Thursday 25 November 2010

Come into the Garden

Trellis is "twee" and timber garden sheds are "flouncy". Guardian Sat June 28 08

For these berserkers it's not enough to mow the existing grass and prune overgrown trees, and just live there. In some anal need to banish nature, they'll chop down the trees, take down hedges that gave privacy to the neighbors... banish anything that might attract a bee or caterpillar, rip out everything but chemically tended grass, and throw Round-up around like salt on popcorn. I'm not talking about renewing an old garden, or making space for a new one but of deliberately disappearing any semblance of a garden. They are not NON-gardeners - they are ANTI-gardeners.

Caroline Stow-Crat thinks rockeries and crazy paving are “suburban”. And as for gnomes! But “the earliest gnomes arrived in Britain during the 1860s at Lamport Hall in Northampton where they inhabited a large rockery.” (Museum of Garden History website) She also despises chrysanthemums (which the Definitelies call "mums").

Why the fear of suburbs? All English houses aspire to be a country house with grounds, but in the suburbs there is only room for a strip at the front and a patch at the back. Even in cities, Victorian terraces were built with a strip separating them from the pavement. Today the strips are home to dustbins and overgrown Victorian shrubs (cotoneaster, privet, spotted laurel) selected more for their resistance to soot than their beauty - if they haven’t been turned sensibly into parking spaces. According to the Evening Standard (Jan 30 08), “suburbia is the most popular residential location of choice for about 60 per cent of households”.

Samantha Upward takes country house Sissinghurst or country opera venue Glyndebourne as her gardening model, despite having only 30 feet of back garden. She tries to reproduce an all-white garden, or crammed herbaceous borders. Primary colours are out. She thinks it’s suburban to tarmac your drive (gravel’s OK), and fulminates against those who concrete over their front gardens to create a parking place - nowhere for rain to soak in, we’ll all be under three feet of water in a few years. She doesn’t know whether to create a Mediterranean/ Dungeness dry garden to save water or plant a lot of rushes and watermint and wait for the floods.

If Samantha lives in the city she creates a jungle in the back yard with several large sculptures. She can’t have anything variegated, unlike Eileen and Howard Weybridge. Shrubs in clashing colours (robinia and copper beech) surround their Orpington home, where Virginia creeper only partly conceals the pebble-dash. Their patio is paved in York stone and somewhere there’s a bird bath or sundial, or both. They go so well with the concrete shepherdess. Sam bans shepherdesses and cupids, but her sculptures (by living artists) are just as sentimental in their own way.

If you’re the Countess of Northumberland you can do whatever you like and have a treehouse, giant waterslide and poison garden - but there was an awful lot of huffing while work was in progress at Alnwick (pronounced “Annick”).

There’s a snobbery of rose varieties: they have to be old roses from the right suppliers. (Pale pink and rumpled, with a sweet scent, they’re like 30s underwear.) Jen Teale has hybrid teas roses called Ena Harkness and Waltztime, scentless and firmly scrolled, and orange or salmon-pink (the colours of mid-60s lipstick, which is probably when they were bred). She also has a shaved lawn with no moss or weeds (Samantha sneers at people who cut their grass too short). Jen used to have either a clump of pampas grass or a laburnum in the centre of her lawn. Christine has a water feature and solar-powered garden lights. Both are common because electricity in any form (it powers the water feature) is unnatural. She also has decking, herring-bone brick paths and a circular patio in the centre of the back garden. And a brick-paved drive. When she bought the house she cleared the garden of any plants that were growing there.

Some Weybridges have a Spanish colonial mansion outside Haslemere with green curved roof tiles and wrought iron balconies. The grounds were laid out c. 1920 by a follower of Gertrude Jekyll and incorporate a small wood and lots of vivid rhododendrons and azaleas. Otherwise, or as well, Eileen has a mature monkey puzzle tree (araucaria), and (if she lives in the West Country) palm trees. In the 60s she had a vast lawn with a small heather garden, or a collection of dwarf conifers, at the end. In fine weather she relaxes in a padded 3-seater "swinging hammock".

The Nouveau-Richards’s garden is mainly oceans of lawn that comes right up to the house with no shade trees or shrubs – They’re very proud of their “landscaped” grounds. “Landscaped’” means cleaned up, tidied and shaved - hoovered, like the house - with trees dotted neatly about and maybe a bright blue pool with carefully selected white rocks around it. It’s wipe-clean nature. Mr Nouveau-Richards still mows the grass using a sit-on lawnmower.

There’s a deck or patio with chairs, seed-packet sun loungers and umbrellas huddled near the house, a tennis-court over here, and a wishing well plonked in the middle of a field-size lawn. It’s not for the agoraphobic. Somewhere in the middle distance there’s an elaborate kid’s adventure playground cum tree/wendy house with pointed gables that’s much more attractive than the McMansion itself.

In the front there’s an area of gravel the size of a football pitch for all their friends to park, with a ten-car garage at the side. (There must be firms selling décor to the superrich, but why has no one persuaded them to lay out their grounds in imitation of Versailles? It’s kinda disappointing. They could at least have herbaceous borders full of canna lilies and clashing bedding plants. Apparently they’re now buying Zen gardens… or being sold them.)

More here, and links to the rest.

Sunday 14 November 2010

What Your Decor Says About You

They have a wine chiller, an espresso machine and his-and-hers TVs in their bathroom.

Michael Gove on Rosie Millard on Radio 4 being taken round a gazillionaire’s mansion, Times April 22, 2008: “...she was manifestly horrified by one, dominant, factor about the décor. Rosie had clearly been prepared for a vulgar display of ostentatious wealth, all gold taps, Swarovski crystal and white leather sofas. Instead, to her obvious disappointment and regret, everything was beige... The agent explained that the clientele with an interest in this place had grown used to living out of suitcases in five-star hotels, where every room is a lighter shade of beige, and they had come to associate that gentle colour scheme with luxury. Good taste even. To my ear, Rosie seemed quite moved on behalf of those in thrall to this delusion. The poor dears, condemned to thinking beige tasteful. How grimly, corporately, homogeneously, internationally, airport-loungely, bankerishly dull... beige is the colour not so much of bad taste as of no taste.”

The Stow-Crats have a drawing room (short for withdrawing room which was where the ladies “withdrew” after dinner so that both sexes could have a comfort break). Upwards have a sitting room, Weybridges and Teales a living room. Only airports and hotels have lounges. The ubertrendy Upwards have a flexible living space on the semi-mezzanine (their bedrooms are in the basement). They think this unconventional layout is fearfully “witty”.

The Nouveau-Richards’ house has huge rooms with space for several leather suites. There is nothing personal in sight. The fitted carpets are hoovered within an inch of their lives. It’s like a very upmarket B&B. There’s a vast marble-tiled hall with grand staircases curving up on either side and a huge sculpture dead centre. This room is used for nothing. The NRs buy old portraits and pretend they are of their own relatives. They – and the Definitelies – have a horseshoe-shaped sofa, which would be rather cosy.

Sam goes on living like a student for far too long. (According to Katherine Whitehorn we all think we belong with the group about ten years younger than us.) She aspires to the upper-class rotting-silk, antique-furniture, everything-covered-with-dog-hair look, but you need space for that. When she has children the toys and tiny clothes join the general clutter of laundry baskets on the sofa and catfood by the sink. Art by the children is bluetacked up next to posters of polar bears and aerial views of endangered rainforests and they all get a bit grubby and dog-eared. Her hall is full of bicycles and boots and the banisters are permanently draped with children’s pink duffel coats. In the 80s Sam rag rolled and sponge painted her walls in purple or lime. It was like living inside a boiled sweet. She covers her chairs and sofas with nonmatching “throws” instead of cleaning them. She moans a lot about people who install UPVC windows in period properties.

