Wednesday 26 December 2012

You Are What You Eat IV

Upper middle-class Upwards only eat dark chocolate, which they pretend is nicer than milk chocolate. They apply this formula to many foods. They used to insist black treacle was better than golden syrup. They can only eat sweet food if they disparagingly call it "comfort food" (warm, wet, smooth, bland and filling), or say how guilty they feel for eating it. They love feeling guilty about actions that aren't sins. The middle classes are anti-sauce, it makes food too like babyfood (too  easy to eat and tasty). They sneer that they don’t like food that’s “smothered in heavy or complicated sauces”. (The rules are relaxed for Christmas dinner, which everybody loves.) They loved 70s hippy food because it’s sooooo cheap (and also you’re sticking it to The Man, as we didn’t say then). They bought dried chick peas and spent more on fuel to boil them for hours than they would have spent on a tin of the things. (“Commoditized!”)

For several reasons, Upwards are very against fizzy drinks. Too sugary, giant corporations, capitalism, bang goes sixpence… They love using their children as an excuse to display their right-on attitudes. They make the kids drink watered-down fruit juice to protect their teeth. But the parents fixate on the “fizz” (Perrier somehow doesn’t count – but they used to twirl gold swizzle sticks to reduce the fizz in champagne.) In fact “fizzy drinks” is code for “mass-produced sugary drinks in cans”. And the fizz in Coca Cola is bad for you because Coca Cola is American and so aggressively marketed. (Upwards hate the idea that someone is trying to sell them something, and think they are immune to the hard sell, the soft sell and all other kinds.) Of course no amount of aggressive marketing can make air bubbles bad for you. They are only allowed to drink Coke if they have diarrhoea – but it has to be flat. (It replaces lost water, and the sugar and salt it contains enable you to absorb the water. Also the sugar replaces lost nutrients.)

Upwards also wail that “we” throw away almost half the food from “our” weekly supermarket shop. Working-class Sharon Definitely walks to a corner shop and buys what she needs when she needs it. She can’t buy too much because she doesn’t have a car. So she is more eco-friendly than the environmentally aware Upwards, who are convinced that she lives on greasy fast food.

Their latest hate is “bossy” sell-by dates.

“I rely on taste and smell rather than bossy rules from supermarkets - [unlike] the nervous middle-aged who are so sensitive to commands on packages.” (Angela Huth in the Times January 16, 2012).

“It isn't difficult to tell if food has gone off. In most cases, you only have to smell it. But since 1980, when sell-by dates were introduced on food labelling, we have been terrorised into throwing food away when it is still perfectly good to eat. The consequence is that we chuck out an estimated £12bn worth of food every year, including many millions of unopened pots of yoghurt, loaves of bread, chickens and slices of ham.” (Guardian, 2011)

Sell-by dates are for wimps… I stopped being a gormless pillock and realised it’s all just a profitable arse-covering exercise, and that every year shoppers are chucking £12 billion of edible food in the bin.” (Carol Midgley in The Times, 22 Dec 2012)

It’s worse than a robot voice telling you that there’s an “unexpected item in the bagging area”. Nobody tells Upwards what to do. They are the officer class and issue orders. Also they still haven’t quite come to terms with the idea that they shop in supermarkets now, with crowds of other people.

Earlier in the year, the NHS warned people not to risk their health by ignoring sell-by dates. A Times commenter points out that your immune system gets tougher with age – and your sense of taste and smell declines.

In the 70s, dinner parties were a genteel form of speed dating. We were too poor (or too middle class) to go out. There wasn’t a great choice of venues that we could afford, and most places were either too up-market or too down-market. But we needed to meet each other, so we gave dinner parties and “bring a bottle” parties.

Lower-middle-class Teales never go to greasy-spoon cafes, but Bohemian Upwards may. Though mainly you have to wait until you get home and can eat “proper” food that you can trust. Upper-class Stow Crats used to pretend to be very baffled by canteens and self-service.

Firepits have replaced barbecues (sooo suburban), and the latest thing is restaurants where all the food is cooked on an open fire.

Chilli-flavoured tomato ketchup appeared briefly in corner shops, but seems to have disappeared again. From HP on, exotic Eastern sauces slid rapidly downmarket.

Single malts are the new white burgundy.

Upwards can’t eat or drink anything cherry flavoured – especially black cherries (very chic circa 1963).

In the 50s and 60s, Upwards used to shudder with horror when presented with a cake on a paper or (worse!) plastic doily. You can still buy them, so somebody must be using them.

Eileen Weybridge and Jen Teale are shocked and bewildered that Samantha Upward tips instant coffee straight into a mug without measuring it with a spoon. And they’re outraged when she eats the rind off the Stilton (It’s all mouldy! And you don’t know where it’s been! And I thought she was “well-brought up”!)

Teales used to call all pasta “spaghetti”. Upwards bone up on all the different kinds (orechiette, conchiglie, farfalle). Pasta manufacturers start marketing it as “pasta” and calling farfalle “bowtie pasta”. Upwards move on to ditalini and stelline.

