Thursday 27 January 2011

You Are What You Eat

Overheard in a café in Cornwall: Child: This white bread is really nice! Mother (cooingly sweet voice): But the wholemeal bread we have at home is really much nicer, isn’t it, darling?

Middle class food in the 50s had to be dry, dry, dry (cold mutton, plain boiled potatoes). And you couldn’t drink while eating, or have any sauce or butter. Upwards and Weybridges used to complain that foreign food was “greasy” or “smothered in olive oil” – the same olive oil that they now deify because it's healthy and comes from Abroad.

Upwards are against sauce (especially when “heavy and complicated” and used to “smother” food). It makes food much too pleasant and easy to eat. They used to use sauce on certain vegetables, but you couldn’t improvise – white sauce went with beetroot and leeks, cheese sauce with cauliflower. When children, if they were allowed red currant jelly or chutney or mint sauce they could only take a tiny amount. Tomato ketchup, brown sauce, Piccalilli, Pan Yan and Branston were banned (too sweet). Upwards are very anti vinegar and anything pickled (apart from raspberry or tarragon vinegar in the 80s, and home-made chutney). Sweet chilli sauce has become instant chav. It’s now as universal as HP sauce (which probably started off as something similar, brought back by returnees from the Empire). Pickle companies are coming out with experimental trendier versions of their usual brands - ketchup with a touch of chilli, chilli Branston.

Jen Teale has a plastic salad spinnner; Sam Upward dries her lettuce by putting it into a tea towel and shaking it outside the back door. Sam buys iceberg, Cos or Romaine lettuce, flat-leaf parsley and rocket, which is impossible to eat neatly. (It ought to be like sorrel, added in small amounts chopped finely, the way Jen chops everything.) Lucky Jen and Eileen, living in "the provinces", can buy curly parsley and butterhead lettuce.

Sam doesn't like microwaves because you have to use plastic bowls – or plahstic as Caro would say. Jen gives Tupperware parties.

Though Sam despises fashion in clothes, she runs after the latest food fads: superfoods one year, probiotics the next. The Upwards flap endlessly about food and health (remember apple cider vinegar and blackstrap molasses? Now it’s goji berries. Or is it beet juice?) Weybridges hate food fads - they 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. Teales are far too kind and polite to mind, and will try and accommodate food combining, veganism or the Atkins diet.

Upwards whinge that “ordinary folk” want increasingly sweeter, blander and softer food. And that’s why People Like Us eat hard, bitter food. Lentils must be crunchy, not mushy. Bread must be painfully crusty. Curry must burn. Lettuce must be crisp (and tasteless). Cheese must stink. Upwards are very fond of saying that revolting food (steak tartare etc.) is an “acquired taste”. Their ideal meal consists of dry, hard, crisp food that takes a lot of skillful knife and fork work. If not requiring finely developed motor skills, food must demand arcane knowledge.

But food is getting more democratic – we can all like Thai curries. And endurance food soon subsides into a tamed, Weybridge version of itself, e.g. bread that looks crusty but is actually quite soft on the outside (and covered in kibbled wheat), Brie that’s firm and fragrant (and actually edible). Health food used to be unappetising, stodgy and and bland. It’s now quite tasty and much too available - even in supermarket ready-meal versions.

Upwards say “Would you like some butter?” and proffer some kind of “spread” made of olive oil. Also their "salt" will either be Lo-salt TM or sea salt mixed with herbs and quite tasteless. Their salt cellar may even be carefully fixed so that nothing comes out however hard you shake. They have worked the same evil magic on sweets, spawning “child-friendly” jellies that have so little sugar or flavour that they’re almost pure gelatine. When Caroline hands round the Newberry Fruits, her family pick the lime, lemon or orange, Howard and Eileen pick raspberry and strawberry, and the Definitelies and Teales go for cherry, kiwi or pineapple.

The DDs get birthday cakes in the shape of a football pitch, billiard table or dog. Sam gets the local health food shop to bake a gluten-free, egg-free, fruit (but not nut) filled cake because of everybody’s allergies. She and the other mothers boast about how hyperactive E numbers and sugar make their children and the kids either play up, or piously decline red jelly and smarties.