The Definitelies throw double-sided fake fur rugs on their beds. They also have a corner sofa plus coffee table, or a horseshoe one in black leather, plus a ceiling fan, a black shag pile carpet, an onyx table and a lifesize ceramic cheetah.

Some Bohemian Upwards add stuffed unicorns, dressmaker’s dummies and dried hydrangeas to the bicycles and coats in their halls. In the 70s, Arkana Nightshade painted her walls dark chocolate to set off her collection of antique lace garments and ostrich feathers in vases. The lace got dusty and brittle and the feathers were eaten by moths. She threw it all out and went in for feng shui. She offers to feng shui Sam’s life for a reduced fee, but Sam is terrified of becoming too tidy and Weybridge.

Sam and Caro Stow-Crat have open fires involving endless faff with coal, logs and rolled up newspaper, though the result is lovely. Sam may have a wood burning stove. The NRs have a hole-in-the-wall fire with (gas) flames coming up through a pile of pebbles. Now everyone’s got central heating, the Teales and Weybridges don’t need their coal-effect electric fires any more and either put the telly in the old fireplace or fill it with racks of wine bottles, or arrangements of fir-cones (which is what the Victorians did with theirs in the summer). The Definitelies have a wall-mounted, flat-panel, real-flame-effect number that emits heat as well. Or they have an “electric fireplace suite” (or just “electric suite”), that includes fireplace, mantel and integral electric (flame effect) fire. You can even get one that looks like a wood-burning stove, to the fury of the Upwards. Sam would call it a “mantelpiece”, with a slight shudder because she thinks there was some stricture in Nancy Mitford’s Noblesse Oblige. (It specifies “chimneypiece” – probably in reaction to vulgarly elaborate Edwardian overmantels with many brackets and shelves. Surely due a revival.)

Caro and the N-Rs have chandeliers, and so do the Definitelies, who bought theirs in the Woolworths closing-down sale. The N-Rs have theirs cleaned by a specialist company, and also hire art students to hand-paint their wallpaper and murals. Caro’s chandelier is in one of the state rooms she never uses, with each crystal tied up in muslin. It has never been converted to electricity. Every few years she takes it to bits and washes each crystal. She can give you tips on cleaning marble fireplaces, too.

Sam can’t have anything fitted except her kitchen and possibly not even that. She 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.

The Nouveau Richards have a fitted kitchen with many too many, too low cupboards, and “worktops” that you can’t do any work on because you’d hit your head on the cupboards. They have an “island” instead of a kitchen table. The Definitelies have black granite worktops and a breakfast bar.

Caro wonders: If you have a sitting room with an open fire, where do you put the television? Most people put it next to the fire. And what do you put it ON? A cabin trunk? A specially made low table? In the olden days, you put it in a separate room (and hotels had a “television room”).

Neither Sam nor Caro can use coasters (small, rigid mats you slip under people’s drinks or teacups to save your furniture). Caro leaves magazines on her furniture for people to put drinks down on. Sam doesn’t care, or else all her furniture is so covered with nicknacks, toys and old coffee mugs that there’s nowhere to put anything down anyway.

Eileen Weybridge has a set of coasters that matches her table mats: Indian red or forest green framing 18th century hunting scenes. She has large rooms with acres of pale, short-haired fitted carpet. Sam wonders how on earth she keeps it clean – but then Eileen is disciplined and efficient, and probably has a cleaning lady. The furniture is new repro, very shiny. Safe, unexciting pictures may include a bad oil or pastel portrait of Eileen or her daughter, or a meticulous painting of elephants. In her kitchen Eileen has a red Aga, and linen teatowels printed with unreliable legends about places she’s visited on holiday, or “old Cornish prayers”. She keeps her biscuits in a barrel, Sam keeps hers in a tin (that probably once held a gift assortment), and Caro keeps hers in a cream and green tin marked “biscuits” that’s been in the family for 75 years. The ubertrendy Upwards have the same tin, but it’s from a boutique which bought it at a boot sale.

The Teales have leather coasters printed with wolves — they collect Lupiana. They have wolf posters, wolf mouse mats, Howling Wolves cushion covers and a Running Grey Wolf Credit Card Case, and Jen embroiders large pictures incorporating a wolf, a bare tree, a crescent moon and an Indian brave. Other Teales collect fairyana, or - if male - cast their own metal-effect Dungeons and Dragons characters.

The Teales did up their house in the 80s and never moved on - or else the interiors shops in their area never moved on. Every room has a dado: stripes underneath, flowery border, little blobby pattern above in shades of orange, jade, brick, grey, pink, lemon. The bathroom has a tiled dado. They have the last tart’s knicker blinds surviving in the wild. Their windows have elaborate draped pelmets. Though thanks to strenuous efforts by TV makeover shows this stylistic elephant’s graveyard is being obliterated by magnolia paint and very, very neat minimalist interiors.

Caro's mother has photographs of the royals in silver frames on the grand piano. Mrs Definitely has all her family in plastic cubes on the telly, or in a multi-picture frame, or in non-matching frames on the mantelpiece. Upwards don't display family photos. Out of sight out of mind – they just forget what family members look like.

Successful Teales live in new-build flats or converted warehouses in Docklands. Their flats are feng shui’d to the (non-existent) coving and contain practically nothing apart from rubber rocking chairs, modular foam sofas and glass tables. They have state-of-the-art kitchens (with islands, extractor hoods, granite and brushed steel) that they never cook in. They have a terrace with decking and bamboos in pots - they came with the flat.

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.
More here. And more here. And here. And here.

World of Interiors

 Howard and Eileen Weybridge buy an old house in the country and paint it bright pink, add leaded windows, and decorate the outside with wagon wheels and those stone mushrooms barns used to sit on. Inside, there’s too much varnished dark wood with an orange cast. If they buy an Arts and Crafts house they rip out the beautiful wooden overmantels, block up the fireplaces, and knock through all the pantries, sculleries and entrance halls. They replace the stained glass with double glazing. Somehow anything post-Victorian doesn’t count as an “original feature”. They live in very expensive gated communities (now known as “enclaves”).

 The Definitelies have leaded, diamond-paned windows in their bought council flat, and a Georgian door with a fanlight, a Spanish wrought-iron outer door and loads of hanging baskets with pink geraniums, lobelias and petunias, like a pub. There are some Definitelies made good who have a bungalow on the North Circular. They’ve turned it into a mini-Versailles with a scalloped wall plus stone balls, and a door with a broken pediment and corinthian pilasters flanked by two lions couchant. The garden is full of dracaenas, which are the new pampas grass.

 Bryan and Jen Teale live in a boxy house built in the 60s. Somewhere inside it is a panel of embossed glass. They may build on a conservatory or log-ear or lowjear (loggia, pronounced lodger). (“We call it a canopy porch in Dorset”, as someone said on To Buy or Not to Buy.) If they make a lot of money, they build their “dream home” in the country. It has downlighters, slate floors, and an “open-plan kitchen/living area”. This is a kitchen and a living room without the wall in between – the “units” still describe the space where the kitchen would have been.

More here, and links to the rest.

Middle Class Houses

“Nine out of ten homebuyers, it seems, will always be drawn to a Georgian rectory in its own grounds.” Times, May 22, 2009 The article goes on to say that everybody wants land so that their children can have ponies. The Times is living in a world of its own, but why should we be surprised?

Samantha Upward can’t live in a gated community. Or in a new-build in commuting distance of work. Or any development with a show home. She can’t buy anything “off plan”. And she can't live in a 30s house. Upward houses used to be Georgian only, but approval was extended to Victorian houses, and then Edwardian. Late Victorian style was once abominated by Upwards. She never calls their house their "home".

