Saturday 26 February 2011

With an English Accent

The English always used to be obsessed with accents. They still are – they just pretend not to be.

“It is impossible for an Englishman to open his mouth without making some other Englishman… despise him.” George Bernard Shaw

People who aspire to speak well are, insofar as there any still left, the targets of satire. Andrew Martin, Guardian July 29, 2008

In the same week, poll results published by mobile technology company SpinVox showed that 73% of respondents didn’t like their accent and aspired to speak like the Queen. Meanwhile, those who have been to public school are desperately trying to dumb down their accents. They were raised on “Received Pronunciation”, RP – the traditional language of the boss class. It’s supposed to open doors, but it can also make people bully you, because they think you live a life of pampered privilege and have somehow strayed into the wrong dimension.

Caroline Stow Crat and Samantha Upward speak RP, though Sam is trying to rub the sharp edges off her accent because she's afraid of people laughing at her. She struggles to say "old" with a short O. Eileen Weybridge speaks RP too, but if she’s from the north she rhymes one with on and worry with sorry. She rhymes the u in cushion and butcher with the southern u in fuss, unless she comes from Solihell and calls it a keshion. She says “eether” and “onvelope” and “room” with a long vowel, though oddly she says “toothpaste” and “broom” with a short one (the way the Stow Crats say groom).

Eileen rhymes the first syllable of the noun “project” with “throw”. She says “cannot” for can’t (I simply cannot understand...). She doesn’t voice the th in with, pronounces the h in white and which, and says pezzimistic and crezzent. She calls midweek Weddensday.

Howard and Bryan call it “Shropsheer”, Harry and Gideon say “Shropshah”. Bryan says “Edinburra”, Harry and Gideon “Edimbra”.

Howard says “commentairy”, Harry says “comment’ry”. Bryan says “inDUStrial estate”, Harry says “industrial esTATE”. Howard calls people styuppid with a short vowel, Mr DD says stoopid, Sharon says shchewpid.

Jen says per-fect with equal stresses, Sam and Caro stress the first syllable.

Jen says goose berry (like the bird), Sam calls it a guzberry and Caro a guzbri.

Sam eats a samwidge, Jen a sand-witch, Sharon a sarney.

The nuts Sam calls armonds, Jen calls all-monds.

Gideon says litch-en, Howard calls it lyeken.

Sam puts a statchoo in a nitch, Bryan markets neesh producks, Jen admires a statyoo and blows her nose on a tissyou.

Howard rhymes Quark with walk and aquatic with exotic, and says athalete and parlyament.

How do you conjugate the place you keep your car? GARahzh, GARardzh, garAHZH, garridge.

The girl in the picture above is trying too hard. She's got a bottle of ready-made Buck's Fizz (orange juice and champagne), instead of making her own. And you don't drink it with dinner. She's also drinking tea with dinner, which is beans on toast. There's a lit candle, even though it's still daylight. The candle should be in the middle of the table. She's holding her knife and fork in her fists, pointing straight up. And she's wearing way too much clanking jewellery. (Of course, there's nothing really wrong with any of this, except perhaps for pointing your knife and fork at people and letting your jewellery fall in the soup.)

Saturday 19 February 2011

Holiday Hell Is Other People

On holiday, the middle-class Upwards like to visit… fish markets. (It’s free!), Jen Teale recoils in horror from the possible smell and live spider crabs and goes to a mall instead. Mrs Nouveau-Richards and Sharon Definitely shop in a gold souk. The Nouveau-Richards holiday in golf enclaves, or stay in country house hotels with equestrian centres, spas and activities for children—they’re very keen on horses.

Weybridge families have a new pullalong suitcase each, and at airports and railway stations move in tight groups, like herds of impala looking out for lions and crocodiles. Their children all wear new baseball caps. The Gatwick Express is the only train they ever take. Eileen Weybridge is rather hearty and was a netball captain and always kept her locker tidy. The nuns loved her. She takes to yachting in a guernsey, cooking sausages in the galley, sleeping in wet clothes and braving the ghastly ablutions.