Sunday 23 January 2011

Weddings and Funerals

The week before the royal wedding (of Kate and Wills), middle class Upwards moaned about wedding "hysteria" and people "fawning" on the royals, and ostentatiously stayed out of the country or spent the day gardening.

Jen Teale and Eileen Weybridge held a wedding party and watched the whole thing on the telly, wearing hats. Sharon Definitely camped out for two days outside the Abbey and wore a fake tiara and waved a banner reading MARRY ME HARRY! Howard said "We do pageantry awfully well."

The Stow-Crats were invited to the abbey - Caroline loved Mrs Middleton's edge-to-edge coat. Rowena Upward adored Beatrice and Eugenie's over-the-top outfits.

So what do they do when it's their turn to "tie the knot"? Wayne Teale invites his girlfriend out to dinner to a restaurant on the North Circular. He kicks off "We've been together for five years now..." and she thinks he's going to dump her. Instead he drops a diamond ring into a glass of champagne and asks her to marry him.

How different for Thalia Upward. Her boyfriend ("partner") doesn't propose. They have "discusssions" about commitment that are a bit like university seminars. Upwards can’t use clichés, which makes middle class courtship even more agonizing. What they're really afraid of is being conformist and conventional and joining an institution, without realising that they are rolling happily along the tramlines laid down by their class and education.

Every generation thinks they’re the first to get married because they want to, not because society wants them to. And every age thinks it's the first to allow women to be single ("Of course Bridget Jones worried about being a spinster, but we know better.").

Upward-Weybridges have to be seen to disapprove of girls who get pregnant at 14 or married at 21. Girls must get married later so they can pass exams and get a career and contribute to the economy. Besides, getting married young is common.

Sharon Definitely marries someone well-off, has a baby and gets a divorce (and alimony) within a couple of years.

“The female mind, though cruelly practical in daily life, cannot bear to hear ideals belittled in conversation.” E.M. Forster, Howard’s End. Upwards, especially females, love spouting ideals, while quietly getting on with the practical details of life. They may be as keen as any Teale on getting married and having children before time runs out, but they have to disguise it with a lot of stuff about living for the moment. (“I’m not ready to settle down, I’m having too much FUN!”)

Upwards and Definitelies think vaguely that cohabiting gives you legal rights (over your children, to your partner’s pension, to half the house if you split up or he dies). It hasn’t since 1753.

Stow Crat marriages were traditionally about land transfer, so it’s got to be legal. They don’t hire a castle for the reception - they use their own.

The very Bohemian Nightshades tie the knot on a beach, reciting vows they’ve made up themselves (it mustn’t resemble anybody else’s wedding plus there’s no need to hire a marquee).

Sam is horrified by the amount people spend. Brides become a footballer’s wife for a day, not a princess.

Caroline is shocked that brides wear strapless dresses in the afternoon (decolletage is for evening).

The Nouveau Richards hire a castle in Scotland and make all the men wear kilts.

Christine Teale goes into training for weeks before the wedding, getting a St. Tropez tan, botoxing her forehead and losing two stone. Teales “tie the knot”, “exchange vows” and have “nuptials”.

Many put off getting married because they think spending £30,000 is the only way they can do it. Then they hold the ceremony in a quainte olde Anglican country church because it will look good in the photos. But the olde church and hastily researched wedding music (there are several CDs, like Music for a Church Wedding) tell the world, not that the couple are making a commitment in front of all their friends and family (which is the reason they’d give), but that they’re assuming their correct position and level in society. The real ceremony is the rest of the day, with the humiliating speeches, embarrassing dancing and exhausting partying into the night (not to mention the previous stag/hen week in Sweden/Prague/Goa).

A friend sings a pop song as the couple go into the painfully rehearsed First Dance. Or else the happy couple and bridesmaids perform a galumphing choreographed routine they’ve been rehearsing for weeks.

The bar is constantly being raised. And the congregation, or audience, treats the wedding as a performance. Bride and groom laugh as they make their vows, everybody constantly talks, laughs and claps, and when the bride and groom kiss everybody goes “Ooooooh!”. The vicar/priest even says “Let’s give them a big hand!” after he/she has pronounced them man and wife. And of course the whole thing is video’d so that you can play it to your friends (or even watch it yourself, over and over again).