Sam can’t live in an Arts and Crafts house either – much too Weybridge, golf courses and pines. And no half-timbering unless the house is genuinely Tudor - definitely not Bypass Variegated. A friend bought a 30s house and her circle were mortified. They made it into a big joke and called the place “Gnome Cottage”, even presenting her with a wooden plaque with the name carved on. Upwards are terribly unforgiving, and rigidly conformist while selling themselves as free spirits.

Gideon and Samantha don’t have a swimming pool, they use next door’s, though Sam would like a swimming pond. Howard and Eileen’s is kidney shaped. The N-Rs’ has a wave machine.

Tarmac drives are common – the upper classes have gravel. The Middletons (parents of Kate) 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”.) Upwards and Weybridges who can afford it like a big house at the end of a long, long drive so that you’re cut off from other people – they call this “tranquillity”.

Most Upwards live in Victorian and Edwardian houses with as many "original features" as they can cram in. They strip all the wood "back", including the floorboards, and fill the place with collections of not-very-valuable objets d'art. There’s a tiny subset who buy an amusing 50s ranch style house and fill it with G plan furniture, Poole "Delphos" pottery and Whitefriars glass - to the bafflement of their friends and family.

Property Quotes

The Nouveau-Richards have a huge mansion in Cheshire with walled grounds, remotely operated electric gates, swimming pool, stables, paddocks, tennis court, games room, themed rooms, bar, plasma TVs, music in every room (in Victorian times it would have been ball rooms and billiard rooms). At their London house they have an underground lap pool. They'd be in the market for one of the following:

A magnificent waterfront residence standing in a prime position with its own two-berth marina and jetty. Six double bedrooms, eight bathrooms, three reception rooms, full-sized snooker/games room with associated bar/lounge, gymnasium, exceptional air-conditioned and humidified wine cellar, cinema room, private lift to all floors, wet room, seven-car basement garage, brand new twin-berth marina and pontoon, landscaped grounds. (Property website)

“Built in a bewildering variety of styles, it has a neoclassical entrance with Grecian style pillars and a green copper roof with Velux windows. An indoor leisure complex features a large pool and glass bridge, a Turkish bath and sauna. The master bedroom suite has a salon, dressing room, meeting room, office and kitchen. There are six further bedroom suites.” Evening Standard on Toprak Mansion, Bishops Avenue, January 21, 2008

“The refurbishment includes plans for a helicopter pad which will sink... into the garden, a 30-seat cinema and even a small river.” Evening Standard Jan 28 08

The custom-built Italian kitchen includes Gaggenau appliances and cabinetry, with Corian work surfaces. The master bedroom occupies an entire floor... A Lutron Homeworks system… governs the lighting, TV and satellite systems, central music, electronic window blinds and underfloor heating. Jewish Chronicle July 2010

Is this the biggest of them all? West Sussex is the location of just one of many homes of Russian oil tycoon and Chelsea Football Club owner Roman Abramovich. The 300-acre Fyning Hill estate is a collection of buildings including a twenties mansion, a second house, six cottages, a staff flat and four guest rooms, also boasts three polo grounds, formal gardens, a lake, a 50ft outdoor swimming pool, a tennis court, a go-kart track, a clay-pigeon shooting site, a trout lake, a rifle range and an equestrian centre.The property is said to be ringed by an electric fence for extra security. Virgin website feature on the homes of the rich

More here, here, here and here.


Samantha Upward wears antique jewellery and doesn't follow fashions (as she doesn't follow watch/perfume fashion). She's very anti-bling. Weybridges and Teales update their jewellery, following trends for cocktail rings, cuffs, chokers, sautoir necklaces, golfball necklaces, waisted and wishbone rings. Christine Teale wears a refined version of modern bling – very light silver and gold chains with tiny pendants. Pendant is a very Teale word. Sam says jewel, Jen says gem or gemstone – she likes aquamarines. Coloured pearls are terribly common.

Arkana wears a fistful of silver rings with huge semiprecious stones. Sharon wears a vast gold-effect earring with her name on it. If she wears real gold it's shiny, faceted and yellow. Sam would wear old gold (or pinchbeck). Caroline still calls it “eold geold” but Sam is trying hard to say “golld” with a short O because she’s sick of people laughing at her. Caroline, as well as inherited antique jewellery, might wear designer jewellery using big, uneven turquoise, amber and carnelian beads – especially if it’s made by a friend who doesn’t sell through a shop but has sales in her home.

In the 80s, watch and perfume snobbery was a Teale thing - Swatches, Rolexes and those ones with a granite/serpentine face with no markings, just hands. Harry Stow-Crat has a gold fob watch that belonged to his father. Digital watches have been naff since about 1977, and competitive perfume became common when people like Jade produced their own “line” and dress designers produced scent.

Holiday Wardrobe

When the Weybridges or the Teales visit London, they wear their holiday wardrobe - consisting of lightweight, practical matching leisurewear in stone or olive, with a lot of rainproof material, pockets and little strings with toggles. The Teales wear pale blouson jackets with burgundy corduroy accoutrements. The Weybridges’ outfits will be more hardwearing and military: their hats have zip pockets, and green brims to keep off the tropical sun. They even act as if they are on safari and the Londoners carrying on with their lives are the lions of Longleat. Their equivalents from the States wear shorts, polo shirts, baseball caps and small backpacks (whole family dressed the same). They all walk slowly in the middle of the pavement and stand on the left on escalators.

When Jen goes abroad she gets a whole new outfit of cotton strappy tops (you wear two at once with the underneath one showing) and cropped, wide-legged trousers with extra pockets and straps. Jade and apricot still have a firm grip. When Christine goes to a beach party in Thailand she wears a lot of turquoise, set off by shell jewellery on thongs. Sam gets her cotton dresses out of the old trunk she keeps them in and puts them on without washing and ironing them. She doesn’t own an ironing board.

Caro wears "bathers", Sam a "bathing suit", Eileen a "swimming costume", Jen a "tankini". Howard still calls swimming shorts “trunks”. Caro and Sam can never wear a tankini, or a gilet, or any garment with a name invented by a manufacturer.

Christine dresses Bryan in Dad clothes, especially on holiday. He wears baggy, low slung shorts with legs that stop just below the knee, and sandals like cut-up trainers. They make his legs look extremely short and hide everything that another woman might be interested in. On holiday, Sam and Gid wear old clothes: too-small jeans (Gideon), baggy shirts (Sam). Though if she can afford it, Sam buys them holiday clothes from Lands End (baggy cords and check shirts for him, fleece tops and elasticated denims for her). Eileen wears denim trousers with a denim jacket and denim butcher-boy hat, which she likes because she can shove her hair inside it and nobody can see her roots need doing. She also wears a denim dress of no particular period or style.

What to Wear

Wearing "ethnic" is sartorial code for, "I am much too serious to bother myself with fashion. I choose jewellery that looks a bit like something you'd find in an obscure gallery of the British museum to show how cultured I am. My female friends wear artisan scarves and consider themselves evolutionarily superior to women who wear diamanté." The tribal trend is an attempt by fashion designers to combat this. Good luck with that. Kate Muir ©Guardian News and Media 2010

Stow-Crats believe that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The upper classes don’t DO fashion. Harry wears his father’s indestructible tweed three-piece suits. Princess Anne’s style was fixed in the 60s, the Queen Mother’s in the 30s (those hats), and Queen Mary’s in the 1910s. Caro’s mother would get a tweed suit tailor made in a classic style so that it would last for years. One does not wear black in the country, one wears hunting clothes in camouflage colours – even one’s Wellington (rubber) boots are green. Sam used to call them “Wellingtons” but now finds herself calling them gumboots. Jen wears black “wellies”, Sam’s are flowery, and Sharon wears pink ones with a swirly pattern.

