earth whole food shop that’s been there for 20 years, they go to Fresh and Wild which basically sells expensive gourmet food. They’re not going to shop for vintage clothes, they’re going to buy expensive, new designer versions of peasant wear (stripey Breton tops).
The hippies and lefties who wore flowery trousers (later, shift dresses made out of 50s curtains) and sold Tibetan jewellery at free street fairs have left. (They were aggressively pale, to prove that tanning is a capitalist plot, and had a cowed, weedy “partner” with a baby strapped to his front.) They’ve been replaced by fashionably dressed young women with baby buggies, or older couples with one IVF baby. (The men are far too hands-on and bossy with the children.) The women open their own businesses which don't need to make money because they've already got some, and Stoke Newington becomes Crouch End. And I sound like someone complaining that their quaint holiday fishing village has been taken over by grockles.
More photos here. And here. And here.
Wednesday, 21 December 2011
Anyway, I've had some more thoughts (or nicked them from the lovely Jonathan Foyle), and here they are:
To track down the source of draughts, take a lit candle and see where it flickers.
Floorboards lose a lot of heat – insulation seal between the gaps can save £25 a year. (Or put down more rugs. Layer them – valuable at the bottom, cheaper on top – so it doesn’t matter if people walk on them in muddy boots.)
(Both from the Sunday Times.)
Jonathan Foyle has some tips on how to weatherproof a stately home/historic house. Move garden statues inside, or wrap them in sacking/lagging. You could even knit them a cosy, or dress them in your old clothes… All this and more here.
And as well as wood panelling, books floor to ceiling are really good insulation. Get a little man to build the shelves, then pick up a load of books from your local Oxfam. Or get your friends to donate!
Bye till next time!
Beat the Cold III
Beat the Cold II (the Upward way)
Heat-saving Tips II
Tuesday, 20 December 2011
Here's the song:
When we started making money, when we started making friends we found a home as soon as were able to. We bought this bijou residence for about a thousand more than the house our house was once the stable to. With charm, colour values, wit and structural alterations, now designed for graceful living, it has quite a reputation:
We're terribly House & Garden at number 7B,
We live in a most amusing Mews, ever so very contemporary.
We're terribly House & Garden - the money that one spends
To make a place that won't disgrace our House & Garden friends.
We've planned an uninhibited interior decor,
Curtains made of straw,
We've wallpapered the floor.
We don't know if we like it
But at least be can be sure:
There's no place like home sweet home.
It's fearfully Maison-Jardin at number 7B.
We've rediscovered the chandelier:
Très, très very contemporary.
We're terribly House & Garden though at last we've got the chance.
The garden's full of furniture and the house is full of plants.
It doesn't make for comfort but it simply has to be
'Cos we're ever so terribly up-to-date, contempo-rar-areee.
Have you a home that cries out to your every visitor "here lives someone who is exciting to know?" No? Well, why not - collect those little metal bottle tops and nail them, upside-down, to the floor? This will give a sensation...
of walking on little metal bottle-tops turned upside-down.
Why not - get hold of an ordinary Northumbrian spoke-shaver's coracle, paint it in contrasting stripes of, say, telephone black and white white, and hang it up in the hall for a guitar tidy for parties.
Why not - drop in one evening for a mess of potage, our speciality, just aubergine and carnation petals, with a six-shilling bottle of Mule du Pape, a feast fit for a King.
I'm delirious about our new cooker fitment, with the eye-level grill. This means, that without my having to bend down, the hot fat can squirt straight into my eye.
We're frightfully House & Garden at number 7B
The walls are patterned with shrunken heads:
Ever so very contemporary.
Our boudoir on the open plan
Has been a huge success,
Though everywhere's so open
There's nowhere safe to dress.
With little screens and bottle-lamps
And motifs here and there
And mobiles in the air
And ivy everywhere
You musn't be surprised to meet a cactus on the stair
But we call it home sweet home.
We're terribly House & Garden, as I think we said before
But though 7B is madly gay
It wouldn't do for every day.
We actually live in 7A,
In the house next door!
Saturday, 17 December 2011
Large increases in income and wealth have promoted top earners to buy bigger and better, which has shifted the frame of reference that defines what those just below the top deem necessary or desirable. So that group spends more, too, and its spending similarly influences the group just below. And so on all the way down. The problem for middle-income families is that house prices and school quality are closely linked. So even though these families don’t earn much more than they did several decades ago, they must buy bigger more expensive houses than before, or else send their children to below-average schools. To pay for these houses, they spend more than they earn and carry record levels of debt. In short, increased wealth and spending at the top of the economic pyramid sets off "expenditure cascades" that raise the cost of achieving many basic goals for the middle class. Cornell economics professor Robert Frank
In the documentary series which finished on Friday evening, the heiress Tamara Ecclestone set out to prove that she isn't "a pointless, quite spoilt, really stupid, vacuous, empty human being". This endeavour was not wholly successful. Channel 5 showed her supervising the refurbishment of her £45m home in London, in which she commissioned a £1m bathtub carved from Mexican crystal, an underground swimming pool complex, her own nightclub, a lift for her Ferrari, a bowling alley with crystal-studded balls and a spa and massage parlour for her five dogs, to save her the trouble of taking them to Harrods to have their hair sprayed and their nails painted. Guardian November 22, 2011
No 'we' worse than the weekend-colour-supplement 'we'. @zone_styx
They buy private services, they don’t engage with society. Woman on #bbcnews24 on the very highly paid
More here, here, here, here and here. And here. And here.
