Sunday 30 October 2011

Music to My Ears

Despite having no innate musical ability or love of music, the Upwards’ children are forced through endless exams which they pass, thanks to drilling by teachers and hours of practice. They can only play the piano, clarinet, violin, flute, cello or oboe. They give up with a sigh of relief when they reach university, but probably take it up again when nearing retirement.

Working-class Definitelies up north traditionally played in brass bands – that's where orchestras get their brass and percussion players. They are first to the pub and get off with the front row of the sopranos. Definitely children have drum kits in their bedrooms. They play electric guitars, saxophones and Hammond organs (or “keyboards”), form bands and become an Internet sensation. Sharon Definitely learns to sing like Celine Dion by listening to her “tracks” or “albums” and downloading backing tracks. (Sam says “songs” and “records”. Her parents called the radio the wireless and played records on a gramophone and winced when Sam called them LPs.)

 Most Upwards claim to be tone deaf when the subject of singing comes up, apart from Gideon, who says he likes to have a good sing at Christmas when anyone can join in. He thinks Ding Dong Merrily on High is “uplifting”. Upwards who sing take it far too seriously and get into some kind of music that excuses you from expressing any emotion.

Jen belongs to a women’s barbershop group who perform wearing a Hollywood version of late Victorian dress made in shiny fabric. Eileen and Howard belong to a historical reconstruction group and sing in the local choral society.

 Some Upwards bravely go to Balkan workshops and get rather over-excited – to the point of becoming an instant expert. The music doesn’t sound pretty, but it excuses you from expressing emotion again. And world music workshops are much more friendly than choral societies, where no one speaks to you or invites you to the pub until you’ve belonged for 20 years. Or else Upwards belong to a parents’ choir attached to their school - very friendly and they can sing songs from the shows and jokey rounds with daring double entendres as well as serious music. But they complain the latter is miserable and “dirge-like” - expressing emotion in public again! Upwards and Weybridges who join choirs enjoy the opportunities for bossing, fussing and pointless admin, as well as undermining, sabotage and feuds.

World music fans in Stoke Newington don't go into the local Turkish music shops. Turkish music is possibly too commercial, and hasn’t been mediated by an Anglo ethnomusicologist. The exponents aren’t far away and patronisable, but here and professional and might patronise US! And you could hardly rip off a few simple arrangements of their songs and teach them in workshops. Actually Stokeys are not interested in Turkish culture, full stop. Instead they become Buddhists and learn Sanskrit, play Gambian drums and eat Thai food. Stokeys are also blind to the Ultra-orthodox Jews who share the place with them – though they love “diversity”. The Turks who run cafes and drive cabs in Stokey turn off the nice Turkish music as soon as they get a white middle-class customer and put on Heart, Magic or “easy listening”. Sigh.

Thursday 27 October 2011

How to Be Crafty

Middle class Jen Teale and Eileen Weybridge are into parchment craft, beadwork, stamping, greetings cards, scrap books – something where you get a kit and follow instructions. But they may also be highly skilled at tatting or bobbin lace, or completely obsessed with white- on-white knitting.

Sam Upward used to follow Kaffe Fassett patterns but found the resulting garments, now utterly dated, were always rather unwearable (they sagged and lost their shape). She spins her own yarn and dyes it with onion skins, and likes crafts where you improvise and the result is unmistakably hand-made. She used to make her own paper.

Jen wishes women’s magazines had more knitting and crochet patterns like in the good old days as she’s bored by all the celebrity fashion crimes. (In the 80s people used to say “How can you be a feminist and knit?” and also “But knitting patterns are all awful” – that was just before the Kaffe Fassets came along and created middle-class designs. And suddenly knitting was OK for feminists again.)

Caro Stow-Crat works on Ehrman tapestry kits, Sam sews William Morris, Eileen sews autumn scenes, bluebell woods and Cotswold villages, all rather ineptly drawn. Jen “stitches” golden retrievers, swans, and pierrots with a tear on their cheek. Mrs Definitely works cross stitch kits of teddies and hearts.

When Eileen retires, she painstakingly learns how to paint in watercolours at a local institute and produces pictures of bluebell woods, windmills and sailing boats. She calls it “watercolour painting”. Sam goes to “right brain, inner creativity” painting classes and produces multicoloured blobs. Jen, never having picked up a brush in her life, suddenly produces a perfect copy of Constable’s The Cornfield.