Upper class Stow Crats are even heartier about boats and skiing and girls are expected to muck in and not mind diving into sewage-filled harbours to defoul the propeller with a bread knife. They must be good sports and not suffer “sense of humour failure”.

Caroline Stow Crat rents a villa in Tuscany and fills it with friends. She takes her children to Rock in north Cornwall because that’s where all their friends go to drink vodka by the pint at beach bonfire parties. North Cornwall has huge beaches, dull bungalows and not a lot else. Why is it such a posh hangout? Because since Beeching closed so many local railways down the working classes can’t get there. There’s another small node of Stow Crats around Holme Beach in north Norfolk (Hunstanton, Burnham Thorpe).

The Definitelys go to Center Parcs (Sam thinks the whole thing is under a glass dome), the Teales go to a Mark Warner holiday village. Teales who have made it big buy a second home in a gated holiday development where their children can socialise safely. It is rather Stepford Wives. (They’re what Jilly Cooper called Spiralists - they leave their past behind them and fill their too-new houses with neutral objects that have no associations.)

Some well-off Upwards are catching on to the holiday village idea: it gives them the friendliness and community that they didn’t know they were missing. And you can buy an architect designed “static mobile home” for around £100,000 and install it in a park in the Lake District which is restricted to similar homes. Camping or “glamping” is all the rage (saves planet, saves money), but your yurt must be pitched on the right site with the right people. (Thanks to Hugh Pearman for fieldwork.)

More holiday hell here, here, here and here. And here.

Friday 18 February 2011

Five Go Mad on Holiday Again

The upper-middle class Upwards, Gideon and Samantha, love the Continent, and everything Continental - but their Continent contains only France and Italy. You never hear an Upward raving about Sweden, Belgium or Poland. And they aren’t allowed to like Switzerland: chalets, waterfalls, pine trees, snowy mountains, wildflower meadows, cowbells, chocolate, watches, lakes - how kitsch!

When Sam is abroad she doesn't see cafes because they're all over-priced and full of common people and you couldn't possibly be seen eating there. She won’t let you buy anything, or eat or drink anything (unless you’ve brought it with you), or even sit down or go to the loo. (She also wouldn’t take a taxi home even if she had a migraine during a blizzard.)

And then there are those terrifying people whose idea of a holiday is a route march with rucksack and will never go to beaches or towns or even small villages except to lay in supplies. If forced to pass through towns (to get to the railway station), they march on looking neither to right nor left, never put down their rucksacks, and consume nothing but the bottled water they’ve brought with them.

Upwards are always trying to find a way to be exclusive without spending money. They stay in friends’ holiday cottages which have been in the family for 75 years and are full of ancient hardbacks with tattered dust jackets that never lose the damp chill and smell of mould they have acquired over 75 unheated winters. If Sam hired a chalet it would have to be an old one in Suffolk that was falling into the sea. She pines for a beach hut but the ones in prime locations cost squillions.

Sam is terrified other English people will speak to her because they might be the wrong kind, and might expect to "know" her back home. She looks out for other people whose children are wearing mini-Boden.

More holiday hell here. And here, here, here and here. And here.

Thursday 17 February 2011

The Upper Middles on Holiday

Not another soul!

The Upward approach to holidays is largely an exercise in exclusion and avoidance (of the wrong parts of France).

Upwards have a horror of being organised. Samantha would never go on a package holiday, or take a guided tour, though she might go on a city “walk” in a group. Posher Upwards go on watercolour or piano holidays in chateaux run by friends of friends.

Samantha and Gideon go to European capitals to see big blockbuster art shows, or tick off medieval churches, cathedrals and wall-paintings. They complain that you can’t just go for a walk (which would be free) in France or Italy, you have to go along a prescribed route (randonnĂ©e) and probably hire a canoe, bicycle or donkey.

Samantha wails: “The British seaside is in decline!”, although 60% of Brits take holidays in the British Isles, many of them in caravan parks. She really avoids the seaside because it's too democratic – anybody can go. And most of its amenities (chips, mini golf) are not her style.