However Upwards used to be very keen on special butter knives (for taking butter curls or balls from a butter plate), and sugar tongs (for sugar lumps), and special sugar spoons. All these items (only used when eating afternoon tea around a tea table) have thankfully vanished. If you want to eat tea around a tea table you have to go to the Ritz or the Savoy, and the people who used to make their own butter curls now have something better to do with their time.
Upper-class Stow Crats eat with inherited Georgian silver. Upwards use inherited silver plate, or designer stainless steel.
Stow Crats and Upwards were terribly cross when disposable products came in, especially disposable nappies. They held out for years, insisting that muslin and terry squares were really easier and more practical. Sharon Definitely bulk buys Pampers.
Upwards and Stow Crats think that all kitchen gadgets are common unless made out of metal or wood and designed in the 19th (or possibly 18th) century. They abhor trendy, brightly coloured gadgets made of PLAHSTIC. So who buys them? Weybridges and Teales made good.
Also Upwards are still living in a fantasy world in which they have a large country house with staff (that’s why they love Downton Abbey), and can’t use anything invented after that era (apart from washing machines, dishwashers, fridges which you just have to have and somehow don’t count or are too big to see). They particularly hate new methods of making coffee, crushing garlic etc etc and like using oldfashioned inefficient methods. (Elizabeth David (genuflect) advocated crushing the garlic with the back of a knife.) They loathed percolators and garlic crushers.
Howard Weybridge is still using an electric carving knife.
Thursday, 17 November 2011
And not just “stuff” but common, tacky, plastic, badly made stuff! And someone is making MONEY out of all this!!! The Upwards don’t care that that someone is being entrepreneurial and reviving our economy – the Upward hatred of trade (unless it’s a retro toyshop or French café) trumps everything else, including common sense.
Perhaps they’d like to ban the lot, like Oliver Cromwell? Halloween is even more fun to moan about because you can bring in references to “kids” and “yobs”. And there’s always some fuss about Remembrance Sunday. Starts too soon? Glorifies wars? Are newsreaders recycling last year’s poppies? Has the whole thing been inflated?
Upwards feel threatened. Celebrating Halloween is spontaneous: people have a good time without asking the middle classes’ permission. Those same Upwards will probably bore for England about the People’s need for Carnival, and get Arts Council funding for festivals in deprived areas (with a lot of stilt-walking, fire-eating and drumming). If they can’t run it, they don’t want to play (and don’t recognise a genuine carnival when they meet one).
The Teales and Weybridges plan surprise 40th parties for their friends, and surprise birthday presents for each other, and give each other helicopter/balloon flights. They take each other for romantic “breaks” in Paris. They keep their honeymoon destination secret from the bride (who's already been taken on a surprise hen week by her friends, organised by young Christine Teale, the wedding/party/hen week planner). Secret honeymoons, like strapless wedding dresses, have crept up the classes. Sam holds out - she hates surprises. This year for Christmas she is putting up a lot of bunting made out of recycled 50s curtains.
Sunday, 13 November 2011
Lady Pam Hicks left to babysit daughter India's son; India complains to Ma on return "Felix is outside screaming" Ma "I thought it was a partridge"! via @ladyofmisrule
I see a new development: a children's playground is at its centre in all its garish plasticky naffness. What's happened to public space? @christianharrup (christianharrup.com)
Told the kids that we are having middle class fireworks this year. Ones that are very discreet and quiet and don't clash with the night sky. @TheRealJackDee
Outdoor clothes-drying is seen by many of the world’s middle and upper classes to be distasteful and unsightly, from North America, where hundreds of communities ban the practice, to Hong Kong, where affluent people cling very tightly to symbols of affluence and class identity, perhaps because they are only a generation or two removed from poverty. urbanphoto.net/blog
A friend writes re Downton Abbey: I think viewers like the close contact between the classes in the programme; while we might think we are a more equal society, we are actually quite stratified.
I took my wife and sons there today to visit a "wood fair", which was as worthy and middle class as it sounds, but not quite as dull… we met a couple whose son was in the same [school] class as ours. They had recently moved down from Stoke Newington and I found myself wondering if I would ever meet anyone in Lewes who didn't come from north London. I'm convinced that there is some sort of Stargate-style portal in Hackney that sucks middle-class people in once they have children and sends them off to Lewes, Southwold, North Norfolk and Brighton. Blogger Steerforth (ageofuncertainty.blogspot.com)
It's almost a mile from the car park to the Victorian coastal defence at the southwestern tip of [the Isle of Wight] - not a huge distance, but enough to deter the hoi polloi from ruining the tranquil atmosphere… The IoW is almost entirely white working class (I struggled in vain to find my favourite brand of balsamic vinegar), with very few of those annoying, Guardian-reading London types like me who push the property prices up with their art galleries and organic cafes. Steerforth again.
More here, here, here, here and here. And here.
Sunday, 30 October 2011
Definitely children have drum kits in their bedrooms. They play electric guitars, saxophones and Hammond organs (or “keyboards”), form bands and become an Internet sensation. Sharon Definitely learns to sing like Celine Dion by listening to her “tracks” or “albums” and downloading backing tracks. (Sam says “songs” and “records”. Her parents called the radio the wireless and played records on a gramophone and winced when Sam called them LPs.)