The same declension applies to trainers. Caro’s children wear white lace-up plimsolls (called after Mr. Plimsoll, who invented the Line). When Sam was a child, she wondered why she couldn’t have black plimsolls, or the elasticated ones that you didn’t have to lace up, like her friends. Eileen’s children wear “plimmies”. Jen and the Definitelies wear trainers. Jen’s are pink, blue or stone and look quite like shoes. The Definitelies’ trainers are big and have thick soles and cost a packet. Dave Definitely opens a shop selling them to collectors.

Eileen buys her clothes from Jacques Vert and thought Norma Major always looked well turned out. She and Jen purchase mother-of-the-bride outfits and occasion-wear from designers called Jesiré and Claudia Strater. (Sam thinks occasional gifts are what you give to people only sometimes. Eileen has a set of nesting occasional tables for when you have occasion to use them.)

Caroline wears a shirt with the collar turned up (in the 80s it was a piecrust). Before scarves disappeared from all heads but the Queen’s, she knotted hers on, not below, her chin. Both stratagems are designed to hide a double chin or wattles, which she doesn’t have.

Sharon Definitely’s clothes are trimmed with white fur. She wears white shoes with a white handbag (with fringes and rivets). Once the Definitelies adopted pink acryclic pseudo crochet ponchos nobody else could wear one (“Instant chav!” sighed Samantha). Definitelies dress their children as mini-adults. In the early 60s, everyday wear for little Definitely girls was a very short black velvet frock with a lace collar, accessorised by white pants, white knee socks and black patent T-bar shoes.

Jen’s clothes are always new, clean and ironed. She gives them to charity long before they’ve had a chance to get grey and bobbly. Sam wears Oxfam clothes, or a velvet jacket she’s had since university. She sticks with a hairstyle that she thinks suits her. If she lives in the country, she’s still wearing a long entrelac cardigan in muted French blue, jade and ochre.

When people wore slips, Sam would have called them “petticoats”. They’re now called “chemises”, according to the catalogues. Sam would never wear a "top" but a blouse, shirt, teeshirt or jersey. Or a shawl or stole. Eileen would wear a jersey or sweater, Jen and Mrs Definitely a top. Jen wears a “tee”, as the fashion press calls teeshirts. Sharon lives in sportswear. Sam looks down on people who don sports clothes without doing a sport, forgetting that men’s three-piece suits were based on 18th century hunting clobber.

Christine Teale saves up for a pair of expensive knee-high boots (Upwards never save up for anything, they just get a bigger overdraft). She has a smart work wardrobe, black and white if she works in the City (London’s financial district – translator’s note), and completely different weekend clothes. She wears strappy vest tops and cropped combats which make her bottom look large, but she doesn’t care, it’s just the thing for enjoying a barbecue in the back garden with friends. Her clothes become middle aged (or as she’d say, mumsy) far sooner than Thalia Upward’s. She’ll never meet Thalia in Wallis, but they might bump into each other in Gap or Next. Thalia goes to work in the same eccentric gear she wore as a student (Human Resources “have a word” with her about it).

Sam can't wear patent leather (the nuns used to say that if you wore patent leather shoes, boys could see your pants reflected in them). She can't wear faux leather either, even though she's a vegan. She is seen riding a sit-up-and-beg bike (with a basket) along the pavements of Bloomsbury, wearing a floral frock teamed with a cycling helmet.

No bare arms after 35, only pearls before dusk, says Caro’s mother. If she tells you in a marked manner “It’s snowing in Paris,” she means your petticoat is showing.

Don’t wear anything too jolly, says Mimi Spencer in The Times, 13 Nov 2010. This applies to patterned wellies, appliqué, decorative knitwear, “interesting” hosiery and witty handbags. … The same goes for slippers in the shape of cuddly toys, paisley, red and green together and over-accessorising (big earrings + big necklace).

Saturday 13 November 2010

How to Bring Up Children

"Our society is child obsessed" said The Observer, Aug 10 08 - meaning that we don't ignore, neglect or abuse them quite so much as we used to. The English middle classes can only stand so much being nice to children (abolition of corporal punishment in schools, children being given rights) before they fight back with dangerous activity holidays.

Jen Teale calls small children "little people" which makes Samantha Upward want to throw up. Sam calls them “children” because, as Eileen says, “a kid is a baby goat”, and besides it’s horribly folksy to call them “kids”. Gideon Upward can't seem to see that toddlers ARE little people, and expects them to be able to use a knife and fork, remove screw-top lids, "remember" to turn off lights and “get” irony.

Upward infants are given wooden toys. Teale “toddlers” get expensive play equipment for the garden. Definitely kids get Barbie’s Magic Castle.

Sharon Definitely signs her kids up with a child model agency. Jen’s join the sea cadets or play in a brass band. Sam’s poor offspring can’t even join the Brownies.

Teale children go to local schools where they make friends for life who live nearby. If their grades are good, they get a new bicycle or a “fountain pen” (to Teales, a pen is a biro). Upward children go to boarding school and have no-one to hang out with in the holidays. It may take decades for them to realise they’ve been short-changed. They’re given gold fountain pens when they’re longing for a giant cuddly lion. (This is archaic - it's all gadgets these days!)

Thalia Upward moves out of London to protect her children from commercialisation and celebrity culture. Some Upwards go slightly mad when they have children and put them into an exclusion zone. (No child of mine is going to watch Tellytubbies or eat Coco Pops!) Thalia rigidly rations her children’s telly/DVD watching and computer use. She only lets her children watch black and white movies. Her daughter is left out at school because she’s never watched Big Brother and doesn’t have a Barbie.

This attempt to control all input is usually foiled as soon as their kid meets others and hears about Action Man. Maybe the Upwards can absorb their folk devils one at a time - oh, the Tellytubbies are all right really but Coco Pops, never! Or else they moan about how guilty they feel about the rising tide of plastic tat and try to put the blame on someone or something else (“We had to! He said everyone else had got one! I had to do something to shut him up! It’s this terrible consumer society we live in!”) They find the plastic clutter particularly oppressive because they don’t know how to tidy up or store anything. Jen puts big toy bins in the kids’ bedrooms.

Upwards dress their children in special kid clothes. Old-fashioned, cotton, cute, smocked dresses and dungarees. The kids look wistfully at the Definitely children who are wearing designer brands covered in logos. The Upwards also don’t let their kids “play out” in case they mix with the wrong kind of children. But they’re the ones who complain about health and safety gone mad, the nanny state, and wrapping kids in cotton wool, and how we daren’t let them out to play any more for fear of paedophiles. Actually the real danger is cars (many more of them now than in 50s, 70s or whenever you were a child).

If Thalia stays in London, she goes to church to get her children into a CoE school where everybody wears a uniform and is well-behaved. The children like the singing and the family make friends and Thalia appreciates a quiet sit-down in beautiful surroundings and begins to think that Jesus had a point. But she doesn’t think she has anything in common with any weird American sect which insulates its children from the wider culture and dresses them in Little House on the Prairie frocks.

Upwards will tell you that childhood was invented by the Victorians, but all the same they want their kids to stay kids—they’re terrified of their children becoming “precocious”. At the same time they insist that the poor little mites eat and like very adult food that’s strong tasting or impossible to manipulate. They don't want them to let the class side down by preferring white bread and Heinz tomato soup. They give their kids food that has to be eaten with knives and forks and then yell at them for having terrible table manners.