People are deserting the digestive (Nice, sponge finger, rich tea, Bath Oliver) for fancy biscuits (much sweeter, lots of chocolate and possibly pink icing). Old attitudes are changing (dull biscuits are good for you, only chavs eat biscuits that are too nice etc etc. More than that, they’re deserting the digestive for the kind of outrageous, expensive, highly coloured, ultra-sweet fancy cake that existed in the 50s but we were never allowed to eat.

Porridge is ace. But, as it crosses all the classes, the MCs like to go organic to put our stamp on it. And add bananas.” @middleclasshandbook responding to a tweet about “steel-cut Irish oatmeal”. (Steel-cut oats are not pre-cooked and you have to soak them all night.)

And of course the currently fashionable regional Chinese cookery is unbearably hot. Upwards still think that food should make you suffer, and the only food that gives you bragging rights is painful (chillies) or disgusting (what’s the new steak tartare? Wood-ear fungus?). There was a 70s version of wholemeal bread that has quite disappeared. Eating a slice was like munching a carpet tile spread with honey. (You always had honey in the house because you used it instead of sugar.)

Part I here.
Part II here.
Part III here.

Saturday 17 November 2012

Plum Jobs and Plummy Voices

Writers know that the adjective "plummy" is somehow associated with the upper classes. It is - it refers to the way an aristo talks as if he had a plum in his mouth. That's a "plummy voice". It has nothing to do with any type of dessert the upper classes may eat.

Many misunderstandings result, and they're getting more and more baroque:

If you want to know, he said, in a pureed-plum voice (he trained at the Central School)... (Adam Mars Jones, London Review of Books, Nov 2012)

The 11the Duke of Marlborough has the garbled, sticky plum-crumble diction of the irredeemably posh. (Sarah Dempster, The Guardian, Nov 17 2012)

Posh TV cook Nigella Lawson’s voice is described as “plummy” but actually it is light and unresonant.

The Guardian even has TV presenter Kirstie Alsopp working for a couple of “plummy magazines” (May 9 2006).

Then there were their lovely families – every member of them worth so much more than the floppy-fringed Oxbridge plums their sons were trying so hard to impress and infiltrate. (Barbara Ellen, The Observer, 12 Aug 2012 Upper-class people are not known as “plums”.)

Full of great stories about the great old guard in the plummy old days of his rich, old town. (Time magazine - they mean "palmy days".)

You can plume yourself on getting a plum job - it's a bit like preening.

How to Talk Posh I
How to Talk Posh II
How to Talk Posh III
How to Talk Posh IV

How to Talk Posh is now an ebook available

Tuesday 30 October 2012

Class and Innovations

Is there a word/phrase for that process where people first complain about technological change, then accept, then embrace it? writer and blogger Lee Jackson 

Middle-class Upwards and Weybridges are not early adopters – they chase fads, not things. And there weren’t all these innovations when they were young: every time a new gadget comes along they act as if it was the first they’d ever encountered. They have to go through a stage of calling the remote control the Herbert and leaving silly messages on answering machines. Also they have to act very puzzled about the whole concept. Video? Why would anyone want to watch a film at home? Email? Why send a document from one computer to another? Talking books? For the blind, or maybe while you’re driving or ironing. (They’re doing it now about Kindles. “People can’t remember books they’ve read on a Kindle so well because Kindle makes it too easy.” Daily Telegraph Jan 2011)

"One of those audiobooks in which some plummy thesp intones a classic novel" Richard Morrison, Times November 11, 2011 (Audiobooks have been around for 25 years and they’re usually read by character actors.)

When the first few got videos, they used them to watch the RSC's Nicholas Nickleby. And they insisted on turning them on for you if you went round to their place. Nobody knew how to programme their video (except me). And they never set the clock, so it blinked all the time. “The pictures are better on radio” must date from 1951. Remember when they insisted black and white TVs were just as good if not better than colour? Colour TVs were something terribly vulgar that Americans had. Eventually they explained that they had “given in” for the sake of the nature programmes. (Now they’re complaining that benefit scroungers all have flat-screen TVs. Possibly because they’re the only kind you can get.)

Although Upwards have had phones since the 1880s, they went on being terrified of expensive phone calls while spending hugely on drink and awful private boarding schools. When telephones first came in, Upwards had one “instrument” in the house in a stuffy cabinet under the stairs. If guests were allowed to use it they had to leave two pennies to cover the cost. (These were households with butlers and maids, and the guests were being fed three-course meals cooked by a chef.) When watching American films of the 50s, they were rather surprised that Americans had wall-mounted phones in their kitchens, with a long flex so that you could have a conversation while doing other things. According to Debrett’s (1980 version) it used to be unacceptable for women to add a phone number to their visiting card.

Gadgets are made of metal and plastic and they are the same for everybody. You can get one encrusted with pink rhinestones, but not an artisanal one made of natural materials. When mobile phones arrived Upwards supposed vaguely that they might be useful for plumbers. Actually they were outraged that mobiles were immediately taken up by plumbers, builders and anyone who saw how useful they were. The Upwards had to fight a rearguard action by getting them banned from railway carriages and joking about people who rang up just to yell “I’m on the train!”