Most Upwards claim to be tone deaf when the subject of singing comes up, apart from Gideon, who says he likes to have a good sing at Christmas when anyone can join in. He thinks Ding Dong Merrily on High is “uplifting”. Upwards who sing take it far too seriously and get into some kind of music that excuses you from expressing any emotion. Jen belongs to a women’s barbershop group who perform wearing a Hollywood version of late Victorian dress made in shiny fabric. Eileen and Howard belong to a historical reconstruction group and sing in the local choral society.
Some Upwards bravely go to Balkan workshops and get rather over-excited – to the point of becoming an instant expert. The music doesn’t sound pretty, but it excuses you from expressing emotion again. And world music workshops are much more friendly than choral societies, where no one speaks to you or invites you to the pub until you’ve belonged for 20 years.
Or else Upwards belong to a parents’ choir attached to their school - very friendly and they can sing songs from the shows and jokey rounds with daring double entendres as well as serious music. But they complain the latter is miserable and “dirge-like” - expressing emotion in public again! Upwards and Weybridges who join choirs enjoy the opportunities for bossing, fussing and pointless admin, as well as undermining, sabotage and feuds.
World music fans in Stoke Newington don't go into the local Turkish music shops. Turkish music is possibly too commercial, and hasn’t been mediated by an Anglo ethnomusicologist. The exponents aren’t far away and patronisable, but here and professional and might patronise US! And you could hardly rip off a few simple arrangements of their songs and teach them in workshops. Actually Stokeys are not interested in Turkish culture, full stop. Instead they become Buddhists and learn Sanskrit, play Gambian drums and eat Thai food. Stokeys are also blind to the Ultra-orthodox Jews who share the place with them – though they love “diversity”.
The Turks who run cafes and drive cabs in Stokey turn off the nice Turkish music as soon as they get a white middle-class customer and put on Heart, Magic or “easy listening”. Sigh.
Thursday, 27 October 2011
Sam Upward used to follow Kaffe Fassett patterns but found the resulting garments, now utterly dated, were always rather unwearable (they sagged and lost their shape). She spins her own yarn and dyes it with onion skins, and likes crafts where you improvise and the result is unmistakably hand-made. She used to make her own paper.
Jen wishes women’s magazines had more knitting and crochet patterns like in the good old days as she’s bored by all the celebrity fashion crimes. (In the 80s people used to say “How can you be a feminist and knit?” and also “But knitting patterns are all awful” – that was just before the Kaffe Fassets came along and created middle-class designs. And suddenly knitting was OK for feminists again.)
Caro Stow-Crat works on Ehrman tapestry kits, Sam sews William Morris, Eileen sews autumn scenes, bluebell woods and Cotswold villages, all rather ineptly drawn. Jen “stitches” golden retrievers, swans, and pierrots with a tear on their cheek. Mrs Definitely works cross stitch kits of teddies and hearts.
When Eileen retires, she painstakingly learns how to paint in watercolours at a local institute and produces pictures of bluebell woods, windmills and sailing boats. She calls it “watercolour painting”. Sam goes to “right brain, inner creativity” painting classes and produces multicoloured blobs. Jen, never having picked up a brush in her life, suddenly produces a perfect copy of Constable’s The Cornfield.
It’s all right for Stow Crats to have no taste in art. They live in a house designed by Vanbrugh, surrounded by Lely paintings, Nollekens sculptures and Grinling Gibbons carvings, but they have to take it all utterly for granted. You don’t say “Isn’t that a Gainsborough?” It’s not “a Gainsborough” but “Great Uncle Frederick” (or the 11th earl, as he was known). (As some aristo said after guests had left: “Feller noticed me pictures!”)
Upwards insist that investing in art never pays and besides you should buy what you like. (They also hate people to make money out of property deliberately. The only good money is old money, but when your house soars in value it’s all right to go on and on about how little you paid for it.)
Eileen brashly asks an Upward friend with expertise what her objets are worth - he refuses to tell her, and says patronisingly, “What matters is the pleasure it gives you.”
Jen loves Cash in the Attic and makes quite a bit on her yard sale. Mr Definitely is an expert in something unlikely like Japanese netsuke or samurai swords. Mrs D collects Royal Worcester.
Wednesday, 19 October 2011
We Upwards recycle everything, even outdated nonsense.
You’re all too young to remember the Great Duvet Flap of 1975.
When duvets first came in, Upwards went into a flap about whether they could adopt them. (They're like that about innovations.) Then they bought tiny, thin duvets exactly the width of the bed. And moaned that they were terribly cold because you couldn't tuck them in. They gave strict instructions against adding any blankets over or under because they work on the string-vest principle (ie magic).
Upwards caught on eventually. But they had to go through the struggle of getting the wrong end of the stick/pretending it was something they already know about (an eiderdown)/turning a wonderful invention that actually makes you WARM into something that makes you chilly/generally fussing and flapping and running round and round in small circles and making difficulties where there aren’t any and imposing their personalities on anyone who would listen. Contrast Jen Teale who just gets on with it.
Now Upwards have transferred all these behaviours to Facebook.