They’re also keen that their children shouldn’t be frightened of dogs. When a large dog thrusts its face at their toddler (tied into his pushchair so he can’t escape), they take the dog’s side and insist it’s only trying to be friendly. The ones who Escape to the Country would really like their children to associate only with animals.

Upwards and Weybridges are very down on fear generally. People should just shut up about the paedophile threat - it’s making us too frightened. (See nanny state, cotton wool etc.) And they whinge in chorus at antiterrorist measures (“We mustn’t let FEAR of terrorists impede our FREEDOM in anyway.”)

Howard woofles that in his day children respected adollts (accent on the second syllable). He fails to understand why parents can't control their children in public (he thinks there must be some way of turning the sound right off).

Manners - say please! What's the magic word! You can, and you may! All groups try to teach their kids "manners" far too young - when the child has only just learned to talk.

What the Classes Read

Weybridges buy hardbacks and keep them in their dust jackets and only open them a crack so as not to break the spine. Howard says the idea of damaging books is morally repulsive. It means the Weybridges can’t read on the bus or train, but they don't mind because they travel everywhere by car. At home they prop the books on a carved wooden book rest to read, either on the dining room table or in bed.

Upwards buy paperbacks, break their spines, turn down their pages, drop them in the bath, throw them away and give them to Oxfam in crates, but they have bookshelves all round the walls full of orange Penguins, blue Pelicans, grey world classics, green-and-white detective stories, Picadors from the 80s, green Viragoes. Sam cuts fat books in half so she can put them in her bag or read them on the bus. On holiday in the wilds, she tears off the flyleaves to use as loopaper.

Eileen Weybridge belongs to a book group and reads the novels of the moment, which tend to be sentimental treatments of a current "issue".

Teales have one bookshelf in the living room which is only half-full. They read car repair manuals, crochet pattern books and Harry Potter. Jen listens to self-help audiobooks and is thinking of buying a Kindle.

Stow-Crats have hardbacks about Queen Elizabeth I and the Sackville-Wests. They have a library of leatherbound books in the west wing, but nobody ever reads them. They leave a pile of paperbacks in every guest bedroom, and used to put a tin of biscuits and a carafe of water on the bedside table – a hangover from pre-running water days.

Where the Upwards Live

When I bought a flat in Hackney (London) in the 80s a friend said: "Well, people are moving into the East End now" (as if the teeming millions, Eliza Doolittle and the Brothers Kray didn’t live there already). Samantha is appalled when her area begins to degentrify and bookshops are replaced by pound shops – or never gentrifies as promised.

Before Samantha's daughter Thalia moves out of London, she and her husband and children live in a large house in a distant and unfashionable suburb (though she’d never call it that) which is just next to a slightly more fashionable suburb. But it’s worth living in the less-desirable area because you get more space for your money.

Upwards have a sense of entitlement about space: they think they deserve a really, really big house with a lot of land (paddocks, orchards). If they live in a small house they act as if it was much bigger, filling it with nick nacks and clutter and huge furniture and never throwing anything away. That’s the real reason they move to the country, or France.

Upwards can't live in suburbs, or in provincial towns. Giles Whittell wrote in The Times
January 10, 2008: Some close friends of mine are in the following two-phase pickle. Phase one: respectable family with loveable kids pays mindbending school fees for want of a decent state primary, drawing psychological and sometimes actual support from soaring house prices. Phase two: credit crunch hits house prices and coincides with (yet) another baby...
“So move!” I tell them. “Do what everyone else does and get out!” But they're too delusional, or vain. (I've heard them talk about Tunbridge Wells and season tickets as a sort of death.) ...It's a tribal thing.

Stoke Newington is a suburb of North London attractive to Upwards who buy small Victorian houses and have two children called Chloe and Hugo. It’s very child-friendly, with children’s clothes shops with twee names like Two Potato Three. Stokey mums take their tiny children to the Belle Epoque café on Newington Green (where you can buy a peach tart for £11.50). The children go to the good primary schools in the area but before they reach secondary school age the parents move to Crouch End where the schools are better and less “mixed”.

Stokey attracts a particular brand of Upward. They used to be very politically active and there are still a lot of gay couples. The straight couples consist of a powerful woman and a pale, scrawny man whose shoulders are bowed under the weight of the small child strapped to his chest. His wife buys all his clothes including the baggy shorts he wears in summer. They don’t have rows, they “discuss issues”. Stokey dad is often found in sole charge of the kids. He talks to them in public plaintively and reasonably and much too much (and in slightly too loud a voice). He gives them scientific explanations why they can’t eat anything containing E numbers. The children tell you that they can’t have fizzy drinks or they’ll become hyperactive. They become drug addicts later in life.

Stokeys hang out in Fresh and Wild eating health foods and reading the notices about drumming circles, Pilates classes and baby yoga. There are two natural health centres. Shops run by Stokey couples sell 50s glassware, organic linen, recycled clothes. Many go bust quite fast, or else shut down when the couple move to Crouch End, where they open a boutique (linen shifts), or a club/café for their friends. Crouch End has so many psychotherapists it is known as Couch End.

Older Upwards move from London to the Cotswolds and become so scared of the big city that on their rare visits everybody they see at Waterloo is a Romanian asylum-seeker on the game. Also as they don’t go out very much any more they never see ordinary people. In fact they avoid places where ordinary people might be (Oxford Street, the seaside). They ask “How can you live in London? Oxford street is so crowded!” They avoid the wrong parts of France.

To many Upwards, the world consists of their own patch (Rock, the Cotswolds, North Norfolk, Fulham, Chelsea, Scotland, Crouch End) and they don't see anything outside it. In London they travel by tube, not bus, so as not to see the places in between.

Photo by Me.

Where the Definitelies Live

In Grays, Essex, (created out of an old chalk quarry) huge Georgian style houses are built on too-small plots, surrounded by a tiny garden full of expensive play equipment. There are no shade trees. All the cars are new Mondeos - nothing is ever bought second hand. There’s nothing to do but give competitive children’s parties with hired entertainers, and go to step aerobics classes (probably now Pilates and Swiss ball). The men have fun with quad bikes and jet skis.

Friern Barnet is rather similar, but more established. Children go to tap or ballet. People live by restoring WWII tanks and then go bankrupt. Business rivals are occasionally shot dead. Families sometimes have wadges of cash, sometimes none. Alternative career choices are protection rackets and private detection of mistresses and secret second families. You can be proud of your son when he gets a good job in a sex shop, or takes up gambling - professionally. Holidays are taken in Blackpool or the gangster parts of Spain. Disputes are solved by violence, running away and never being heard of again, or completely cutting off several members of your family. Get-togethers are difficult as you have to keep track of who’s not talking to whom. No wonder they break out in bisexuality or OCD, order up a Thai bride or suddenly marry their personal trainer or next-door neighbour and move to another continent.

Thanks to @IntervalThinks for fieldwork.

Quotes about Areas

Of course where you live reveals a lot about your place in the class layer cake. And what you call it tells us even more...

The word street, originally a Roman road, eg Ermine Street, came to mean crowded uniform rows of terrace houses or poky suburban villas to be found in every industrial town. At the end of the 19th century, enlightened community planners avoided the word "street". When Ebenezer Howard planned Letchworth, the first garden city, in 1903, he only named one street ... in the entire town. Early Letchworth, a mixture of Shavian enlightenment and Peter Pannish tweeness, called its main drag Broadway ... and there was a plethora of avenues, crescents, ways, shotts and even the Glade Briarpatch and Cowslip Hill. Developers throughout the land took the hint and enticed their genteel customers to live in avenues, crescents, promenades, ways, lanes and even "hoes" and "hays". But never streets. Nigel Agar (county councillor for Letchworth), Hitchin, Herts Guardian Notes and Queries March 20, 2007

According to property information site, the name of the street on which the property is situated can tell us a lot about how much that property is worth. The site found that properties found on streets with "Hill" in the name are worth an average of £341,666, well over 50% more than the average property price in the UK according to Zoopla’s own Zed Index.