It’s all right for Stow Crats to have no taste in art. They live in a house designed by Vanbrugh, surrounded by Lely paintings, Nollekens sculptures and Grinling Gibbons carvings, but they have to take it all utterly for granted. You don’t say “Isn’t that a Gainsborough?” It’s not “a Gainsborough” but “Great Uncle Frederick” (or the 11th earl, as he was known). (As some aristo said after guests had left: “Feller noticed me pictures!”)

Upwards insist that investing in art never pays and besides you should buy what you like. (They also hate people to make money out of property deliberately. The only good money is old money, but when your house soars in value it’s all right to go on and on about how little you paid for it.)

Eileen brashly asks an Upward friend with expertise what her objets are worth - he refuses to tell her, and says patronisingly, “What matters is the pleasure it gives you.”

Jen loves Cash in the Attic and makes quite a bit on her yard sale. Mr Definitely is an expert in something unlikely like Japanese netsuke or samurai swords. Mrs D collects Royal Worcester.

Wednesday 19 October 2011

Beat the Cold II

Upwards never forget that suffering is good for you, so here's how to beat the cold the Upward way!

We Upwards recycle everything, even outdated nonsense.

You’re all too young to remember the Great Duvet Flap of 1975.

When duvets first came in, Upwards went into a flap about whether they could adopt them. (They're like that about innovations.) Then they bought tiny, thin duvets exactly the width of the bed. And moaned that they were terribly cold because you couldn't tuck them in. They gave strict instructions against adding any blankets over or under because they work on the string-vest principle (ie magic).

Upwards caught on eventually. But they had to go through the struggle of getting the wrong end of the stick/pretending it was something they already know about (an eiderdown)/turning a wonderful invention that actually makes you WARM into something that makes you chilly/generally fussing and flapping and running round and round in small circles and making difficulties where there aren’t any and imposing their personalities on anyone who would listen. Contrast Jen Teale who just gets on with it.

Now Upwards have transferred all these behaviours to Facebook.

So, all together now, when it's cold:

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.

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

Heat-saving Tips II 

Heat-Saving Tips II

Brrrr! Cold, isn't it? Time to recycle my heat-saving tips from last year, and the year before!
Recycling is so now!

Caro Stow-Crat speaking – remember me? I live in a stately home (we hire it out for weddings now, and hold cup-cake workshops in the laundry).

One thing that's occurred to me – if the main room of your house is a medieval great hall, you'll be grateful to the Tudors who lined it in oak panelling. Fabulous insulation! Another wheeze was to hang tapestries from ceiling to floor. (If you live in a small house, you might get the same effect with tongue and groove panelling, or wall-hangings, or books.)

And maybe we should copy the Austrians, and install huge porcelain stoves. The Russians sleep on theirs. Jolly sensible!

So paste up that radiator reflector panel, pull up your thermal socks, tuck in your spencer, shrug on your gilet and turn to my


1. Live in (and heat) two or three rooms. Pick small ones, close together.

2. Live in your kitchen. The Aga is a good source of heat. (If you don't have an Aga, install one.) Move in the telly, your laptop, a sofa, and some armchairs. Of course you already have a kitchen table and chairs. Put some rugs on the flag-stone floor.

3. Fit floor-length, lined curtains to all your windows. If you aren't using a room during the day, keep the curtains closed. Weight the bottom of the curtains with lead weights. (Shut the curtains and blinds in the parts of the house you aren't using, too. If you have Georgian shutters, shut them. If your house is post-1900, you can fit Swiss-style external shutters, and close those. And don't forget to insulate your loft.)

4. If your curtains aren't floor-length, close them and tuck the ends into the window sill, or behind the radiator. You don't want all that lovely paid-for heat to go out through the glass.

5. Keep the curtains or blinds drawn in the bathroom.

6. Open fires are lovely, but a lot of the heat goes up the chimney - drawing a draught from the cracks round the door, and the keyhole. Sellotape up the keyhole, and make a thick curtain to hang in front of the door. Also a draught excluder to put along the bottom (you can put them under the windows as well).

7. Another trick for large rooms with open fires is to put up a screen around the back of your chair.

8. Wear knee socks, thermal vests, long johns and thick jerseys. Quilted body warmers are also pretty effective. (The Victorians called them "hug-me-tights".)

9. If you live in a smaller house and you've knocked down all the partition walls to create an open-plan live/work/eat/sleep/cook/work area, rebuild the walls and create small, easily heated cells. Just remember to make the kitchen big enough to eat in.