So, all together now, when it's cold:
1. Grit your teeth. Grin and bear it.
2. Convince yourself that being warm is bad for you.
3. Wear a string vest (the holes create pockets of warm air).
4. Always sleep with a window open.
5. Admire the frost flowers on the window panes.
6. Keep your central heating turned down as low as possible “to take the chill off”.
7. Don’t go out warm.
8. Run about to keep warm.
9. Set your central heating to go off for several hours a day. Tell your guests that there isn’t an over-ride.
10. NEVER have a heat source you can “huddle over” because huddling over fires gives you chilblains and probably pneumonia. And it will only make you colder.
Beat the Cold III
Beat the Cold II (the Upward way)
Heat-saving Tips II
Brrrr! Cold, isn't it? Time to recycle my heat-saving tips from last year, and the year before! Recycling is so now!
Caro Stow-Crat speaking – remember me? I live in a stately home (we hire it out for weddings now, and hold cup-cake workshops in the laundry).
One thing that's occurred to me – if the main room of your house is a medieval great hall, you'll be grateful to the Tudors who lined it in oak panelling. Fabulous insulation! Another wheeze was to hang tapestries from ceiling to floor. (If you live in a small house, you might get the same effect with tongue and groove panelling, or wall-hangings, or books.)
And maybe we should copy the Austrians, and install huge porcelain stoves. The Russians sleep on theirs. Jolly sensible!
So paste up that radiator reflector panel, pull up your thermal socks, tuck in your spencer, shrug on your gilet and turn to my
2. Live in your kitchen. The Aga is a good source of heat. (If you don't have an Aga, install one.) Move in the telly, your laptop, a sofa, and some armchairs. Of course you already have a kitchen table and chairs. Put some rugs on the flag-stone floor.
3. Fit floor-length, lined curtains to all your windows. If you aren't using a room during the day, keep the curtains closed. Weight the bottom of the curtains with lead weights. (Shut the curtains and blinds in the parts of the house you aren't using, too. If you have Georgian shutters, shut them. If your house is post-1900, you can fit Swiss-style external shutters, and close those. And don't forget to insulate your loft.)
4. If your curtains aren't floor-length, close them and tuck the ends into the window sill, or behind the radiator. You don't want all that lovely paid-for heat to go out through the glass.
5. Keep the curtains or blinds drawn in the bathroom.
6. Open fires are lovely, but a lot of the heat goes up the chimney - drawing a draught from the cracks round the door, and the keyhole. Sellotape up the keyhole, and make a thick curtain to hang in front of the door. Also a draught excluder to put along the bottom (you can put them under the windows as well).
7. Another trick for large rooms with open fires is to put up a screen around the back of your chair.
8. Wear knee socks, thermal vests, long johns and thick jerseys. Quilted body warmers are also pretty effective. (The Victorians called them "hug-me-tights".)
9. If you live in a smaller house and you've knocked down all the partition walls to create an open-plan live/work/eat/sleep/cook/work area, rebuild the walls and create small, easily heated cells. Just remember to make the kitchen big enough to eat in.
10. The Victorians, who lived in big, draughty houses, knew all these tricks. How did we forget them? They also wore wrist warmers and shawls, and tucked their feet into foot muffs.
11. And insulate your bath! Tape loft insulation round the outside. And I believe you can buy insulated baths.
12. Stick baco foil behind your radiators to reflect the heat, and fit a shelf above them. You can get special sticky-backed foil.
13. And keep the doors shut.
14. And get your sash windows reconditioned.
Tuesday, 18 October 2011
Stow Crats traditionally worked in the City (financial district), or at posh art dealers Sotheby’s or Christie’s – they don’t have to worry about interview technique as jobs are got by pulling strings, calling in favours and the old boy network.
Upward children get jobs where the only way in is to work for nothing as an “intern” while the bank of Mum and Dad supports them. Thus the media becomes staffed entirely by people who are terribly surprised at any evidence that they share these islands with millions of non-Upwards. Thalia Upward wishes she’d been allowed to learn a skill when she finds her media studies degree doesn’t help her get a job in it. She writes a lot of letters kicking off “I am determined to break into publishing”. They all get binned because she spells liaise “liase”.
Impressive sounding “creative” jobs pay peanuts because it’s assumed you have private means, creating a segment of the bourgeoisie who have status without the money to keep it up.
Upwards can’t do anything so dull as to learn the skill or get the training – they like to tell with glee how they bluffed their way onto the newspaper by pretending they were experienced in the computer system (and then smuggled their baby into the office and hid it under the desk in a basket). Female Upwards and Stow Crats have a “charmingly scatty” act. This doesn’t go down at all well with office manager Teales, whose icy disapproval comes as a shock to Caro and Sam.
Teales read the email and turn up on time (with the right kit). They do their research, they brief and debrief. If they ever go to the wrong meeting point or leave the folder at home they busk it skilfully and never let on. Caro and Sam turn the whole incident into an amusing anecdote and Jen chalks it up against them.
Thalia can’t even become a vet, like Christine Teale - far too vocational. She learns to type and becomes a temp and is slow to adapt to real life. If the South is hit by blizzards, or trains are halted by the wrong kind of snow, Thalia sets out from home at the usual time and expects her colleagues to accept her excuse when she turns up at 11. They give her hell for taking off her coat in the firm’s time. Christine listens to the weather forecast/traffic report and sets out early so that she arrives at her usual time, five minutes before the dot. Thalia ends up doing PR for a gallery.