Teales are better at bereavement because they‘re not afraid of clichés. Definitelies send sympathy cards and play pop songs at the funeral. You have to choose “your song” before you go. Funerals are becoming more like TV shows, with people giving “eulogies” that are peppered with laugh lines. In the East End you can still sometimes see a traditional hearse drawn by black horses – parked outside a council estate.

Upwards used to moan that the Victorians were so much better at death – because Freud had told them it was damaging to repress your feelings. But once they’d paid tribute to Freud they carried on with the stiff upper lip. They prefer “celebrations of someone’s life” because there won’t be any embarrassing crying. They still haven’t recovered from the “outpouring of grief” (read “normal mourning”) at Diana’s funeral. They convinced themselves that all the emotion was manufactured by the media. But what really made them cross was being forced to face the fact that they share these islands with millions of people who aren’t Upwards.

Friday 21 January 2011

Natural Beauty

How your attitude to personal grooming betrays your place in the class layer cake.

When lower middle-class Jen Teale talks about “personal grooming being so important” and “first impressions counting” she means being clean and deodorized, with brushed hair and clean, “pressed” clothes. She smoothes the back of her skirt before she sits down because her job requires a neat, trim appearance. Samantha Upward thinks this the equivalent of crooking your little finger when you drink a cup of tea.

Jen "presses" her T shirts and throws them out when they go limp. She does her own and Bryan’s “valeting”. Caro and Harry get their clothes professionally looked after. Caro “irons” clothes, Sam doesn’t bother and Jen thinks she’s terribly “scruffy”.

Grooming is something Caro and the Nouveau Richards do to horses. To Sharon Definitely, it means removing ALL body hair (ouch!).

Jen’s hairstyle is a tamer version of the current fashion. Sharon’s hair is a stiffer and more artificial variant requiring much fiddling about, curling, straightening and visits to the salon. In the 60s it was a huge platinum beehive; more recently, the Rachel cut.

Mrs Definitely has a bullet head and very thick hair pulled back in a tight pony tail (Hackney facelift). She never goes to a hair salon (Sam calls it “the hairdresser”) so she can save the money for fags. That means that she is the only woman you ever see with glorious red hair, as everyone else dyes (“colours”) or streaks (“highlights”) theirs. Even Sam may be persuaded to have “caramel lowlights”.

In the 80s Sam really enjoyed being high-minded about chemical dyes poisoning the fish, and only used white loopaper. Henna, being a vegetable dye, was supposed to be kind to your hair, but it made hers go terribly out of condition. (It’s probably the same chemical in a different packet.) It used to be beyond the pale to bleach your hair, but now everybody does it – in a “natural” way that’s meant to look as if it was bleached by the sun.

In Sam’s young day if you had mousy hair and ordinary features you were told that personality was more important and all you had to do was be nice, nice, nice. It didn’t work. Now the same girl would get her hair streaked and get a St. Tropez tan and look indistinguishable from any other celeb.

The Definitely boys have cropped heads, or gelled spiky hair. Bohemian Upwards cut kids' hair themselves and make a complete mess of it. (They can’t have their children’s hair cut professionally because a) bang would go sixpence and b) it’s common for children to have hairstyles.)

The Upwards only have one pair of scissors in the house which are ten years old and used for everything. When Sam finds the scissors (she never begrudges the time spent looking for things she won’t put away in the same place twice), she pulls the child’s fringe out horizontally and hacks off the end and then wonders why it doesn’t hang straight.

Jen gets her kids’ hair cut by a professional and WATCHES HOW THEY DO IT so that she can then do it properly at home. She may even watch a tutorial on YouTube. Sam doesn’t know how to learn a skill, only how to write essays and pass exams. And she can’t be told anything because she’s from the boss class.

Arkana Nightshade rinses her hair with plain water because it will clean itself. She smells faintly of sheep. Caro Stow-Crat gets her eyelashes and eyebrows dyed. Her mousy hair is given discreet blonde streaks and brushed off her forehead (fringes give you spots). It's layered and she gets it cut when it reaches her collar. She brushes it with a Mason Pearson brush. She remembers some lore about brushing it a hundred times a day but reckons this only applied pre First World War when you grew your hair long enough to sit on.