Sam drags her children on whistle stop tours of Important Cultural Destinations or takes them somewhere “miles off the beaten track” where you can really appreciate “the life of the people” (she calls it a “real holiday”). The kids long to stay somewhere with a pool and other teenagers so they can make friends and have a holiday romance.

Upwards like holidaying in deserts and wildernesses: “It was mahvellous – we didn’t see another soul!” And it’s now fashionable to take your children on an “adventure” – you’re helicoptered to a volcanic lake in Kamchatka. It costs an arm and a leg, but there are no amusement arcades, computers or TVs, and there’s nothing to buy and absolutely no grockles. Only bears.

More holiday hell here, here, here and here. And here.

Sunday 13 February 2011

The Holiday Code

An unspoiled beach
is an empty beach -
empty of everybody but you.

Want to know the classy places to holiday? Learn the newspaper travel section code:

Unspoiled: no tourists ie common people.
Hordes: tourists
Tourists: low-rent travellers
Sleepy fishing village: tourists don’t go there
Coach parties: common trippers
Travellers: our children with backpacks
Visitors: us

Break” for holiday is very Teale. Howard Weybridge “recharges the batteries”. Stow-Crats and Upwards have a “bolthole” in Norfolk or the West Country (ie quite a large holiday cottage/house). They call visitors they don’t know “grockles”. Eileen Weybridge doesn’t want to stay at a “showy” resort - she wants to go somewhere that caters for the “discerning”.

“Of course, our coasts quite bristle with seaside towns, but they’re places people can’t go to because everybody goes there!” Blanche’s Letters, Punch, 1914 (Blanche was a raging snob, and referred to everybody outside her own little set as “les autres”.)

I don’t like beaches, or swimming pools, pretty whitewashed villages, bougainvillea, sightseeing, calamari, the sound of crickets. I don’t like camping, waterproof clothing, being outside - any of that. I don’t like France, Italy, Spain or Scotland - especially Scotland.
Sam Wollaston Guardian June 4, 2008

For every Frinton there is a Clacton.
Frinton is the buttoned-up, manicured seaside resort in Essex that for many years banned pubs and fish and chips. Clacton is the nearby free and easy resort with fish and chips, pubs, caravan parks and self-built chalets (in Jaywick).

Groups tend to go on holiday to the same places. In Jane Austen’s day Brighton became London-by-Sea…

Shaldon: Iping by Sea (immaculate gardens, a bowling club, a lot of St George flags)

Totnes: Stoke Newington by Sea (Tai Chi and Yoga retreats)

Rock, Polzeath, Salcombe, Burnham Thorpe, Downham Market: Chelsea and Fulham by Sea (where the well-heeled relax)

Great Yarmouth, Clacton: Finsbury Park by Sea (whole council estates go on holiday together)

Walberswick: Primrose Hill-by-Sea (the intellectual aristocracy)

St Ives and Kyrenia: North London-by-Sea

Kassiopi known as Kensington on Sea

More holiday hell here. And here, here, here and here. And here.

Wednesday 2 February 2011

Dancing Etiquette in 1932

Let's boogie, Ethel

From the invaluable Woman's Own Book of the Home, 1932

At certain public balls and dances where admission is gained by tickets which anyone can buy, it is an accepted custom for stewards of MCs to be present for the purpose of finding partners for those without them, the necessary introductions being then made merely for the sake of allowing partnerless visitors the pleasure of joining in the diversion of the moment without in any way constituting a definite acquaintance.

Cricket, tennis, and other sports club balls and dances are generally very enjoyable functions, tickets usually being obtained through members of the club, who are held responsible for the standing and demeanour of those thus introduced. Dances are also arranged by various clubs and societies, and by many business organisations for employees and their friends. In these cases individual rules and points of etiquette may prevail, and if so, they should be carefully observed, but the actual etiquette of dancing remains much the same everywhere.

Some girls are fond of dancing with girl friends, and as a rule there is no objection to this when there are not enough men, but a lady should not dance with another if any gentleman of her acquaintance is without a partner and asking her to dance with him, or if her hostess wants her to dance with a gentleman partner.

Sounds well-organised, structured and - appealing. And then along came the 60s and "let it all hang out".