Teales and Weybridges push their children into jobs where they can earn the most money in the shortest time. Teales are life’s winners. They wouldn’t go to Tibet to find themselves, they’d do a cost-benefit analysis and work out that it was a waste of time. If they go New Age, they make it into a money spinner and do crystal healing or paint fairy pictures. They get good jobs, earn a high salary, have a pension plan, a five-year plan (go travelling, do a bungee jump, get married, have a baby, run an internet business from the spare room).
They have what psychologists call “executive function”. If dim, they doggedly work until they get a passing grade. They make a revision chart and stick to it. They also know how to work the system, find out what’s required, think for the future, know what they’re at school for. They keep their heads down, appear to follow the rules. They don’t challenge the system, they work round it. They know how to manage themselves – review plans and performance, take an audit. They’re reliable (they learned it in the Brownies). They’re - gasp! - realists.
They do the sums and work out where it will be most economic to live, balancing good local schools with the cost of commuting. They work out their chances, and ways and means of getting what they want. They don’t wear out their youth in theatrical agents’ waiting rooms. If they become actors they drive a taxi or run an antiques business on the side. (Upward actors make their real money giving training to corporate staff - presentations, speech, confidence – but they don’t talk about it.)
Teales have sensible priorities. They don’t mind moving for work to somewhere unfashionable or uncool, in fact they don’t even notice the uncoolness of Stansted Mountfitchet or Leatherhead. When an Upward moved to Kingston a posh acquaintance wailed: “But there’ll be no one there you could be friends with!”
Sharon Definitely becomes a reality TV star and puts out her own perfume brand (or jewellery line on the shopping channel), or runs a tanning salon, or else she goes to stage school and becomes a pop star, a TV presenter, or a TV ad actress, all careers barred to Thalia. (Stage schools are for Definitelies and Teales and are very practical and goal-oriented; Upwards go to drama school where they’re subjected to a combination of group therapy and playground bullying.)
Dave Definitely has a property portfolio. The Upward kids wouldn't do up houses for a living because they can't do the sums and don't have the skills and aren’t prepared to work hard enough. Upwards still look down on “trade”, unless it shows how unique, tasteful, politically correct or green they are. They can import terracotta cookware from Spain or fairtrade cotton from India. They don’t have to make a huge profit because they don’t have to live on the proceeds.
Trustafarian Stow Crats don’t need to work at all, so they do something to give their life meaning. This may turn out to be trivial and time-wasting. Because they have the time, the money and the connections, they can write and get published and performed. They earn either very little or less than nothing from this, and spend their lives stretching a slender talent way beyond its limits.
“Eton… has a practice known as “oiling”, which is learning how to win friends and influence others, and how to clamber over them to get what you want. It’s a mixture of ambition, self-confidence and bloody-mindedness.” Anthony Seldon, headmaster of Wellington College
Upper middle-class Upwards and posh Stow Crats send their children to “public schools” (expensive private boarding schools), which are often single sex. These schools couldn’t survive on the numbers of children within commuting distance, so they have to board – and the system has to big up the advantages of boarding. Allegedly it teaches children to be independent, articulate and confident. But they have to leave their parents and families and local friends – and normal life. the parents expect the schools to teach their children everything. They can pretty much give up on parenting after their kids are 10. Or seven, if they go to prep schools. (Children of seven? Sent to live away from home? And nobody complains? What century is this?)
Caro Stow Crat explains she’s moving her children to a different private school because the one they’re at doesn’t really “stretch” them. This is code for they’re not getting high enough marks.
The parents pay huge fees – the children pay the most. Is it worth it?
Middle class parents are faced with this sum:
tuition fees of £9,000
low-paid job in media
expensive new car
five bedroom house in desirable area
large wine bill
x thousand humanities graduates every year versus 1.5 jobs on The Guardian every year
Is their child's low-paid job in the media really worth sacrificing one of the items in column B? When will they insist that they’ll only pay for uni if the child studies law, medicine, banking, or dentistry?
Upwards are still on the treadmill of gap year (booked through a specialist company), student loan, unpaid internships. Upward children still want to work in the media, or fashion, or some other area where they make you slave till three in the morning for no pay. And their parents are still funding them to do it. Never mind that when their child eventually gets a job the pay is peanuts – the children will mix with nice people, and make nice friends, and the parents can boast to other parents. And the girls will get married (to one of the nice people they’ve met). So maybe it is all worth it.
Sam does all her children’s coursework so that they can get into a fee-paying school where the teachers rewrite the essays, paint the pictures, throw the pots etc. (In the 19th century, the drawing master produced the art work of his “accomplished” pupils.)
“Pupils from just 100 elite schools dominate a third of places at Oxford and Cambridge, exposing the "social bias" at the two universities, according to a report published today.” Daily Telegraph 2007
Upward and Stow Crat children all get into university, where they buy their essays from the Internet. Oxford and Cambridge are for the upper and upper middle classes. Exeter, Durham are for people who didn’t get into Oxbridge (and St Andrews is “the Exeter of Scotland”). They study French, history and English. Teales study tourism and hospitality.
The Guardian’s Tanya Gold described her time at Merton: “Who knew that the warmest things in Oxford were the marble buildings?”