The Evolution of Adoption
1: Affect great puzzlement about what it’s for.
2: Contempt for those who buy/do the thing.
2b. Smugness about not using it.
3: Grudging acceptance.
4: Hysteria about a drawback: RSI, radiation poisoning, complete social breakdown.
5: They buy one but a phone that doesn’t take pictures, or a TV that isn’t flat-screen/colour.
6: They’ve all got one and boast about how many apps they’ve got and how theirs is bigger/more expensive/classier than anybody else’s.
7: They carry on as if they were the first to discover it.
8: They carry on as if they’d invented it.
9. They won’t allow that you (who have been using computers and social media for about 20 years longer than they have) know anything at all.

Once they’ve adopted the technology, Upward etiquette lags behind and they shove their camcorders into their friends’ faces while shrieking with laughter, or email vast numbers of holiday snaps, unfunny internet jokes, virus warnings or chain letters to everyone in their address books, not blinding the email addresses. If they’re not too snobbish to have Facebook accounts, they “like” a page that sends spam to all their friends.

Upwards used to be very shocked if a fellow Upward admitted listening to radio phone-ins. Now it’s Twitter and Facebook. Facebook is funded by the CIA, and Twitter lets the whole world into your living room. Upwards don’t even like to think that there are people living in the UK who aren’t Upwards. Twitter might connect you to people who live in the wrong part of West London. And Twitter was created laterally, not top-down. It’s not run by or for Upwards.

“Children… have been routinely counselled to use FB infrequently and with enormous caution, thus protecting themselves from – to name some of the more obvious traps – obesity, time wasting, stalkers, bullying, invasion of privacy, bitching, hideous embarrassment, isolation, career damage and unwitting complicity in Zuckerberg’s latest schemes for monetisation…” Catherine Bennett on FB’s sudden reinvention as a must-have, or acceptance as a normal part of life. Now it’s the people not on FB, she says, who are pathologised. Aug 12/12.

Are the middleclass parents who won't let kids join Facebook (or the 21st century) for fear of trolls and bullying the same ones who "won't wrap kids in cotton wool"? What happened to "children must learn how to manage risk"? (It’s a bit like not having a house in case you get burgled.)

“I'm not on Facebook" is the new "I don't even own a TV." @rainnwilson

Adding “xxx” to text messages “is a way to be friendly without resorting to dreadful emoticons”. Carol Midgley Times May 9 2012 I bet she went through “those dreadful mobile phones”, “those dreadful text messages” first.

Lower middle class Jen Teale has been using emoticons for years - she used to write PTL! and a smiley face on postits and stick them to the fridge (it stands for “praise the Lord”). And emoticons and acronyms were being used on “primitive” social media in the mid-80s and their origin is probably earlier. Teales moved seamlessly from home movies and holiday slides to camcorders.

And innovations are always dangerous – until they’ve been accepted and are just part of life. Microwave ovens would cook your innards if you left the door open, didn’t use “real heat” so the food wasn’t really cooked, and got as hot as a nuclear reactor (thanks to Giles Coren). TVs were bad for your eyes and killed conversation. Upwards put them in a special room (they had one to spare), and watched them from a great distance with all other light sources turned off. The game was played out again with computers: radiation, RSI, protective lead garments for pregnant women… And mobile phones give you “texter’s thumb”.

Try Googling “we finally gave in and got a”: laptop, taxi, tanning bed, gas powered mower, fake Christmas tree.

When travelling, I often bump into an elderly and aristocratic couple who want to make it quite clear that they are slumming by using the same mode of transport as ordinary people (and a cheap mode at that). They have bitter public disputes about how to use lifts or read departure boards. You meet them in self-service restaurants too, pretending to be baffled by the procedure (“You get the eating irons, Freddie.”) They are always sending one of their party off to check the departure time, bag a table, go on to John Lewis etc etc. Before mobiles, this meant a 75% risk that they’d never find each other again. But maybe that was the point: you’d either lose Araminta, or have an excuse for a lovely prolonged row in which you accused her of waiting by the wrong pillar.

“My doctor told me to drink decaffeinated tea but I can only get horrible bags. Can I get proper leaf tea that’s decaffeinated?” Letter to Times

Upwards were never going to use teabags or eat flavoured yoghourt. Ahem… Here are some innovations they used to ban – or at least hedge around with prohibitions – and now accept:

Teabags: they contained the sweepings of the factory floor.

Supermarkets: the muzak sent you into a trance and you bought more than you needed and it feels like stealing. Supermarkets were American, and so ipso facto common. Then they came round to Sainsbury’s and Waitrose because you can drive straight there and buy everything you need surrounded by like-minded people and don’t have to walk along streets and go to corner shops and mingle. They told you to shop at Sainsbury’s rather than corner shops “because it’s cheaper”. But now they’re against supermarkets again and are supporting corner shops (but they have to be delis run by people like them, not Costcutters).

Central heating: American. Dries out your nasal passages.
Ariel (bio washing powders): Cause a skin rash.
Hula hoops (the toy, not the snack): Cause slipped discs.
Miniskirts: Cause cystitis and chapped thighs.
Mobile phones/bras/deodorants: Give you cancer.
Platform shoes: Cause twisted ankles.
Sony walkmans: Cause road accidents (now it’s mobiles and soon it will be in-car television).

