Friday 30 December 2011

More About Decor

Fair Client: "I want the house to be nice and baronial, Queen Anne and Elizabethan, and all that; kind of quaint and Nuremburgy you know — regular Old English, with French windows opening to the lawn, and Venetian blinds, and sort of Swiss balconies, and a loggia. But I'm sure you know what I mean!" (George du Maurier, Punch, November 29, 1890)
The decor was extraordinary — suede walls, fluffy white carpets, smoked glass, salmon-pink tented ceilings. Jimmy Savile’s house, Mail Oct 2011

I know that the new owners will completely gut the house, extend it and add period touches that were probably never there in the first place. Steerforth, Age of Uncertainty blog on selling his mother’s house in Teddington

The “mansion” of bastard architecture and crude paint, with its brass indifferently clean, with coarse lace behind the plate glass of its golden-oak door, and the bell answered at eleven in the morning by a butler in an ill-fitting dress suit and wearing a mustache, might as well be placarded: “Here lives a vulgarian who has never had an opportunity to acquire cultivation.” Emily Post

Does your butler have a moustache? Shame on you!

Patio heaters have reached London N16 – but outdoor pizza ovens are still beyond the pale.

Someone reached this blog by typing “why do posh people never match their furniture?”. Why don’t they? They inherited it. ("The trouble with Michael is that he had to buy his own furniture" - Michael Jopling on Michael Heseltine)

Upwards always want to live in a converted rectory, not a manse or vicarage.

According to the Middle-Class Handbook, overhead lights are for emergency use only – like when someone drops a contact lens. Middle-class Upwards in the 19th century thought gas and electricity a bit vulgar (so unforgiving to the complexion). But why did the electricity/gas companies install central ceiling lights (traditional location for a chandelier) in the smallest cottage? Just as people lift details from the grounds of stately homes and put a bonsai version into their own half-acre (terraces, topiary, ponds, lawns), they lift details from the great houses themselves and stuff them into a much smaller interior: huge fireplaces, central chandeliers, dining tables, roll-top baths. And after Downton Abbey, everybody wants a butler’s pantry even though the society that produced them is long gone (for most of us).

Houses with exposed beams make Upwards shudder: in envy, because they could never afford a house that old; in horror, because beams have been devalued by imitations and also because they’re emblematic of an out-dated kind of cottaginess. It really is terribly hard being an Upward.

Upwards and grand Stow Crats whinge about collections of houses being called a “close” when it isn’t a cathedral close; they also complain about houses called Something Lodge that are neither a gate lodge nor a hunting lodge. Also American high-rises called the Something Arms like a pub, with no reference to any coat of arms.

They also hate anything bogus, like modern “antique” solar-powered “carriage lamps”, or wishing wells with no well. Or an inappropriate detail, like a Regency-style (Quality Street) bow shop window shoved into a Victorian terrace or 60s house. Caro Stow Crat doesn’t like bygones in the living room either – why display an ancient knife-cleaning machine (bought at a country house sale)? Hipster Rowena, now over her 50s phase, is either buying up 70s pottery owls and orange raffia lampshades or sets of pigeon holes from old offices and chemical-stained workbenches from redundant labs.

Suitability is the test of good taste always. Emily Post

More here. And here. And here.

Friday 23 December 2011

You Are What You Eat Part Two

“My left-wing parents never gave me chocolate.” Gabriela von Bohlen, via Web

The very lovely Middle Class Handbook site complains about “customising” food, a ghastly habit we’ve picked up from across the pond. “Can I get a Four Seasons without one of the seasons?” Grand British people ate amazingly wonderful food but you weren’t supposed to comment on it. See E.M. Forster’s Room with a View: Lucy Honeychurch’s prospective mother-in-law talked of removing “that Honeychurch taint” because Lucy asked how the pudding was made.

Middle-class Weybridges 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. More downmarket Teales are far too kind and polite to mind, and will try and accommodate food combining, veganism or the Atkins diet.