The posh spent their time at private dining clubs and were rarely seen. A large group of students were just bewildered. Then there were “the Wannabes - the state-school kids who tried, pitifully, to buy into the Brideshead fantasy. They mooched around as parodies of 1930s Oxford students. The boys wore tweed suits and spectacles and the girls wore Laura Ashley and buns. They spent all their time in the library and dining in college wearing funny black gowns… They drank sherry and affected Celia Johnson voices. Although they usually did very well academically they seemed terribly unhappy… of the ones I am still in touch with, their careers have vanished into dust. They tried to plug themselves into an old boy network that didn't want them. The fantasy broke them. If you lose yourself to a fantasy at 19, it takes a long time to find yourself again… we all had our As at A-levels, our spidery little essay plans and our dry-as-bone reading lists. But nobody was learning. We were cramming.”
Sunday, 11 September 2011
Hoggart continues: [A correspondent] and family found themselves on a wide and otherwise deserted beach on the Isles of Scilly. To their astonishment a couple arrived and for some reason selected a spot right next to them. [The writer] whispered to his son to pick a fight with his sister, which he did, causing much noise and tumult, followed by the departure of the couple. "This event has passed into family legend," he says.
To the middle-class Upwards, a deserted beach is "deserted but for us".
A friend writes: I was once at a party where there were two travel snobs, both of whom were boasting about their holidays in Mongolia, and one was showing off about having drunk yak's milk and the other said tartly "I think you'll find it was mare's milk."
Nowadays there’s a swish children’s boutique, and shops to sell you good olives and Scandinavian ceramics, muddled up with old-school purveyors of Swanage rock, plastic fairies and tat… it seems that half of southern Britain is coming to join us. So buying ginger beer and a vegetable pasty from the local post office we escape the madding crowd… While not exactly downmarket, Swanage is not the place to find boutique hotels… we stop a while at Corfe Castle. This is tourist-trap Britain, where... you can eat your body weight in locally sourced cake. The antique charm of the place still shines through… Swanage has few airs or graces; it’s more cheerful than chic. It hasn’t been “discovered” by the 4X4 brigade, like, say, Bridport…. John Bungey in The Times on Swanage, July 2011, describes his holiday destination almost solely in class terms. This is just what broadsheet readers expect. (Go to Swanage, it's lovely.)
More holiday hell here, here, here and here. And here.
Friday, 9 September 2011
"One of the core aims [of Toby Young's free school] is to instil in boys and girls from ordinary backgrounds the same edge that public school toffs have."
When Young arrived at Oxford University (the poshest) from a northern grammar school, he was bowled over by the public-school boys. "They had an assurance that contemporaries from humbler backgrounds altogether lacked" - he has probably been jealous of them ever since.
Top public school Eton "has a practice known as "oiling", which is learning how to win friends and influence others, and how to clamber over them to get what you want. It's a mixture of ambition, self-confidence and bloody-mindedness...""Young is right to emphasise the importance of character." State-educated youths "find they lack confidence and roundedness..." Baden-Powell described the Scout movement as a "character factory, designed to instil determination and resilience in all young people, regardless of class."
"Competitive sport is vital: it teaches resilience, teamwork and trust. Leadership training and mentoring should become widespread in schools. Young people should be given tough challenges, mental as well as physical..."
To give them "mental strength" send children on "hikes and gruelling expeditions". "Boarding... should become much more prevalent... The experience of living side by side with fellow students, and in conditions of relative deprivation, is profoundly character-building."
It looks like "character" can mean whatever you want it to mean. Public schools are often said to turn out "confident, articulate" young people. If you Google these words, you'll find they appear on the prospectus of most private schools. I like the sound of the Helen O'Grady Drama Academy in Africa, where they teach presentation, performance skills and public speaking. Because the confident, articulate child "finds it easier to make friends". If you want confident, articulate children, why not teach confidence and articulacy, rather than separating them from their families and subjecting them to gruelling hikes? It seems a roundabout method, to say the least.
Thursday, 1 September 2011
Gaily into Ruislip Gardens
Runs the red electric train,
With a thousand Ta's and Pardon's
Daintily alights Elaine;
Hurries down the concrete station
With a frown of concentration,
Out into the outskirt's edges
Where a few surviving hedges
Keep alive our lost Elysium -
rural Middlesex again.
Well cut Windsmoor flapping lightly,
Jacqmar scarf of mauve and green
Hiding hair which, Friday nightly,
Delicately drowns in Drene;
Fair Elaine the bobby-soxer,
Fresh-complexioned with Innoxa,
Gains the garden - father's hobby -
Hangs her Windsmoor in the lobby,
Settles down to sandwich supper
and the television screen.
Gentle Brent, I used to know you
Wandering Wembley-wards at will,
Now what change your waters show you
In the meadowlands you fill!
Recollect the elm-trees misty
And the footpaths climbing twisty
Under cedar-shaded palings,
Low laburnum-leaned-on railings
Out of Northolt on and upward
to the heights of Harrow hill.
Parish of enormous hayfields
Perivale stood all alone,
And from Greenford scent of may fields
Most enticingly was blown
Over market gardens tidy,
Taverns for the bona fide,
Cockney singers, cockney shooters,
Murray Poshes, Lupin Pooters,
Long in Kensal Green and Highgate
silent under soot and stone.