She doesn’t use foundation, it’s “bad for the skin”. (Or does it protect the skin against the weather?) Fortunately her "complexion" is very good.

Hair devices are Teale: heated styling wands, ceramic straighteners, crimpers, Carmen rollers (the names are a giveaway). As is calling a hair product a “hair product” or just “product”. As is buying a product to rejuvenate your hair after you’ve used a lot of products on it.

The Bohemian Upwards who live in Stoke Newington used to cultivate a prison pallor because tanning gives you skin cancer/is a capitalist plot and basically it’s terribly, terribly common. People who live in Knightsbridge - and footballers' wives - get an expensive St. Tropez tan, Ilfordians go orange whatever technique they use (sunbed, spray). Sam wouldn’t cross the threshold of anything that called itself a “tanning salon” but might try some ancient recipe like soaking teabags in her bath or applying French dressing before sunbathing.

Upwards had a terrible time in the politically correct 80s because they couldn’t remove any body hair and had to wear long sleeves and skirts. But even before the 80s, Upwards were quite Presbyterian about any form of body modification and improving the face God gave you. They superstitiously claimed that if you removed one hair, two would grow in its place. Grooming knowledge was something they kept from their children, like the facts of life.

When Upwards wore makeup in the 60s and 70s they were heavy handed and slathered on aqua eyeshadow, brown eyebrow pencil and orange foundation that stopped at the jawline and clashed with their pink lipstick. They really did look much better without it.

Upwards will have an aromatherapy massage because it makes you a better person, but won’t have their legs waxed because it just makes you look good. They're uninterested in the superficial – and unable to address problems directly. If they have a problem they don’t solve it, they solve a different problem instead. Probably one they haven’t got.

Many men secretly wax between their eyebrows, but they overdo it and end up with a surprised expression. Mr Definitely dyes his hair a glowing chestnut with purple glints. Howard Weybridge and Mr Definitely clung to Brylcreem long after it had gone out. Howard still attempts a comb-over.

Everyone is much cleaner now, thanks to all those “toiletries”. In the 40s, women were urged to make “Friday night Amami night”, ie they only washed their hair once a week. Though the Guardian asked on Nov 2 2010: “Could you give up washing? A growing number of people are cutting down on daily showering and hair-washing. So could you join the extreme soap-dodgers?” Apparently some Upwards are washing less in an attempt to a) save the planet and b) solve the financial crisis. There was always an Upward trend against washing too much, or using deodorant (unnatural). During lockdown, the broadsheets ran articles on how people weren't bothering to wash since they didn't have to go out and meet people.

The Nouveau Richards soak in foam in their purpose built wet room. Jen keeps her toothbrush in a plastic “beaker”, Sam in a “toothmug”. Teales “take” a lot of showers, Upwards “have” (fewer) baths. Stow Crats use Pears and Imperial Leather soap because they haven’t changed for decades. They have an individual scent made up for them at Floris.

Upward toiletries never foam very much because they’re made of olive oil and seaweed, though Sam and her ilk have become much less hard-line – like many revolutionaries when they realise that the crowds aren’t following them.

Harry Stow-Crat’s grandparents had washbasins plumbed into the bedrooms at Stow-Crat Hall because bedrooms were where you did your washing, in a basin filled with water by a servant with a can. Caro is gradually putting in more bathrooms (what Jen and Eileen call an "en-suite"), and phasing out the washbasins. Sam calls it a basin, Jen a wash-hand basin, Eileen a washbasin and Sharon a sink.

Upwards are obsessed with straightening and pulling in their children’s teeth so they can never have a sexy overbite and end up with small, pinched, repressed mouths. (Elinor Glyn, the 20s sex appeal pundit, advised having your front teeth reset to stick out more.) But Upwards despise people who have their teeth whitened, or veneered. Grand people can get away with having terrible teeth. Upwards also quietly get their children's ears pinned back, and their noses straightened. They are vicious about people getting Botox and Sam claims not to know what a Brazilian wax is. Sharon gets a French manicure at her friend’s nail bar, and a set of stick-on French manicured toenails.

