Wednesday 2 July 2014

What the Classes Read: Books and Media II

Suitable for shop-girls
An Upward saves money and despises the Americans in one fell swoop:

When it came to anniversaries, high days and holy days, my parents were non-believers. We worshipped at neither Hallmark nor Clinton. Immediate family birthdays were remembered; my mother would dig out a notelet from a pack of 12, a sheet of A4 folded into quarters, with a blue tit or wild flowers on it, and write “Happy birthday darling”, and on their wedding anniversary my father would give her a peck on the cheek. And that, more or less, was it. Easter, Valentine’s, Mother’s or Father’s Day cards, these things were entirely foreign. Cards for passing exams or driving tests, saying welcome to your new home or sorry you’re sick: these were unimaginable. If someone died or had a baby, she wrote on Basildon Bond. I suppose she was, in her own mild way, an unconscious card snob. Why don’t you care about Mother’s Day, I asked her, worried I was doing something wrong when I saw other children buying their mothers the obligatory outsized padded satin cards and flowers. Even then there was peer group pressure. Oh, that’s just a silly American thing, she said. They’re trying to make money out of you. Mothers don’t need a card to know you love them. In that regard, thankfully, our family didn’t do gush or guilt trips.
(Melanie Reid, Times April 11 2014)

It used to be terribly common to write letters on deckle-edged notepaper (Upwards called it "writing paper"), but some Weybridges in the 60s thought it was awfully grand. Ditto coloured writing paper, envelopes lined with blue tissue paper, purple ink, and linen-effect greetings cards.

Back then, Weybridges were the ones with pompous pen sets and blotters. They gave their children expensive Parker pens with gold-plated nibs for passing exams. Upwards bought antique sets. (My parents used to shower me with Victorian writing slopes and inkwells in the shape of Venetian gondolas in an attempt to improve my handwriting. Or did they just want me to write more letters?)

Some Upwards and Weybridges forbade their children to watch ITV when it appeared. (Coronation Street? It's about working-class people!) They probably forbade comics as well (will stop children learning to read). Now they forbid mobile phones or Facebook, or ration the use of “devices”.

When Upwards complain about the huge coverage given to sport or royal weddings/babies because they’re not interested in these things, they forget that they are the smallest segment of the population, and that people who care about sport and the royals far, far outnumber them. Is that why they moan about “materialism” and “celeb-worship”? Lord Reith would cringe at X Factor and Strictly.

Upwards have always whinged about news media and are always asking “How is this news!?”  Odd, when all Upwards want to work in publishing. If you are an Upward who works in publishing, other Upwards will assume you work in book publishing or on one of the broadsheets (EITHER the Times OR the Guardian). Their smiles become rather fixed when you explain you work in magazines – in fact, you love magazines! (One asked me once, rather crossly, “What are all these magazines that you love?” I wondered if she’d ever been inside a WH Smith, where you can choose between three different magazines on carp fishing. She was more of a Stow Crat, so perhaps she never had. Or perhaps “we” just don’t “see” magazines.)

In his day Edgar Wallace often was dismissed, with unabashed class condescension, as a writer of cheap thrills who appealed only to clerks, mechanics, shopgirls and house servants. (

Upwards love “funny” programmes that are not funny at all. Like Garrison Keillor and Twin Peaks. And The Office. Do they like watching people suffer agonies of embarrassment?

More here.

1 comment:

  1. I still remember a long-ago boyfriend who, when I told him I was going to parents' silver wedding, told me that his parents thought it was common to celebrate wedding anniversaries, or even to remember the date. Was it Claud Cockburn who told posh relatives he was going to work at The Times, and they said 'but that's tantamount to journalism!' It became a great favourite phrase of mine. And not only about The Times.