The Tellytubbies: Will encourage our children to speak badly. (The great Tellytubby flap is entirely forgotten and the kids are all right. Now we’re whingeing about In the Night Garden.)

The Internet: Causes sex addiction. Or just Internet addiction.

Twitter and Facebook: Encourage people to make nonexistent “friends” with thousands of people, or follow stupid “celebrities”. It will mean the death of privacy! Both Twitter and Facebook give you instant access to everybody in the world. (This one is still current.)

The Twist (it was a dance, me lud): Causes slipped discs.
Convenience food: It’s OK now you can get it at M&S.

Comics: Will stop children learning to read (and you earned a lot of brownie points if you didn’t let your children read them). Now it’s texting that will stop your children learning to spell.

Fruit-flavoured yoghourt (only plain was allowed): When yoghourt came in Upwards refused to put sugar on it. But they believed magical claims about it eg that it helps you live to 100.

And these are the people who are always complaining that the media whips up utterly unnecessary panics about paedophilia, swine flu, foot and mouth… Some (a dwindling band) still refuse to use any machine invented after 1960. More about technology refuseniks here.

Social Media in the Media

Newspaper staff are all middle-class now you need a degree and can only get a job by working unpaid as an intern for months. Here's how they react to developments in social media:

1. They’ve never heard of it.

2. They put it in quote marks and add a “popular beat combo, me lud” explanation (Twitter – the micro-blogging site).

3. They quote from it, but only the select the lamest posts/tweets.

4. They reluctantly admit that it’s where news will break.

5. They pontificate about it endlessly – what it’s going to do to our minds, society etc etc etc.

6. They invent an innovation-specific disease like texter’s thumb (“Twitter causes solipsism” Nov 16 2011)

Thursday 13 September 2012

Proper Deportment

Poor middle-class Upwards and Weybridges are constantly hectored by parents and teachers: Stand up straight! Don't slouch! Don't touch your face! Don’t put your hands on your hips! Don't bite your nails! Chewing gum is a disgusting habit! Don't push your sleeves up! Walk tall, shoulders back, step out briskly! Look people in the eye! Always have a cheerful smile! Don't look like a dying duck in a thunderstorm! Sticking out your chin was known as “poking”. Some Upwards over-compensated so far that their chin is permanently pulled into the neck like a bridling horse. (And then they had the gall to tell you to “just be yourself”.)

White Van Man walks with the “Essex swagger”, and working class girls have a slouching, sexy gait. Sharon Definitely shows her bottom teeth when she talks, and doesn’t close her mouth when she’s not talking (Samantha Upward and posh Caro Stow Crat would say she speaks “sloppily”). Sharon’s gestures are relaxed too. Upward gestures are stiff and tense.

Lower middle-class Jen Teale and Sharon open their eyes widely without smiling. Sam thinks it makes them look idiotic, but actually it’s rather sexy. Sam opens her eyes wide but smiles maniacally at the same time, or else she fixes you with a frown and an unblinking stare as she goes on at great length about the hobby horse of the moment.

Middle-middle Weybridge females have to be sensible and outgoing. Teale girls are obliged to be bubbly and animated. They sometimes have a wistful smile – sad eyes but a wide smile with lots of teeth. It goes with a gentle, breathy voice. Upward women try hard to look cheerful and laugh like hyenas at nothing, but on the whole Upwards and Stow-Crats are far less ingratiating – they don’t have to be.

Stow Crat girls used to be sent to finishing school in Switzerland, or to the Lucy Clayton model school, to learn "deportment" – when you're wearing a ball gown, you can't stride as you do across a hockey field.

British upper lips really are stiff. A smile that shows a lot of upper teeth is too “stage school”. And it might look as if you were showing off your whitened, straightened gnashers. As children, we were constantly told to shut our mouths: “Are you catching flies?” (And doors: “Were you born in a barn?”) The rationale? An open mouth made you look moronic or adenoidal - but maybe it was just common.

If you do all the “wrong” things (poke, slouch, hunch, sneer, let eyelids and mouth corners droop) you look like a porn star. Actresses on East Enders are ostentatiously slack-jawed.

Tuesday 7 August 2012

Class and the Olympics

Upper-class Stow-Crats go in for eventing and dressage, sailing, sculling, badminton, rowing, canoeing, clay pigeon shooting, fencing and archery. They clap politely at sporting events, as do Upwards and Weybridges. These groups all eat picnics they have brought themselves.

Upper-middle Upwards play tennis and run marathons, but they never, ever become Olympic athletes – they don’t know how. They wouldn’t know where to find the canoe club. Or if they did, they wouldn’t let their children join because the other members might be common. They talked about escaping the Olympic “madness” and “craziness”, but then they got drawn into it. However, they’re outraged by how noisy sporting events are – everybody shouts all the time, and there’s loud disco music.

Middle-middle Weybridges are into tennis, golf and sailing. If they live in the provinces, they put their children in for music competitions and ballet exams. When the kids grow up, they go to salsa classes to meet people. Weybridges love Wimbledon, but they think women tennis players who shriek when they serve should be banned.