Betjeman contrasts this neat, polite, genteel girl with the louche Edwardians (now gone) who strolled through the fields, now built over. Murray Posh and Lupin Pooter are two dudes from George and Weedon Grossmith's Diary of a Nobody; Kensal Green and Highgate are London cemeteries.
Saturday, 27 August 2011
Furnish'd and burnish'd by Aldershot sun,
What strenuous singles we played after tea,
We in the tournament -- you against me!
Love-thirty, love-forty, oh! weakness of joy,
The speed of a swallow, the grace of a boy,
With carefullest carelessness, gaily you won,
I am weak from your loveliness, Joan Hunter Dunn.
Miss Joan Hunter Dunn, Miss Joan Hunter Dunn,
How mad I am, sad I am, glad that you won,
The warm-handled racket is back in its press,
But my shock-headed victor, she loves me no less.
Her father's euonymus shines as we walk,
And swing past the summer-house, buried in talk,
And cool the verandah that welcomes us in
To the six-o'clock news and a lime-juice and gin.
The scent of the conifers, sound of the bath.
The view from my bedroom of moss-dappled path
As I struggle with double-end evening tie,
For we dance at the Golf Club, my victor and I.
On the floor of her bedroom lie blazer and shorts
And the cream-coloured walls are be-trophied with sports,
And westering, questioning settles the sun,
On your low-leaded window, Miss Joan Hunter Dunn.
The Hillman is waiting, the light's in the hall,
The pictures of Egypt are bright on the wall,
My sweet, I am standing beside the oak stair
And there on the landing's the light on your hair.
By roads "not adopted", by woodlanded ways,
She drove to the club in the late summer haze,
Into nine-o'clock Camberley, heavy with bells
And mushroomy, pine-woody, evergreen smells.
Miss Joan Hunter Dunn, Miss Joan Hunter Dunn,
I can hear from the car park the dance has begun,
Oh! Surrey twilight! importunate band!
Oh strongly adorable tennis-girl's hand!
Around us are Rovers and Austins afar,
Above us the intimate roof of the car,
And here on my right is the girl of my choice,
With the tilt of her nose and the chime of her voice.
And the scent of her wrap, and the words never said,
And the ominous, ominous dancing ahead.
We sat in the car park till twenty to one
And now I'm engaged to Miss Joan Hunter Dunn.
The characters in this poem are middle-middle - not out of the top drawer. A subaltern was a lowly young officer. In the 20s and 30s, Aldershot was full of new houses built in a self-consciously cottagey, olde-worlde style on sandy soil that was no use for farming. It was popular with army families, who laid out tennis courts and golf courses where there had been heath and woodland - and conifers.
A euonymus is a variegated shrub, and rather suburban - as are summer houses, verandahs and gin-and-lime. Joan's window is "low" and "leaded" in the cottage style, to go with the "oak" stairs. The pictures of Egypt were probably souvenirs of her father's postings abroad.
Her boyfriend can only afford a small Hillman car to drive down the wooded roads. Camberley may be built up - but there is enough of nature left to enchant the lovers who are quite happy to miss the dance in the Golf Club. Betjeman shows us that a minor officer wooing a tennis-playing girl in a banal setting can be as romantic as a troubadour.
No mention of lawns, vicars, crumpets or honey.
Betjeman's Phone for the Fish Knives, deconstructed.
I was collecting some clichés about writers, and realised that a lot of them are about class. So here's What to Say About:
ANNE OF GREEN GABLES "LM Montgomery portrayed rural Prince Edward Island as a folksy paradise where good triumphs and endings are happy, but her own life was far from ideal." (The Green Gables saga has plenty of tragedy, rural life is shown as hard, rural poverty is not romanticized. Maybe the later books are more syrupy.)
BRIDESHEAD REVISITED It’s about flannelled toffs at Oxford. (It's about how aristocratic families damage and neglect their children.)
AGATHA CHRISTIE She was “ladylike”. Her characters are all cardboard cutouts, two-dimensional stereotypes. "The latest biography shows us a fully rounded character." Her greatest mystery was her life. She was a snob who only wrote about aristocrats in country houses. (She wrote about hairdressers holidaying at Le Touquet, and typists chasing spies in Baghdad - among other things.)
GEORGE ORWELL June 09 – a BBC memo has turned up wondering if his voice would do for radio. Cue blethering about how he was an Old Etonian, had a posh accent, didn’t have a posh accent, disguised his posh accent, spoke in Mockney, spoke in “Duke of Windsor cockney”, had a “colonial manner”. We know he went to Eton, served in the Burmese police, was shot in the throat in the Spanish Civil War, admitted to toning down his accent when living as a tramp, had TB and smoked heavily; no recording of his voice survives. (His prose is often condemned as plodding and flat-footed – perhaps because he published a list of instructions on how to write that warn against being flowery.)
JOHN BETJEMAN Old-fashioned, snobbish, obsessed with the upper classes and an England of cricket matches, tea and crumpets, warm beer. (He was a precise observer of class markers and would never sink to cliches about crumpets.) “John Betjeman's soppy idylls about honey on the vicarage lawn.” Stephen Bayley Obs Mar 2 08 A Subaltern’s Love Song is B’s “fantasy idyll”.