Sunday 9 January 2011

Bankers Buy into the Country

Anne Ashworth in The Times
January 8 2011
A house in Fulham, or the chance to get in touch with your inner farmer?

That is the dilemma facing the banker in possession of a bonus and in 2011 many are expected to take the latter route out of the capital to a farmstead, surrounded by a few rolling acres — and with a local to do the dirty work.

Demand for such homes is expected to be strong in the early part of the year, according to Catherine Penman, head of research at Carter Jonas, the estate agents, with the would-be members of the country set keen to strike a deal before the new 5 per cent rate of stamp duty on £1 million-plus pads is introduced in April.

Ms Penman says that buyers, many of them with cash, began at the end of last year to prowl those parts of the shires that are within a commutable distance of London. This has led to a firming of prices around locations such as Newbury, Winchester, Andover and Basingstoke, with good train services to the capital.

The Carter Jonas farmhouse index, published today, shows that the typical price of such a property with five bedrooms, five stables and set in five acres, in the vicinity of Newbury is now £2.35 million. Ms Penman argues that the low supply of residences that fit the bill should support such valuations.

A five-bedroom farmhouse in the village of Glinton, near Peterborough, with an asking price of £1.75 million has just gone under offer. Its comforts include a boot room, a snug and a 34ft kitchen and breakfast room with an Aga — the piece of kit that embodies the dream of the bonus buyer whether he is buying in Fulham or a less metropolitan safe haven.

But Ms Penman adds that the outlook for the rural idyll is not uniformly bright. The Carter Jonas index, like other surveys, highlights a growing North-South divide. Ms Penman says that in the North there was a general decline in interest in December, with the firm’s offices in this region recording a “noticeable slip in asking and offer prices”. Only farmhouses around Kendal in Cumbria were exempt from this trend. The typical five-bedroom farmhouse in the Northern region now changes hands for £1.25million.

Five acres may be sufficient for the bonus recipient who does not have a house in town or the funds for a retinue of staff.

But the highest paid workers in the Square Mile and Canary Wharf and the international set who want to be county set, with the wherewithal to maintain a portfolio of homes, increasingly want land and lots of it. The minimum is between 40 and 50 acres, although 30 will suffice, as Francis Long of Hanslips, the buying agents, explains. Buying agents scout out homes for the wealthy, those who tend to be short of time.

Thursday 6 January 2011

Why Drive a 4X4?

Caroline Stow-Crat explains: In Chelsea and Fulham (moneyed parts of London), many residents drive 4X4s, to the annoyance of most other Londoners. So why drive a Chelsea tractor (4X4, ORV or off-road vehicle)?

1. You're high up above everybody else.
2. You can show off that you can afford one.
3. There's room for six children.
4. You can show off that you can afford to have six children.
5. Your children don't have to take the bus and mix with people who are a bit mixed.
6. It indicates that at weekends you all get into it and drive down to your country place where it's useful for travelling down muddy lanes and across fields. This is your /real/ life and you don't want to spend more time in a city than you have to.
7. If you don't have a country place, stay indoors with the curtains closed and spray the wheels with spray-on mud. (Though sadly the company that supplied it seems to have folded – you’ll have to collect your own from the back garden.)
8. When there are deep snowdrifts and roads are impassible to ordinary cars, you’ll be laughing.

Monday 3 January 2011

Beating the Cold

Here’s how to beat the cold the Upward way!

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.

And finally

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.

Upwards spend all their money on educating their children and think double glazing is common. They are too fey to follow Caro Stow-Crat’s pragmatic heat-saving tips. What they really enjoy is feeling martyred and suffering – because it’s good for you. And they don’t like solving problems directly.

The Weybridges can’t be doing with such nonsense. They have pinch-pleated curtains that reach the floor (you draw them with a system of pulleys - or a remote control) and turn their central heating up. Upwards moan that at their house “the central heating is always at FULL BLAST”. (Upward curtains are too short, too thin, and never meet in the middle.)

Beat the Cold III
Beat the Cold II (the Upward way)

Heat-saving Tips II