Lower-middle Teales become Olympic athletes. They are far-sighted and do their research. When they find out what's required (ten years of getting up at dawn to swim laps), they are hard-working and dedicated. They support family members who want to train as rowers. They clap and occasionally shout at sporting events – they also wave flags, wear wigs and dress up. 

Working-class Definitely sports are running, boxing, judo, aikido, taekwondo, wrestling and gymnastics. At sporting events, they yell, scream, jump up and down, paint their faces in the national colours, wave misspelled home-made banners, drink beer, and eat fast food.

Like wars, massive sporting events force the classes to mix. And then they all have rather a good time. They may even find they like each other.

Sunday 5 August 2012

What to Say...

Gustave Flaubert collected the witterings of the bourgeoisie into a book called A Dictionary of Received Ideas (it was published after his death). He subtitled it "What to say in order to be accepted as a member of polite society". Like him, I have collected the sayings of the top people and turned them into mini ebooks. First How to Talk Posh (or how the posh talk):

And now Clichés: A Dictionary of Received Ideas:

It's a mine of misinformation, and tells you What to Say About practically any topic, or What to Say When almost anything occurs.

Here's a sample:

Bagpipes: exist only in Scotland.
Cards: Each king in a deck of playing cards represents a great leader from history.
Center Parcs: Each park is enclosed in a giant, transparent weather-proof dome.
Dr Who: His new companion is always a feisty modern girl for our times, unlike Jo, Sarah Jane, Ace etc.
Facebook: Interactions are shallow because they're only a lot of noughts and ones.
Germs: Encouraged to breed by sudden changes in the weather.
Humanists: Worship Man.
Jokes: There are only eight jokes.
Mona Lisa: The one in the Louvre is a copy.

Tuesday 31 July 2012

Keep Cool and Classy

Update: It’s so hot in the summer of 2020 that Brits are seriously talking about installing air-conditioning at home. They may come round to it, as they eventually embraced central heating, despite both being “American”. Unfortunately aircon contributes to global warming, and uses a lot of electricity. Americans are not “soft”, or more practical than the Brits – electricity is much cheaper there.

I remember ads on the tube for portable aircon units from the 70s and 80s – but that was before most offices were air-conditioned. In the summer we opened windows and turned on large fans. In an office or hall with no opening windows, turning on the aircon can be perilous. Sometimes it gets switched off because "draughts give you flu". As a teenager, I got on a bus on the hottest day of the year. Opposite me on the bench seat were three ladies in thick woollen overcoats. Sweltering, I opened a window. They frowned and said, “Are you warm? We are not!”

More tips for keeping your cool:

Sleep under a damp sheet, dampen your nightie.

Turn your room heater to “cool”, and place a tray of ice in its path.

Buy a plant spray, fill it with water and spritz yourself.

Direct the plant spray at the fan for a cooling mist.

Make a room spray by combining vodka and a few drops of essential oil in a small pump-action bottle. Spritz yourself, and direct at the fan. (Don't try drinking the scented vodka.)

If you have sash windows, open them top and bottom. Warm air exits through the top slot, cool air enters through the bottom slot. (From 50 Ways to Save the Planet, Sian Berry)

A friend advises: On a still, hot day, shut the windows and draw the curtains to create a cool interior. This is why Mediterranean houses have external window shutters. (You can also close the shutters and open the windows.) We could also borrow European tiled floors.

Upwards used to despise cold drinks, but in the 18th century these were thought to cause malaria. And in the colonies, ice in drinks might give you dysentery.

In hot weather, aristocratic Caro wears a linen dress, with a cardigan for the chilly evenings. She shudders at people who reveal “acres of sunburned flesh”. Young Stow Crats used to wear a jersey slung over their shoulders capewise, or with the sleeves tied loosely round the neck (never round the waist). Caro says “Create a through draught by opening doors and windows, and take up the (beautiful, Persian) rugs in the hall – York stone flags are so cool.” She makes her own lemonade using a recipe from Mrs Beeton. (1/2 pint cold water, juice of one lemon, 1/4 tsp bicarb, castor sugar to taste. Add the lemon-juice to the water, sweeten, stir in the bicarb and drink while the mixture is effervescing.)

Upper middle-class Upwards who live in Hampstead open the trunk where they keep all the summer clothes they’ve had for 30 years and take out an old cotton number which they wear with thick, flat, brown Clarks sandals. They are so out they're in, but they don't care. They drink Pimm's.

Lower middle-class Jen Teale says she’s got a tan in Morocco when she’s just gone lobster and damaged her skin. She drinks Campari and soda.

Samantha Upward can’t sunbathe because it’s a capitalist plot so she remains very white, like a Victorian lady. But she can’t take practical steps to keep cool (problem-solving is so goal-oriented!). She can’t wear a baseball cap to keep the sun out of her eyes because they’re American. She may wear a floppy hat, but fears friends will laugh at her. She could wear a straw hat from the Boden catalogue (called "Molly"), but only as a fashion statement. She can’t fan herself with a fan – she might draw attention to herself. She drinks Rocks elderflower, made very weak. She avoids fizzy drinks - there's something particularly corporate about the bubbles. And she can’t have an electric fan in her home. She is still convinced she's a rebel and a free spirit. When her husband Gideon cracks and buys some electric fans, she's still wailing "But a low setting will keep you cooler - and use less electricity - and save the planet - and think of the bills!" She's mortified that Gideon sits right next to the thing.