Some Weybridges are ashamed to be a “picky eater” – they force themselves to eat whatever’s put before them. ("I don’t want to make the hostess feel she has to supply an alternative.") Upper-class Stow Crats will tell you if they can’t eat anything (politely), but don’t go on about it. Samantha Upward messes unwelcome food about on her plate and hopes nobody will notice. Some Upwards force deliberately horrible foods onto guests to see how they cope (real-life examples: turnip soup, tomato icecream). A friend kept trying to make me eat mussels because I’d said I was allergic to them (still am). And there are those who hate anyone to state a preference because they think it may be an attempt to pull rank or manipulate.

Big Brother star Chantelle had never given a dinner party before Dine With Me and hadn’t a clue how to cook anything.

Research by Kantar Worldpanel shows that hummus consumption is dominated by social classes ABC1 and tails off in those aged over 44. ("There's a grand tradition of taking peasant food from around the Mediterranean and making it posh food here.”) bbc online October 11, 2011

Sam flinches at “Happy Meal” and Boots "meal deals". A “meal” is where you sit down at a laid table and work your way through soup, entrée and pudding. Anything else is a snack or a picnic. Or “eating between meals”, which you don’t do. (This may be a tad old-fashioned.) But she hates the word: she also flinches at combinations like “not at the meal table!” or “come over for a meal!”. She even flinches when wildlife presenters refer to animals “getting a meal”. Wouldn’t a rabbit be “dinner”?

When Upwards have nothing to do they can always whinge about the way food and drink is getting sweeter because that’s what common people like. It’s naff to “have a sweet tooth”. They used to pretend they liked melon with powdered ginger, and strawberries with black pepper – rather than sugar and cream. Yes, that caught on!

You Are What You Eat Part One here.

Thursday 22 December 2011


Here's how gentrification happens. A few bohemians move into a very run-down area (Stoke Newington) and establish a few cafes and jazz clubs and an art cinema. Years pass. Gradually slightly more well-heeled bohemians move in and the cafes, jazz clubs etc breed vintage clothes shops and second-hand book shops. Twee hippy shops called Pixie Moon open and close. Students move in. More cafes and bookshops open. Vinyl and junk shops close. Greasy spoons and sewing machine repair shops move to the East End. Local festivals are organised, with ethnic food stalls. The pioneers are a bit like 19th century missionaries: they want to spread liberal values, but they also see the economic possibilities.

End stage: the real money moves in, 10 estate agents open in the high street and professional couples buy and do up all the Victorian houses within reach. A few electricians and builders suppliers hang on, but the woodyard is now a Fresh and Wild. New shops sell 50s furniture, framed 20s music covers etc. Soon the incomers will open their own school instead of moving to Crouch End as soon as their children are school-age. (Update: schools have improved, and the incomers are staying put.)

So what’s the difference between the new and old Stokey incomers? We thought we were moving into a village. They see an area that now has things they like (retro toyshops, restaurants) and cheaper Victorian houses. They move in and terraform the place to their requirements. They don’t open tastefully whimsical cafes with Poole pottery and embroidered tablecloths, they open patisseries selling elaborate little cakes at £5 each. They don’t go to Gambian drumming workshops, they drive their children to oboe lessons. They wouldn’t visit a holistic clinic for acupuncture (especially not one in a crumbling, pokey and rather dirty Victorian house), they want a luxury spa. They don’t go to the Mother Earth whole food shop that’s been there for 20 years, they go to Fresh and Wild which basically sells expensive gourmet food. They’re not going to shop for vintage clothes, they’re going to buy expensive, new designer versions of peasant wear (stripey Breton tops).