Living on a "Lane" also commands a sizeable premium according to the study, with average prices an incredible £328,378.

Other names making up the top five include Mews (£294,869), Park (£283,069) and Green (£269,861).

In contrast, the cheapest properties are found on roads featuring the name "Street", with an average property price of £155,515 – less than half you can expect to pay to live on a Hill!

Other budget streetnames include "Terrace" (£156,387), "Crescent" (£176,488), "Court" (£178,488) and "View" (£184,546).

Friday 12 November 2010

The Definitelies

Jilly Cooper called social class D the Definitely-Disgustings because they’re often outraged: “Definitely! It’s disgusting!” They use overstatement, rather than the restrained understatement of the upper classes (if a duke is severely ill, his friends will say he’s “feeling a little sorry for himself”). But I think I'll just call them the Definitelies.

They’re the working classes, who toil in shops, factories and old people’s homes, clean houses, drive buses, sweep streets, sell fruit and veg. They listen to Radio 1, Heart and Magic, and shop at Lidl, Iceland and Chapel Market, Islington. They watch Sky on a huge plasma TV. They go to socials at their kids’ school and to see Country and Western bands in biker pubs. They have tattoos. They hang St. George flags out of their windows. They live on an estate that won a lot of architectural awards in 1971. They want to blow it up -- the Upwards want to List it. Their children, Sharon and Dave, go to movies in multiplexes and eat boxes of popcorn bigger than their heads. (The movies have lots of CGI and explosions and are very LOUD.) The kids don’t do very well at school but may excel at music or sport. Both generations wear a lot of bling. Mrs D is a granny at 38.

The Teales

The Teales, Jen and Bryan, are the lower middles. They are sensible, reliable, hardworking and pragmatic and plan for the future. The girls work as estate agents or paralegals. The men work in computers, or in local banks. They wear new, clean, clothes and iron their teeshirts. They know how to polish shoes, and dispose of litter carefully. They live in a close full of “new-builds”.

They listen to Radio 2 and shop at Tesco and Safeway. They buy CDs of New Age tinkly harp music and classical crossover. They are Methodists or Evangelicals.

The Weybridges

Howard and Eileen Weybridge are the middle middles. They live in a 30s villa in Orpington (a London suburb) and Eileen buys her clothes at a local boutique. Their children are Paula and Gary.
They listen to Radio 4 and Classic FM and shop at Sainsbury’s. They like to go up to London and see an Andrew Lloyd Webber show. They buy CDs called Relaxing Moods. They play rugby, cricket and golf. They are CoE and vote Conservative. They think of themselves as officer class and don’t like to see NCOs (jobsworths) and lower ranks getting above themselves. They can’t understand why people sneer at Jane Austen, John Betjeman or Agatha Christie.
EM Forster’s novel Howards End is about an Upward marrying a Weybridge (he takes her on a date to a restaurant where they serve huge joints of meat - she takes him to a vegetarian eaterie).

The Nouveau-Richards

The nouveau riches live in screamingly palatial mansions with staff quarters, pools, spas, games rooms, home cinemas, paddocks and stables. The grounds are either lawn or vast areas of gravel. They get their wedding (in a hired stately home or castle) funded by Hello magazine. They send their kids to Eton and Oxford so that they can meet the right people, but they may be a bit confused about who the “right” people are. Twas ever thus -- see the Botts (sauce millionaires from the Just William series) or the Bullyon-Boundermeres (running Punch characters in the early 1900s). They listen to local radio and shop at Harrods. (Who was it whose family had been nouveau riche for seven generations?)

Photo by Alex Segre

The Upwards

The upper middles (represented by Gideon and Samantha Upward) are the smallest group, but we're always hearing from them because they work in the media or academia. They think they’re the most important — almost the only — people in the country.

Because they’ve never had huge amounts of money they have always valued cultural capital: education, taste, appreciation. Unlike the Stow-Crats, who have the confidence gained by titles, ancestral estates and a public school education, Upwards have to struggle all the time to keep their position on the class ladder, and remind themselves how much they matter.

They define themselves largely by what they are not. They don’t drink Nescafe or go to Alton Towers or have a French manicure. Mrs Upward (Samantha) is really sorry for those South Sea Islanders/Indian castes whose entire lives are hedged about with taboos.

They are self-righteous, and love being holier-than-thou about recycling (though recently – 2009 – some have started sneering at people who recycle as if it was a religious rite). They think buy-to-let investors deserve to go bust because they're just too greedy. They don’t like “consumerism” and “materialism”, but this really means “chavs buying chavvy things” – it’s all right for them to buy Boden clothes and Cath Kidston fabrics.

Though they're not rich, they're comfortably off. Despite this, they're sure they have "nooooo money!" and enjoy pinching the pennies. On holiday, they seek out deserted beaches so that their children can't spend money (on junk food and plastic tat).

They’re suspicious of enjoying anything for its own sake (blame their Protestant ancestors). They call fattening desserts “decadent”, as if sticky toffee pudding was the equivalent of a three-day Roman orgy. And lying on a sun lounger with a glass of white is “how very sybaritic!” The Romans probably despised the Sybarites for having too much fun.

They are the most snobbish group. They used to talk about people being “not quite quite” or NOCD (not our class dear), or more elaborately, NQOCMD (not quite our class, my dear). They are more circumspect these days and refer to “ordinary folk”, or condemn phenomena as “suburban”. Though a few years ago (2005) the broadsheets broke out in a rash of sneering about “chavs” - lumpenproletariat in Burberry baseball caps. Any manifestations Upwards don’t approve of are condemned as “common”, though they rarely use the word. It’s one of the many things of which they do not speak.

Their parish magazine is the Guardian – it supports socialism, peace, freedom, democracy and diversity and is by far the most snobbish upmarket newspaper. Samantha (Sam) and her friends had a wonderful time in the 80s pretending to be academics and writing articles about the semiotics of caravan parks and looking down on practically everybody for suffering from “bad faith” and falling for the capitalist plot that is popular culture. Apart from some major gains like the Equal Pay Act and the criminalization of rape within marriage, 80s feminists made little mark and lower middle class values prevailed. Now looks matter, you have to make the best of what you’ve got, and everybody aims for a job, a partner, children and a home instead of faffing about trying to raise anybody’s consciousness or change the world.

Upwards love the working classes - as long as they’re far away or long dead or in another country. They recreate Parisian workers’ bistros, but shun the local greasy spoon caff. Upwards call working class people “the local community” and patronise them within an inch of their lives.

Upwards listen to Radio 4 and 3 and shop at Waitrose. They recycle, watch nature programmes and news, visit museums, turn vegetarian, go to university, read the broadsheets, buy organic. They go to the opera (Samantha loves the costumes, spectacle and story) and the legitimate theatre. They secretly yearn to be famous, but for winning the Booker or presenting Grand Designs rather than going on Big Brother. They are CoE, Catholic or recent Quakers. They vote Labour, Liberal, Green and Monster Raving Loony.

Prof. Higgins said that an Englishman can’t open his mouth without making another Englishman despise him. Class hatred lives, but it’s the poor old Upwards who get it in the neck. “Posh” and “middle class” are terms of abuse constantly flung at the Upwards by people who mistake them for Stow Crats. If you want to sell a classic serial, you have to tie yourself in knots explaining that it’s not middle class really even if it is about people with servants who don’t have to work. Upwards bleat that their ancestors never personally ground the faces of the poor or sent any small children up chimneys or down mines, but nobody listens.