Working-class Sharon Definitely has one of those battery-powered hand fans and says “It’s really warm today!” (Upwards and Stow Crats say “hot” because they call a spade a spade.) She wears thong panties under white trousers.

Bohemian Arkana Upward (now Gardenchild) is thinking of building herself a Yemeni adobe house with thick clay walls. She'll call it the Adobe Abode. She drinks iced nettle tea made of real nettles.

Very Bohemian Rowena Upward carries a Japanese parasol and has a selection of beautiful fans. She installs a windcatcher on her roof and drinks Fanta.

Sharon and her friends go to the beach and get drunk and leave all their rubbish behind. Samantha and her friends have great fun picking it up and tutting. Thalia Upward goes beach litter-picking and makes a lot of posters and T shirts reading BAG YOUR LITTER AND TAKE IT HOME. Who knows, might work!

Monday 23 July 2012

What Your House Name Reveals

What do you call your dog, house, children? Consumer classification company Mosaic will know.

Upper-middle-class Upwards avoid names like Holmeleigh - they sound too cosily made up. Over-complicated names, especially with added yyyys, are a failed attempt to look classy.

Manors and stately homes were called Something House (park, hall, court, castle, manor, place), or they had a single name like Pencarrow, Sezincote, Tyntesfield or Cotehele. Farms were often called after the family that owned them (Robinsons). But when the suburbs copy, these naming conventions become taboo to Upwards and Stow Crats.

So what can Samantha Upward call her house? Not “Thistledome” painted on a wooden slab in the shape of a dolphin. Or anything on a cast-iron plaque also featuring painted flowers and/or kittens. Or carved on a board in pseudo-Celtic lettering. Lower-middle-class Jen Teale adds a “via” to her address and puts the name of her house (if it’s got one) in quote marks. At the end of letters, she signs herself “Jennifer Teale (Mrs.)”.

If you live in a stately home called Beaulieu (pronounced Bewley), that’s OK. If you inherit a house name that’s fairly plain and descriptive (The Pines, Orchard End, Eden House – after someone who built it or lived there) you can keep it. Anything twee (The Nook, Honeysuckle Cottage) should be avoided, unless you actually live in a nook draped with honeysuckle. The Old Mill is descriptive, and The Old Electricity Substation might have some cachet. Inner-city converted warehouses proudly display names like Perseverance Works, or The Chocolate Factory. (“Factories” now produce art and music.)

Here are the UK’s Top 50 house names from the Halifax House Names Survey of 2003:

The Cottage
Rose Cottage
The Bungalow
The Coach House
Orchard House
The Lodge
The Old School House
Ivy Cottage
The Willows
The Barn
The Old Rectory
The Croft
The Old Vicarage
Orchard Cottage
Yew Tree Cottage
The Laurels
The Old Post Office
The Gables
The Hollies
The Beeches
The First
Meadow View
The Stables
The White House
Holly Cottage
Willow Cottage
The Haven
White Cottage
Mill House
The Orchard
Primrose Cottage
The Granary
The Nook
Corner Cottage
School House
The Old School
Honeysuckle Cottage
Lilac Cottage

Of this list, most will pass with the Upwards, apart from The Haven, Fairview, Treetops, Greenacres, Wayside and Oaklands, which have a whiff of seaside bungalow or golf course. You can imagine an Agatha Christie mystery happening in any of them. (Inspector Spence retired to sandy, Home Counties Pine Ridge.)

Retired middle-class Weybridges live at: Badgers Cottage, Cuckoo Cottage, Curlew Cottage, Dolphin Cottage, Fox Hollow, Kestrels, Magpies, Mole End, Nightingale Cottage, Robin Hill, Rookery Nook, Squirrels Leap, Swallow Barn, The Jays. The Nouveau-Richards live at Two Hoots.

Countrified Upwards live at: Orchard House, The Orchard, Woodlands, Treetops, Oaklands, The Willows, Yew Tree Cottage, The Laurels, The Hollies, The Beeches and The Firs.

Golfing Weybridges live at: Hillside, Hillcrest, Sunnyside, Woodside, Meadow View and Fairview, on a sandy soil and with a lot of Scots pines in their garden.

Jen lives at: Thimble Cottage, Pippins, The Little House, The Nutshell, Whispers, Wishing Well Cottage and The Nest.

Pretentious Victorian seaside terraces have individual houses called: Ambleside, Blencathra, Eskdale, Rydal, Tarn Hows, Windermere, Lamorna, Tresco and Kynance in Gothic lettering on the stained-glass panel over the front door. Houses like this are also called after actual stately homes such as Normanby (Hall) and Dunvegan (Castle).

George Mikes in How to Be an Alien complained that the British are very reticent about revealing their house name or number. Perhaps they're still agonising over a name, or style of lettering, that won't be common. Who gets the solar-powered house number that lights up at night?