The hippies and lefties who wore flowery trousers (later, shift dresses made out of 50s curtains) and sold Tibetan jewellery at free street fairs have left. (They were aggressively pale, to prove that tanning is a capitalist plot, and had a cowed, weedy “partner” with a baby strapped to his front.) They’ve been replaced by fashionably dressed young women with baby buggies, or older couples with one IVF baby. (The men are far too hands-on and bossy with the children.) The women open their own businesses which don't need to make money because they've already got some, and Stoke Newington becomes Crouch End. And I sound like someone complaining that their quaint holiday fishing village has been taken over by grockles.

More photos here. And here. And here.

Wednesday 21 December 2011

Beat the Cold III

Hi darlings, Caroline Stow-Crat here! I'm sure you've read my handy tips for beating the cold by now. And my friend Samantha has some ideas, though you might find them a bit grim!

Anyway, I've had some more thoughts (or nicked them from the lovely Jonathan Foyle), and here they are:

To track down the source of draughts, take a lit candle and see where it flickers.
Floorboards lose a lot of heat – insulation seal between the gaps can save £25 a year. (Or put down more rugs. Layer them – valuable at the bottom, cheaper on top – so it doesn’t matter if people walk on them in muddy boots.)

(Both from the Sunday Times.)

Jonathan Foyle has some tips on how to weatherproof a stately home/historic house. Move garden statues inside, or wrap them in sacking/lagging. You could even knit them a cosy, or dress them in your old clothes… All this and more here.

And as well as wood panelling, books floor to ceiling are really good insulation. Get a little man to build the shelves, then pick up a load of books from your local Oxfam. Or get your friends to donate!

Bye till next time!

More here:

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

Heat-saving Tips II

Tuesday 20 December 2011

Terribly House and Garden

Design for Living, a song by comedy duo Flanders and Swann, reveals that the middle class fad for "upcycling" goes back a long way... House and Garden was a magazine (and still is), but it was Vogue that exhorted readers "Why not - rinse your blonde child's hair in flat champagne" etc etc (S.J. Perelman parodied it in a piece called Frou-Frou, or the Future of Vertigo - it is in Most of the Most of S.J.Perelman.) Design for Living is a play by Noel Coward.

Here's the song:

When we started making money, when we started making friends we found a home as soon as were able to. We bought this bijou residence for about a thousand more than the house our house was once the stable to. With charm, colour values, wit and structural alterations, now designed for graceful living, it has quite a reputation:

We're terribly House & Garden at number 7B,
We live in a most amusing Mews, ever so very contemporary.
We're terribly House & Garden - the money that one spends
To make a place that won't disgrace our House & Garden friends.
We've planned an uninhibited interior decor,
Curtains made of straw,
We've wallpapered the floor.
We don't know if we like it
But at least be can be sure:
There's no place like home sweet home.

It's fearfully Maison-Jardin at number 7B.
We've rediscovered the chandelier:
Très, très very contemporary.
We're terribly House & Garden though at last we've got the chance.
The garden's full of furniture and the house is full of plants.
It doesn't make for comfort but it simply has to be
'Cos we're ever so terribly up-to-date, contempo-rar-areee.

Have you a home that cries out to your every visitor "here lives someone who is exciting to know?" No? Well, why not - collect those little metal bottle tops and nail them, upside-down, to the floor? This will give a sensation...

of walking on little metal bottle-tops turned upside-down.

Why not - get hold of an ordinary Northumbrian spoke-shaver's coracle, paint it in contrasting stripes of, say, telephone black and white white, and hang it up in the hall for a guitar tidy for parties.

Why not - drop in one evening for a mess of potage, our speciality, just aubergine and carnation petals, with a six-shilling bottle of Mule du Pape, a feast fit for a King.

I'm delirious about our new cooker fitment, with the eye-level grill. This means, that without my having to bend down, the hot fat can squirt straight into my eye.

We're frightfully House & Garden at number 7B
The walls are patterned with shrunken heads:
Ever so very contemporary.
Our boudoir on the open plan
Has been a huge success,
Though everywhere's so open
There's nowhere safe to dress.
With little screens and bottle-lamps
And motifs here and there
And mobiles in the air
And ivy everywhere
You musn't be surprised to meet a cactus on the stair
But we call it home sweet home.