"Light verse sells. Poetry doesn't have to be miserable, deeply intellectual, tortuously emotional, or clever. But more than that, he provided simple rhymes and rhythms. Betjeman is musical, and easy, and if you'd rather call it verse than poetry, that may say something about your own attitude to taste. When poetry disowns any of the properties of music, it must take care to offer something in its place. So if you want to sell a lot, Betjeman is a good model." (Guardian arts blog - you can rely on the socialist Guardian to be more snobbish than any other broadsheet.)
Easy metre? Simple rhymes? You try writing:
Pam, I adore you, Pam, you great big mountainous sports girl,
Whizzing them over the net, full of the strength of five:
That Old Malvernian brother, you zephyr and khaki shorts girl,
Although he's playing for Woking,
Can't stand up
To your wonderful backhand drive.
"The image must have helped. He was one of the few poets whose face was known, because of his TV work; he looked like a teddy bear and sounded harmless and eccentric. In addition he was nothing like the stereotype of the drunk hell-raising poet... He seemed cosy; in many ways his poetry *was* cosy and unthreatening, though not always - he could be acute and painful on death and old age... And of course his poems were accessible, they didn't make people feel stupid and they yielded pleasure in return for very little work on the reader's part. We all like that sort of reading sometimes - maybe not Betjeman, because he's very English middle-class in a way that doesn't travel far outside those parameters, but we all have comfort reading we go back to when we don't specially want our brain stretching." (Guardian arts blog)
Betjeman epitomised everything that was wrong about postwar England - its nostalgia, conservatism, snobbery, provincialism... He is the poetic equivalent of a mediocre Devon cream tea in the rain. All the palaver about him strikes me as being a bunch of people congratulating themselves on being British and middle class. (Guardian arts blog)
Sunday, 21 August 2011
Uppr-middle-class Sam and grand Caro despise programmes like Bargain Hunt/Flog It/The Antiques Roadshow for the above reasons, also because the people on it are common and collect the wrong kind of things. They talk sneeringly about people selling “pewter tankards” for £30.
Middle-class Jen and Eileen collect Moorcroft pottery, carved Bavarian bears and Copenhagen porcelain. Jen has inherited a set of metal goblets which she uses to serve wine to guests – then she puts them back in their presentation box.
Sam is now into Arts and Crafts – plain wooden furniture from the late 19th century. She has chucked out the Victoriana that used to clutter up her house and went so well with the flowery chintz chair-covers. Rusting advertising signs crow-barred off the side of a rustic shed are sooooo over. As are wash-stand sets (jug and basin).
The very trendy Upwards used to collect Whitefriars and Orefors glass (looks like a half-eaten boiled sweet) – but they cashed in recently and now buy distressed sets of pigeon-holes, metal chairs and school desks with the original authentic dust and ink-stains. Downmarket Mrs Definitely collects Doulton crinoline ladies, Bunnikins china and Swarowski crystal animals. The Queen collects Fabergé – little trees and animals made out of semi-precious stones. But she inherited a lot of it and I suppose she feels she can’t put it in the attic.
Why are posh accents described as “cut glass”? Cut glass is faceted like a diamond, and cut with a diamond wheel. If you can’t afford the real thing, you buy a moulded imitation. But when the real thing becomes cheaper and moves downmarket it is shunned by the middle classes. Also it’s too shiny for them. Stow Crats carry on using the cut glass bought by their 18th century ancestors.
Saturday, 30 July 2011
Harrods dress code: Jewellery One earring per ear. Pearls or diamond studs preferred. One ring per hand with exception of wedding & engagement rings. No visible tattoos, sovereigns, mismatched jewellery, scrunchies, large clips or hoop earrings. Guardian July 2 2011
I am thinking of trying the discount chains Aldi and Lidl for the first time as I am fed up with paying a fortune to feed our family of four. Do readers recommend them?…I tentatively entered a Lidl store about five years ago. The first thing to catch my eye was a panettone for £2.99 – identical to one I’d just paid £6.99 for in our local delicatessen…. It is noticeable in the last two years or so that there are more middle-class shoppers. Suddenly, it has become acceptable to shop at Lidl. Guardian July 2 2011
[American squillionaires’] lifestyles were bordering on the absurd, according to Gladys Montgomery, author of a new book on the great camps aptly entitled An Elegant Wilderness. She notes that at nearby Pine Tree Point, railway pioneer Frederick Vanderbilt hired artisans from Japan to create Japanese-style cabins and made serving maids wear kimonos. Camps commandeered French chefs from New York's best restaurants for the summer. And at Prospect Point, mining magnate Adolph Lewisohn would bring a valet, a stenographer, a chess partner and his own barber for the season. The Observer on the Adirondacks July 2011
And throughout the book there simmers a kind of misanthropy, even snobbery: a contempt for the kind of people, working-class and middle-class alike, that Fabian types have mocked for decades, sneering at their neat suburban homes and modest material ambitions. These are the people who actually enjoy shopping at Westfield, not because they are corporate drones or have been brainwashed or define themselves purely by consumerism but simply because they fancy buying some new clothes or a better television or even the latest book by Iain Sinclair. Dominic Sandbrook in the Financial Times on Iain Sinclair's Ghost Milk July 2011 (The Fabians were a genteel kind of socialist who thought they knew what was best for everybody. Perhaps they're still around.)
More here, and links to the rest.