What Your Name Says About You II

"People with easier-to-pronounce surnames occupy higher status positions in law firms." (

Last year, according to the UK Deed Poll Service, an estimated 58,000 people changed their name - an increase of 4,000 on the previous year. A decade ago, only 5,000 people changed their names. Daily Mail Feb 2012 It’s easy: see

When you look at the list of parliamentary candidates at election time, you can see who has changed or “smoothed” their name – usually the Conservative, Labour or Liberal candidates. Members of minority parties have names that are odd, unusual or awkward or look mis-spelt – like Bavage, Drinkall, Spickernell, Gollings or Nettleship. Upward families quietly changed such names to Savage, Dale, Speedwell, Collings or Nettles – probably in the last century or earlier.

Don’t have a surname that looks like a misprint (Odgers, Rotheram), otherwise you go through life saying “Actually it’s Odgers with an O” or “Rotheram without the H”. And you can correct an earlier misspelling – Willsher becomes Wiltshire again. And if your parents have unkindly called you Amandla, Amabel or Mathew, you can fix that at the same time. (Weybridges say: "She is not called Mary, she is named Mary.")

Avoid a surname that’s too rural in the wrong way: Brickstock, Hedgepath. Pick a village (Stavely, Devonport) or county (Kent, Cornwall) instead.

Steer clear of names that suggest unglamorous or ludicrous body parts: Whipple, Botterill, Organ. But if you are very grand you can carry off a name like Panter-Downes, Bigg-Wither or Bodham-Wetton.

More than a quarter [of parents] said they grew to dislike [their child’s] name because it became too popular. Daily Mail, Feb 2012

When naming a child today (or changing your name), make it stand out on Google. You don’t want your son to be in a crowd of Paul Smiths, or your daughter lost among the Sophie Browns.

But remember that posh people are never called Brandi.

What Your Name Says About You I

Sunday 15 July 2012

The New Poor

Why my family can’t live on £41K 

by “Kate Church"

From The Times 14 July 2012

She has felt the loneliness of middle-class poverty.
So five years ago, we downsized (a pleasant euphemism for a humiliating, traumatic event). Still, I was glad to give up my large, elegant house in leafy West London to move to a small, plain one, because that Georgian beauty was a nausea-inducing financial millstone — however, certain friends stopped speaking to me. One had old baby clothes to get rid of: “I’ll take them,” I said. Pride is the first luxury to go (shortly followed by the cleaner, the nanny, and the private nursery). My so-called friend dumped her cast-offs in my hall in a bin bag. She was awkward when I rang. My ex-neighbour (dinner parties, babysitting each other’s kids) was embarrassed to encounter me in the supermarket, post-move, and started bleating about her own imaginary money troubles — “If it weren’t for our savings!”. Her husband, sweetly ignorant of the new protocol, insisted that we’d “arrange something”. She couldn’t drag him away fast enough — I think she feared contamination… The cost of fitting in — I don’t mean keeping up — with friends gives me chest pain. (No longer able to afford “plane holidays”, they have a week self-catering in Wales.) it’s gorgeous. I was surprised… Despite relinquishing the gardener and other staff, and slowly rebuilding our careers, Tom and I find it a stretch to fund a “socially acceptable” existence… Lacking spa days and stuff is not the hardship: it’s the social pressure that’s so agonising to negotiate… We spoil our children with love, but it’s naive to pretend that love is everything. Sometimes, your kids just need to go to the fair with their friends…

Couldn't they have moved further downmarket, sent their children to state schools and let them play football instead of mother-subsidised “horse-riding and cricket”?

Sunday 8 July 2012

Classy Sports and Pastimes

Conservative Stow Crats love tennis because their houses and public schools have their own tennis courts. You have to be good at tennis so you can meet the right kind of boys/girls at tennis parties after leaving your single-sex school. In London they play at exclusive clubs like the Hurlingham (pictured) or Queen's.

Pretty much anybody can follow football and it’s always good for a conversation. Lower middle-class Teales follow what they call “ice-skating”. (Why isn’t roller-skating an Olympic sport? Perhaps it is.) Only Teales become synchronised swimmers. Upper middle-class Upwards never become Olympic anything – they’re too non-competitive. They go for walks, and do Tai Chi, yoga and Pilates where you “strengthen your core” (ie slim your waist). Middle-class Weybridges play golf and join gyms. Their children go to salsa classes.

Teales join gyms and do aerobicise or zumba. They used to love dressing up in all-green leotards and footless tights in the 80s. Definitelies win medals for ballroom dancing. Their jobs keep them fit (cleaning, plastering, shelf-filling, dustbin emptying, hospital portering).

Gyms are a feature of bubble living. You live in a bubble of your own Brookside Close (the Teales), Crouch End (the Upwards), RockCotswoldsNorfolkSuffolkFulhamChelseaScotland (the Stow Crats). If you move outside your zone you have to put on blinkers so that you don’t see anything outside the bubble. Of course you go to the gym and walk on a treadmill — you can't walk around a city, you might see the wrong things and be seen in the wrong places. And besides, you’d just be breathing in pollution. Cities are far too diverse. You join a gym to be surrounded by people like you. If Stow Crats travel from Rock to North Norfolk they see nothing in between.