We're terribly House & Garden, as I think we said before
But though 7B is madly gay
It wouldn't do for every day.
We actually live in 7A,
In the house next door!

Saturday 17 December 2011

Classy Quotes Part Eight

The moment they lost the upper hand in conversation, there would be a sudden pulling of rank, a deliberate glazing of the eyes, or a neatly aimed belittling joke… Damian Thompson of the Daily Telegraph Nov 2011 on David Cameron and Old Etonians

Large increases in income and wealth have promoted top earners to buy bigger and better, which has shifted the frame of reference that defines what those just below the top deem necessary or desirable. So that group spends more, too, and its spending similarly influences the group just below. And so on all the way down. The problem for middle-income families is that house prices and school quality are closely linked. So even though these families don’t earn much more than they did several decades ago, they must buy bigger more expensive houses than before, or else send their children to below-average schools. To pay for these houses, they spend more than they earn and carry record levels of debt. In short, increased wealth and spending at the top of the economic pyramid sets off "expenditure cascades" that raise the cost of achieving many basic goals for the middle class. Cornell economics professor Robert Frank

In the documentary series which finished on Friday evening, the heiress Tamara Ecclestone set out to prove that she isn't "a pointless, quite spoilt, really stupid, vacuous, empty human being". This endeavour was not wholly successful. Channel 5 showed her supervising the refurbishment of her £45m home in London, in which she commissioned a £1m bathtub carved from Mexican crystal, an underground swimming pool complex, her own nightclub, a lift for her Ferrari, a bowling alley with crystal-studded balls and a spa and massage parlour for her five dogs, to save her the trouble of taking them to Harrods to have their hair sprayed and their nails painted. Guardian November 22, 2011

No 'we' worse than the weekend-colour-supplement 'we'. @zone_styx

They buy private services, they don’t engage with society. Woman on #bbcnews24 on the very highly paid

More here, here, here, here and here. And here. And here.

What Your Gadgets Say About You

Middle-class Upwards don’t eat cake with a fork, especially not a small silver fork with a blade for cutting the cake. But they may pass guests a “paper napkin” (never "serviette") to hold the cake with. Curved cheese knives with two prongs at the end for spearing cheese are also verboten, as are cheeseboards with a slot for for the knife, and special grapefruit knives or spoons with a serrated side. These are gadgets you’d expect to find in a hotel, not a private house.

However Upwards used to be very keen on special butter knives (for taking butter curls or balls from a butter plate), and sugar tongs (for sugar lumps), and special sugar spoons. All these items (only used when eating afternoon tea around a tea table) have thankfully vanished. If you want to eat tea around a tea table you have to go to the Ritz or the Savoy, and the people who used to make their own butter curls now have something better to do with their time.

Upper-class Stow Crats eat with inherited Georgian silver. Upwards use inherited silver plate, or designer stainless steel.

Stow Crats and Upwards were terribly cross when disposable products came in, especially disposable nappies. They held out for years, insisting that muslin and terry squares were really easier and more practical. Sharon Definitely bulk buys Pampers.

Upwards and Stow Crats think that all kitchen gadgets are common unless made out of metal or wood and designed in the 19th (or possibly 18th) century. They abhor trendy, brightly coloured gadgets made of PLAHSTIC. So who buys them? Weybridges and Teales made good.

Also Upwards are still living in a fantasy world in which they have a large country house with staff (that’s why they love Downton Abbey), and can’t use anything invented after that era (apart from washing machines, dishwashers, fridges which you just have to have and somehow don’t count or are too big to see). They particularly hate new methods of making coffee, crushing garlic etc etc and like using oldfashioned inefficient methods. (Elizabeth David (genuflect) advocated crushing the garlic with the back of a knife.) They loathed percolators and garlic crushers.

Howard Weybridge is still using an electric carving knife.