There’s a very bohemian member of the clan who has changed her name several times: Moonglow Gardenchild in the 60s, now Arkana Nightshade. Her garden is full of weeds (she says it’s a Flowery Mead). She grows plants that were used medicinally in medieval times. Her partner has built them an ecohouse on stilts. Her children are Autumn and Icicle (they rejected River, Summer and Leaf as overused) and would get bullied if they weren’t being home-schooled. As it is their friends call them the “Deadly” Nightshades. Arkana holds Gambian drumming workshops in the barn and gets all her furniture out of skips. The Nightshades trade in cool. They are really the worst snobs of all, moving into Hoxton and Brick Lane because “it’s the real London”, pushing up prices and replacing car-repair workshops with galleries flogging conceptual art. The French call them bobos - bourgeois bohemians. But as, somebody said, “Le bohemien, c’est une forme de bourgeois.”

The Stow-Crats

“A few rich people, many of them aristocrats, own 69% of the land in Britain” says the New Statesman (20 Sept 2004). Americans call anyone who’s got a lot of money and a big house an “aristocrat”, but in Britain they have titles given to them by royalty way back in the mists of – about 500 years ago. A lot of British “heritage” only goes back to the Tudors.

Stow-Crats are more likely to condemn people and things as “vulgar” than denigrate them as “common”. They have their do’s and don’ts, but they codify them and talk about them, unlike the upper middles, who have to follow an Unwritten Law. Stow-Crats turn out to support Covent Garden and Glyndebourne, but the oddest people are going there nowadays. They prefer Grange Park, where you can hire an Indian pavilion, and a separate one for your servants, and everyone wears black tie (men) or floorlength midnight blue or oxblood taffeta with a pale pashmina.

They have their own chapel on their estate. This is nearly always Church of England, but it’s really, really grand to have been Catholic since before the Reformation.

The Garden Party

In The Garden Party, poet Hilaire Belloc dissected the “hoary social curse”:

The rich arrived in pairs
And also in Rolls Royces
They talked of their affairs
In loud and strident voices.

The poor arrived in Fords
Whose features they resembled
And laughed to see so many lords
And ladies all assembled. (C2, D, E)

The people in between
Looked underdone and harassed
And out of place and mean
And horribly embarrassed. (A, B, C1)

The Cast of Characters

For an in-depth look at the social classifications used by research and marketing companies, see
Here is the simplest breakdown:
A upper middle class higher managerial, administrative or professional (4% of the population)
B middle class intermediate managerial, administrative or professional (21.9%)
C1 lower middle class supervisory or clerical, junior managerial, administrative or professional (29%)
C2 skilled working class skilled manual workers (20.7%)
D working class semi and unskilled manual workers (16.2%)
E those at lowest level of subsistence (8.1%)
At the top of the tree are aristocrats and millionaires, but there are so few of them that they don’t appear in the rankings. Most people are C1 or C2. The upper middle class is the smallest, but its members make the most noise – they are the ones who end up working in the media.

The girl I overheard on the bus saying: “We’ve got a five-year plan: we’re going to go to America, earn some money, come back, buy a house, have kids” was lower middle: C1.
The girl who said “She’s going to put on the wedding invitations ‘dress code, Royal As-cott’” was C2.

In Jilly Cooper’s book Class, she picked representatives from each group and gave them suitable names. The aristocrats are Caroline and Harry Stow-Crat, the upper middles Samantha and Gideon Upward (with their daughter Thalia and son Zacharias), the lower middles are Jen and Bryan Teale (parents of Christine), the nouveau riches are the Nouveau Richards, and the working classes are Mr and Mrs Definitely-Disgusting, with their children Sharon and Dave. These names are her copyright, and I am using them as a tribute until I can think of my own (I hope that’s OK with her lawyers).

Thursday 11 November 2010


Alan Titchmarsh says people say Monty Don is more “cerebral” than him – ie more middle class.

the hustle and bustle of the city = common people we are forced to share the space with (the opposite is “tranquillity” = an absence of chavs. What you move to the country to find. May also be known as "peace and quiet" or "more space".)

Peter Wilby on the media response to the shooting of Rhys Jones, Sept. 2 07 The story was, to use the media academics' term, "framed" within 36 hours of the boy's death. "Gang war invades middle-class haven," was the Telegraph's headline. Rhys lived on a private estate of "hanging baskets", "ornamental water features" and "polished Audis and Mazdas" (the Times), "mock Tudor white-timbered gables" and "solar-powered garden lights" (the Independent). His killers came from "rotting, feral" council estates (the Telegraph) of "high corrugated iron fences" and "tattooed men . . . with small squat dogs" (the Independent).

The middle classes are leaving the state [educational] sector in droves … partly because they think their children will be mixing with pupils who will not help their child reach full potential. Nick Clegg, reported in the Evening Standard, Nov 23 07

More here. And many more in my mini ebook Boo & Hooray: Dysphemisms and Euphemisms (see sidebar).

all the advantages
private school
arriviste Someone who has "arrived" in "good society" from elsewhere

class origins

bohemian, liberal
knows people who aren’t in the top 400, or who don’t have three houses and three holidays a year

getting your children into the best school

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. (Daily Telegraph)

posh (But posh people would never say it.)

lower middle-class

Mrs Salmond is carefully coiffured. (Times May 2007, ie )
Three well-manicured, coiffeured ladies [in Sedgefield] (Guardian 2007)

community, involving the
(as in the local community, community picnic, community choir) “We” must involve the “community” in what “we” are doing. The middle classes aren’t “the community” because they can afford to live where they like and are always moving on.

cut-glass accents
posh voice (New Statesman 2004. The same article calls the voice “absurdly affected”. It can only be affected if someone’s learned it in later life. New Statesman readers used to affect a working-class accent.)

black or working class (people we wouldn’t expect to be dignified)

"Dignity" award for Walker family: The family of murdered teenager Anthony Walker have been honoured for their "calm dignity in the face of tragedy". His mother, Gee Walker, accepted the first ever Profile in Courage Award from the National Black Crown Prosecution Association (NBCPA). ( 2006)

Alan Johnson and his family are praised for their “dignity” all over the press July 2007. The family hid their feelings and didn’t show emotion – or did so only in a very controlled way. Working-class people in the news are praised by the broadsheets for “dignity” if they don’t show emotion; but they'll be pilloried by the tabloids. Dignity also means not selling your story to the media.

