Sunday 11 September 2011

Holiday Hell for the Hoggarts

Simon Hoggart in the Guardian loves the French village where he and his family go on holiday: "There is no café and no shop, and no tourist bus has ever debouched scores of people here."

Hoggart continues: [A correspondent] and family found themselves on a wide and otherwise deserted beach on the Isles of Scilly. To their astonishment a couple arrived and for some reason selected a spot right next to them. [The writer] whispered to his son to pick a fight with his sister, which he did, causing much noise and tumult, followed by the departure of the couple. "This event has passed into family legend," he says.

To the middle-class Upwards, a deserted beach is "deserted but for us".

A friend writes: I was once at a party where there were two travel snobs, both of whom were boasting about their holidays in Mongolia, and one was showing off about having drunk yak's milk and the other said tartly "I think you'll find it was mare's milk."

Nowadays there’s a swish children’s boutique, and shops to sell you good olives and Scandinavian ceramics, muddled up with old-school purveyors of Swanage rock, plastic fairies and tat… it seems that half of southern Britain is coming to join us. So buying ginger beer and a vegetable pasty from the local post office we escape the madding crowd… While not exactly downmarket, Swanage is not the place to find boutique hotels… we stop a while at Corfe Castle. This is tourist-trap Britain, where... you can eat your body weight in locally sourced cake. The antique charm of the place still shines through… Swanage has few airs or graces; it’s more cheerful than chic. It hasn’t been “discovered” by the 4X4 brigade, like, say, Bridport…. John Bungey in The Times on Swanage, July 2011, describes his holiday destination almost solely in class terms. This is just what broadsheet readers expect. (Go to Swanage, it's lovely.)

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

Friday 9 September 2011

Back to School

In the Guardian recently, Anthony Seldon, head of public school Wellington College wrote in praise of... public schools. (For US readers, English public schools are expensive private schools. Yes, I know.) You see, public schools don't help you pass exams and get A*s, they teach you... character. And character is...? A pretty slippery concept. Here are a few excerpts.

"One of the core aims [of Toby Young's free school] is to instil in boys and girls from ordinary backgrounds the same edge that public school toffs have."

When Young arrived at Oxford University (the poshest) from a northern grammar school, he was bowled over by the public-school boys. "They had an assurance that contemporaries from humbler backgrounds altogether lacked" - he has probably been jealous of them ever since.

Top public school Eton "has a practice known as "oiling", which is learning how to win friends and influence others, and how to clamber over them to get what you want. It's a mixture of ambition, self-confidence and bloody-mindedness..."

"Young is right to emphasise the importance of character." State-educated youths "find they lack confidence and roundedness..." Baden-Powell described the Scout movement as a "character factory, designed to instil determination and resilience in all young people, regardless of class."

"Competitive sport is vital: it teaches resilience, teamwork and trust. Leadership training and mentoring should become widespread in schools. Young people should be given tough challenges, mental as well as physical..."

To give them "mental strength" send children on "hikes and gruelling expeditions". "Boarding... should become much more prevalent... The experience of living side by side with fellow students, and in conditions of relative deprivation, is profoundly character-building."

It looks like "character" can mean whatever you want it to mean. Public schools are often said to turn out "confident, articulate" young people. If you Google these words, you'll find they appear on the prospectus of most private schools. I like the sound of the Helen O'Grady Drama Academy in Africa, where they teach presentation, performance skills and public speaking. Because the confident, articulate child "finds it easier to make friends". If you want confident, articulate children, why not teach confidence and articulacy, rather than separating them from their families and subjecting them to gruelling hikes? It seems a roundabout method, to say the least.

Thursday 1 September 2011

Middlesex by John Betjeman

Gaily into Ruislip Gardens

Runs the red electric train,

With a thousand Ta's and Pardon's

Daintily alights Elaine;

Hurries down the concrete station

With a frown of concentration,

Out into the outskirt's edges

Where a few surviving hedges

Keep alive our lost Elysium -
rural Middlesex again.

Well cut Windsmoor flapping lightly,

Jacqmar scarf of mauve and green

Hiding hair which, Friday nightly,

Delicately drowns in Drene;

Fair Elaine the bobby-soxer,

Fresh-complexioned with Innoxa,

Gains the garden - father's hobby -

Hangs her Windsmoor in the lobby,

Settles down to sandwich supper
and the television screen.

Gentle Brent, I used to know you

Wandering Wembley-wards at will,

Now what change your waters show you

In the meadowlands you fill!

Recollect the elm-trees misty

And the footpaths climbing twisty

Under cedar-shaded palings,

Low laburnum-leaned-on railings

Out of Northolt on and upward
to the heights of Harrow hill.

Parish of enormous hayfields

Perivale stood all alone,

And from Greenford scent of may fields

Most enticingly was blown

Over market gardens tidy,

Taverns for the bona fide,

Cockney singers, cockney shooters,

Murray Poshes, Lupin Pooters,

Long in Kensal Green and Highgate
silent under soot and stone.

No lawns, honey, vicars or crumpets. Bejteman is lamenting (in 1954) that Middlesex, once rural or semi-rural, has been suburbanised. Elaine is lower middle-class - she says "Ta!" or "Pardon!" for "Thankyou" and "Excuse me" (nobody does any more). She wears a Windsmoor mackintosh and a lurid Jacqmar scarf, and washes her hair in Drene. (The upper middle classes think they're above brands and brand names and never mention them - or they didn't then.) And yes, women washed their hair only once a week!

Betjeman contrasts this neat, polite, genteel girl with the louche Edwardians (now gone) who strolled through the fields, now built over. Murray Posh and Lupin Pooter are two dudes from George and Weedon Grossmith's Diary of a Nobody; Kensal Green and Highgate are London cemeteries.

See also Betjeman's poem about Miss J. Hunter Dunn, and Phone for the Fish Knives, Norman.