10. The Victorians, who lived in big, draughty houses, knew all these tricks. How did we forget them? They also wore wrist warmers and shawls, and tucked their feet into foot muffs.

11. And insulate your bath! Tape loft insulation round the outside. And I believe you can buy insulated baths.

12. Stick baco foil behind your radiators to reflect the heat, and fit a shelf above them. You can get special sticky-backed foil.

13. And keep the doors shut.

14. And get your sash windows reconditioned.

Now I'm off to crochet some mug cosies.

Tuesday 18 October 2011

Brilliant Careers

“How do I make a living as a fine art photographer? Generous father.” Times interview with US billboard artist/activist Ron English August 06

Stow Crats traditionally worked in the City (financial district), or at posh art dealers Sotheby’s or Christie’s – they don’t have to worry about interview technique as jobs are got by pulling strings, calling in favours and the old boy network.

Upward children get jobs where the only way in is to work for nothing as an “intern” while the bank of Mum and Dad supports them. Thus the media becomes staffed entirely by people who are terribly surprised at any evidence that they share these islands with millions of non-Upwards. Thalia Upward wishes she’d been allowed to learn a skill when she finds her media studies degree doesn’t help her get a job in it. She writes a lot of letters kicking off “I am determined to break into publishing”. They all get binned because she spells liaise “liase”.
Impressive sounding “creative” jobs pay peanuts because it’s assumed you have private means, creating a segment of the bourgeoisie who have status without the money to keep it up.

Upwards can’t do anything so dull as to learn the skill or get the training – they like to tell with glee how they bluffed their way onto the newspaper by pretending they were experienced in the computer system (and then smuggled their baby into the office and hid it under the desk in a basket). Female Upwards and Stow Crats have a “charmingly scatty” act. This doesn’t go down at all well with office manager Teales, whose icy disapproval comes as a shock to Caro and Sam.

Teales read the email and turn up on time (with the right kit). They do their research, they brief and debrief. If they ever go to the wrong meeting point or leave the folder at home they busk it skilfully and never let on. Caro and Sam turn the whole incident into an amusing anecdote and Jen chalks it up against them.

Thalia can’t even become a vet, like Christine Teale - far too vocational. She learns to type and becomes a temp and is slow to adapt to real life. If the South is hit by blizzards, or trains are halted by the wrong kind of snow, Thalia sets out from home at the usual time and expects her colleagues to accept her excuse when she turns up at 11. They give her hell for taking off her coat in the firm’s time. Christine listens to the weather forecast/traffic report and sets out early so that she arrives at her usual time, five minutes before the dot. Thalia ends up doing PR for a gallery.

Teales and Weybridges push their children into jobs where they can earn the most money in the shortest time. Teales are life’s winners. They wouldn’t go to Tibet to find themselves, they’d do a cost-benefit analysis and work out that it was a waste of time. If they go New Age, they make it into a money spinner and do crystal healing or paint fairy pictures. They get good jobs, earn a high salary, have a pension plan, a five-year plan (go travelling, do a bungee jump, get married, have a baby, run an internet business from the spare room).

They have what psychologists call “executive function”. If dim, they doggedly work until they get a passing grade. They make a revision chart and stick to it. They also know how to work the system, find out what’s required, think for the future, know what they’re at school for. They keep their heads down, appear to follow the rules. They don’t challenge the system, they work round it. They know how to manage themselves – review plans and performance, take an audit. They’re reliable (they learned it in the Brownies). They’re - gasp! - realists.

They do the sums and work out where it will be most economic to live, balancing good local schools with the cost of commuting. They work out their chances, and ways and means of getting what they want. They don’t wear out their youth in theatrical agents’ waiting rooms. If they become actors they drive a taxi or run an antiques business on the side. (Upward actors make their real money giving training to corporate staff - presentations, speech, confidence – but they don’t talk about it.)

Teales have sensible priorities. They don’t mind moving for work to somewhere unfashionable or uncool, in fact they don’t even notice the uncoolness of Stansted Mountfitchet or Leatherhead. When an Upward moved to Kingston a posh acquaintance wailed: “But there’ll be no one there you could be friends with!”