The Value of Dignity: A trial by media will not help to find the truth about Madeleine McCann (Times Sept 2007)

down-to-earth has the common touch (if said of someone posh)

eclectic bunch
contains common people
folk working class people

(gritty reality, urban grit) working-class, no Starbucks, not trendy

Gritty publishers New English Library (Guardian 2007)

guilty pleasure
doing something that lets the side down, like reading Heat or shopping at Costcutter
hard-working families Middle England (Gordon Brown)

common décor (heavy window treatments). Probably combined with “garish colour schemes”, “fussy” arrangements and “busy” patterns. (American)

working class people protesting, story printed in tabloid

middle-class (suburb, street)

...enjoyed a dappled upbringing in Hampstead (Guardian 2002 Presumably the light was dappled after filtering through all those leaves)

A Thomas Kinkade painting of a charming, rain-dappled village - complete with church steeple, families out walking the pet Dalmatian and thickets of flowers. (

Dr Hunter offered the example of a school in a ‘better, leafy area’ that took three children in care. (Guardian 2003)

Cannabis plantation found in leafy suburb: Cannabis plants have been found growing at the site of a planned upmarket housing development in a wealthy Aberdeen suburb. Police have been called in after the plants were found growing in greenbelt woodland near the Milltimber area. (The Scotsman, 2004)

Just because a school is in a so-called leafy suburb, that does not mean the parents are wealthy. Many will have stretched themselves to the limit to buy houses in the catchment areas of these schools. (Guardian)

middle class

mainstream society
aspirant, law-abiding, tax-paying, willing to play the game, the bit some people are “excluded” from

mass audience
common people

Middle England
Martin Jacques has complained that Middle England is a "metaphor for respectability, the nuclear family, conservatism, whiteness, middle age and the status quo" (New Statesman 2007 That’s a euphemism, not a metaphor.)

a lot of working-class people
ordinary folk working-class people (and you’d never say “middle-class folk”)
ordinary people common people, less-than-rich people

over-stuffed furniture
code for lower class

They live in a detached house obscured from a busy road by six fir trees and overgrown foliage... "Tarl-Lea" reads the name plate fixed between the green garage door and the frosted glass of the porch through which can be glimpsed the twee furnishings of a comfortable family home: a tasselled lamp, an over-stuffed sofa and a slightly garish carpet.” (The Guardian, 2000)

people from all walks of life
including working-class people, or maybe just working-class people

people never say “posh” but “smart” or “grand”. They mock people as “fratefully grahnd” and ever so “oysters at the Savoy”.

his family was socially prominent, though his performance was outstanding and the question was salient

simple working class

He came from a simple family.
 (BBC on James Callaghan)

smothered in heavy/complicated sauces
common food (like over-stuffed furniture) The middle classes are anti-sauce, it makes food too like babyfood, ie easy to eat and tasty.

middle-class, law-abiding society (and probably white). "We" are unquestionably a part of it.
stuffy middle-class in the wrong way
stylish posh (Again, posh people would never used this word.)

unspoilt (area of France) free of the wrong kind of Brits
unsuitable (boyfriend) common
urban working class (or black)

very English
(eg Elgar) middle class. There’s a sneer in calling something “very English”. Implies: middle-aged, lives in shires, parochial, quaint, twee, old-fashioned, fusty, cosy. It's the opposite of diverse and vibrant – qualities valued by a different set of middle-class people. Perhaps composers like Edward Elgar (Grainger, Butterworth, Vaughan Williams) are tarnished by being used for nationalist rallying. But were they?

we, us
middle-class people

You’re overqualified. You’re too posh (or too tall).
We think you’ll be bored. We think you’ll look down on us. (And you're still too tall.)

Classy Quotes

England used to be famous for its class system. Then around 1970 people had the idea our society was now classless. A couple of decades later, John Major claimed "We are all middle class now." But the idea of class never went away, and research organisations like Acorn and Mosaic file us all in the right drawer.

Nobody can write about the English class system without acknowledging Jilly Cooper's Class, written in the early 70s. It's observant and funny and still relevant today.

Lynda Lee-Potter's Class Act: How to Beat the British Class System is not bad either (though it borrows a lot from Cooper).

So, has class gone away? Here are some opinions.

Some of [Prince] William's circle would even whisper "doors to manual" when Miss [Kate] Middleton arrived, in a jibe at her mother being a former airline stewardess. There were even worse social sins, such as using the word "toilet" not "lavatory", saying "pleased to meet you" rather than "how do you do?", and "pardon" rather than "what?". The Daily Telegraph, 2007 Mrs Middleton allegedly said "Pleased to meet you" when she met the Queen. But all these shibboleths are from Nancy Mitford's Noblesse Oblige, written just after World War II (now out of print), and it's highly unlikely that Mrs Middleton ever said any such thing.

“If Betjeman were writing today he would find plenty of class indicators. Where you go on holiday, for instance, or whether you use a camcorder at weddings.” Philip Howard,

But, gosh, how powerfully the English upper middle classes, concentrated in one place, impinge. Like lemon barley, I prefer them diluted with a big jugful of the rest of England. So much calculated informality; so much just-less-than-overbearing command; so much slightly self-conscious good taste; so much discreet jockeying for social edge. Matthew Paris on the Scilly Isles, Times August 13, 2009

Sir, It is sad to see class being fingered, yet again, as the culprit for scholastic achievement or lack of it. It is the parental valuing of education, and the norms of self-discipline, hard work and deferred gratification in their offspring, which lead to achievement. These values are to be found in supportive families regardless of income, status or class. As one not born in Britain, I find it saddening to see our national obsession with class becoming, if anything, more virulent than when I arrived here 40 years ago. Mary Ring, Abergavenny Times May 27 2008

Increasingly, customs are climbing up the social ladder: ear-piercing and tattooing, obviously, but also barbecuing (and eating burgers generally, but only expensive ones), thrift shopping, holidaying in Britain, swearing, racking up unsustainable personal debt, having an allotment, cycling, going to football and voting labour. ... The emerging middle-class consensus on ear-piercing, incidentally, is the summer before secondary school – late enough to signal disapproval of working-class girls who have theirs done as toddlers, not so late as to be thought dangerously illiberal. ...the chief reason for the resurgence and resilience of headlice ... is the modern habit of hugging. That is, parents hugging their children, children hugging each other. ... Once again, we have the working class, notoriously sentimental with their kids, to thank for this development which, insect propagation aside, is surely a wonderful thing. Robert Crampton Times July 2, 2008

Just when we thought that all those pesky notions of class had been eradicated from British society... Pete Clark Evening Standard August 3, 2007

We in the middle-middle class are not going to set the world on fire. But we will be the ones running the inquiries into why there weren’t enough fire engines in the area after the conflagration occurs. We are conservatives with a small “c” who prize education above all ... We are big on respect: for people and institutions. We can roll our eyes at the royals but respect the institution of monarchy because the Queen has “done a good job” and we love the history. On Sundays you’ll find us at the Natural History Museum. It is a law if you are in the middle-middle class that you join the National Trust when you have children. We are very tolerant but advocate the death penalty for litter louts. We wince if we hear someone we know raising his voice in public. We are keen on debate (occasionally about subjects other than schools) but we like it to be round the dinner table. Anyone eating a TV dinner is immediately demoted one class. We buy quality newspapers, strip our floors and are quietly rather pleased with our lot. It is for others to use the word smug. Where’s the shame in any of that? I urge all the faux working classes to learn to embrace the middle way. Times Online March 27, 2007 Damian Whitworth

New Russians want to be old English toffs. Sam Wollaston Guardian Aug 8 09

Class is dead? People looking for a £400,000 house won’t want to live on a £250,000 street, no matter how big the house is. Property expert Phil Spencer

In the Leibenstein refinement of Veblen and the Steiner-Weiss corollary, “snobbery” and then “counter-snobbery” result; that is, those fearing democratization of consumption engage in display of exotic artifacts and esoteric knowledge that can only be appreciated by those who are literate in the cultural legacy of Western civilization, ie its art, literature, music and sculpture. Then, when democratization of cultural literacy encroaches on the practice of “snobbery,” the “snob” turns to “counter-snobbery” to demarcate and elongate the social distance between themselves and the encroachers. This “counter-snobbery” consists of reversion to a simpler and more austere life style which, of course, is visibly displayed for others to admire and emulate, although the display is no longer ostentatious but pretends to be self-effacing. Rick Tilman, ed Warren J. Samuels, The Founding of Institutional Economics: The Leisure Class and Sovereignty, Routledge 1998

The narcissism of minor differences. Sigmund Freud

My friends, the class war is over! Tony Blair

More here, and links to the rest.