Sharon Definitely becomes a reality TV star and puts out her own perfume brand (or jewellery line on the shopping channel), or runs a tanning salon, or else she goes to stage school and becomes a pop star, a TV presenter, or a TV ad actress, all careers barred to Thalia. (Stage schools are for Definitelies and Teales and are very practical and goal-oriented; Upwards go to drama school where they’re subjected to a combination of group therapy and playground bullying.)

Dave Definitely has a property portfolio. The Upward kids wouldn't do up houses for a living because they can't do the sums and don't have the skills and aren’t prepared to work hard enough. Upwards still look down on “trade”, unless it shows how unique, tasteful, politically correct or green they are. They can import terracotta cookware from Spain or fairtrade cotton from India. They don’t have to make a huge profit because they don’t have to live on the proceeds.

Trustafarian Stow Crats don’t need to work at all, so they do something to give their life meaning. This may turn out to be trivial and time-wasting. Because they have the time, the money and the connections, they can write and get published and performed. They earn either very little or less than nothing from this, and spend their lives stretching a slender talent way beyond its limits.

Education, Education, Education

“She also has that irresistibly easy charm that comes from a really expensive education.” Decca Aitkenhead Guardian 30 Sept 2011

“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.” Anthony Seldon, headmaster of Wellington College

Upper middle-class Upwards and posh Stow Crats send their children to “public schools” (expensive private boarding schools), which are often single sex. These schools couldn’t survive on the numbers of children within commuting distance, so they have to board – and the system has to big up the advantages of boarding. Allegedly it teaches children to be independent, articulate and confident. But they have to leave their parents and families and local friends – and normal life. the parents expect the schools to teach their children everything. They can pretty much give up on parenting after their kids are 10. Or seven, if they go to prep schools. (Children of seven? Sent to live away from home? And nobody complains? What century is this?)

Caro Stow Crat explains she’s moving her children to a different private school because the one they’re at doesn’t really “stretch” them. This is code for they’re not getting high enough marks.

The parents pay huge fees – the children pay the most. Is it worth it?

Middle class parents are faced with this sum:
private school
tuition fees of £9,000
living expenses
unpaid internship
low-paid job in media
foreign holidays
expensive new car
large garden
five bedroom house in desirable area
large wine bill

x thousand humanities graduates every year versus 1.5 jobs on The Guardian every year

Is their child's low-paid job in the media really worth sacrificing one of the items in column B? When will they insist that they’ll only pay for uni if the child studies law, medicine, banking, or dentistry?

Upwards are still on the treadmill of gap year (booked through a specialist company), student loan, unpaid internships. Upward children still want to work in the media, or fashion, or some other area where they make you slave till three in the morning for no pay. And their parents are still funding them to do it. Never mind that when their child eventually gets a job the pay is peanuts – the children will mix with nice people, and make nice friends, and the parents can boast to other parents. And the girls will get married (to one of the nice people they’ve met). So maybe it is all worth it.

Sam does all her children’s coursework so that they can get into a fee-paying school where the teachers rewrite the essays, paint the pictures, throw the pots etc. (In the 19th century, the drawing master produced the art work of his “accomplished” pupils.)

“Pupils from just 100 elite schools dominate a third of places at Oxford and Cambridge, exposing the "social bias" at the two universities, according to a report published today.” Daily Telegraph 2007

Upward and Stow Crat children all get into university, where they buy their essays from the Internet. Oxford and Cambridge are for the upper and upper middle classes. Exeter, Durham are for people who didn’t get into Oxbridge (and St Andrews is “the Exeter of Scotland”). They study French, history and English. Teales study tourism and hospitality.

The Guardian’s Tanya Gold described her time at Merton: “Who knew that the warmest things in Oxford were the marble buildings?”

The posh spent their time at private dining clubs and were rarely seen. A large group of students were just bewildered. Then there were “the Wannabes - the state-school kids who tried, pitifully, to buy into the Brideshead fantasy. They mooched around as parodies of 1930s Oxford students. The boys wore tweed suits and spectacles and the girls wore Laura Ashley and buns. They spent all their time in the library and dining in college wearing funny black gowns… They drank sherry and affected Celia Johnson voices. Although they usually did very well academically they seemed terribly unhappy… of the ones I am still in touch with, their careers have vanished into dust. They tried to plug themselves into an old boy network that didn't want them. The fantasy broke them. If you lose yourself to a fantasy at 19, it takes a long time to find yourself again… we all had our As at A-levels, our spidery little essay plans and our dry-as-bone reading lists. But nobody was learning. We were cramming.