Bryan Teale goes kite surfing and jet-skiing, Gideon Upward plays cricket on the village green. When Bryan goes hill-walking or rock-climbing he wears a complete Goretex outfit in mauve and jade. Gideon wears army surplus and gets hypothermia. When the Nouveau-Richards join the Stow Crats to shoot grouse, their clothes and equipment are all too new.

Windsurfing was invented by Bryans, who go on “adventure holidays” to do archaeology, horse riding, paragliding, parachuting, rafting, canoeing, hiking, off-road driving, caving, camping, sailing, skiing, kayaking, climbing, diving and zorbing. They have to keep inventing new extreme sports and setting up new extreme fitness events. The upper-class Stow Crats carry on with the same sports they’ve been pursuing for centuries, which involve just as much exhaustion, cold, damp, mud and frantic running about (shooting, rugby, long walks, riding). Nouveau-Richards live the dream in the country and find they have nothing to do all day but shoot clay pigeons. Upwards go on “family adventures” far from shops and common people with their tacky taste.

Samantha and Gideon Upward would never save up for a day out, or go on a Falconry Experience day. They’d go somewhere that didn’t involve spending money (except on petrol and lunch – or they might take a picnic). They’d go to a village fete, medieval church or nature reserve, and of course they can afford petrol and eating out. But it’s the Definitelies who keep a falcon in their back garden. The Stow-Crats use one to catch their dinner, or go hunting with an owl to make it legal. The Definitelies go to the London Dungeon/McDonalds/Alton Towers. It’s a great day out for all the family! Their favourite sport is riding quad bikes.

The Teales have a hobby that the kids can get involved in and gets them all out in the fresh air: bird watching, wetland conservation, volunteering, UFO spotting. They have mild family jokes that make them laugh hysterically.

When Howard Weybridge retires, he takes up carriage driving to make new friends. He has a second garage to keep the boat in. At any time, he may take up a sport or hobby that involves buying a lot of expensive equipment and a special costume.

In the vast reaches outside London and big towns, Very Peculiar Things go on (dwile flonking, cheese rolling, woolpack races, Furry Dances). These are all rather working class. There’s nothing for local Weybridges to do but join the historical reconstruction society and hope to appear on Time Team. Mr Definitely is a metal detectorist and finds a Viking hoard that he sells on ebay.

The Upwards give dinner parties where everyone twitters about schools, food and alternative therapists (they all have their own “little man” to recommend). Sharon Definitely goes out with her friends wearing a backless minidress and bare legs in the middle of winter. She likes “having a good laugh” with her mates.

Definitely and Stow-Crats kids go clubbing, but in different clubs. Poor Upward and Weybridge kids are too busy practising the clarinet or playing netball, and being sensitive and literary or wholesome and outdoorsy.

Upwards go to the Hay on Wye literary festival (all Guardian readers want to be writers), and music festivals that have yurts you can hire. Stow Crats turn up to recurring events (Henley, Glyndebourne, Ascot) with a small number of expensive tickets that are difficult to obtain, and a rigid dress code. But Essex girls have discovered Ascot - you can dress up to the nines and drink all day! Jen calls it the “Henley Regatta” - those who go there just call it Henley. And you’re supposed to know that Glyndebourne equals opera - and that the first syllable rhymes with “mind”. Caro Stow-Crat organises charity balls for which you buy tickets and make up a “table” of friends.

According to Wikipedia, the social “season” runs from April to August and includes:

Arts: Edinburgh Fringe (“a rave for middle-class kids”, as somebody said) — Glyndebourne — The Proms (concerts at the Albert Hall in London) — Royal Academy Summer Exhibition (pictures and sculpture in London)

Horticulture: Chelsea Flower Show in London

Equestrianism: Royal Ascot — Glorious Goodwood — Badminton — The Grand National — The Royal Windsor Horse Show

The Crown: Trooping the Colour (parade for the Queen's birthday) — The Garter Service (for the Knights of the Garter)

Sport: The (Oxford versus Cambridge) Boat Race — Henley Royal Regatta (boats) — Wimbledon (tennis) — Cowes Week (yachts in the Isle of Wight) — Lord's Test Match (cricket in London)

Many of these events (Henley, Glyndebourne) involve elaborate and competitive picnics. All kinds of people go to Glyndebourne these days, so the elite go to Grange Park (where you can hire a pavilion for your picnic - and an extra one for your servants).

Wednesday 4 July 2012

Classy Areas

Chez Ballard

I want to get out of the rat race of traffic. I want her to be a surfing girl, not a bar girl. I want quality of life. Characters on Escape to the Country. (Assumes the city is somewhere you want to escape.)

You're probably not going to find a vegan delicatessen round the corner in Wheatley. Relocation, Relocation

You're effectively paying £20,000 for every minute nearer to town. Property guru Phil Spencer

Westbourne Grove – an area that in 20 years has gone “from slightly rough to full-on trustafarian to total bankerisation". John Lanchester, The Guardian Jan 2012

The Guardian Weekend considers Matlock: Amusement arcades, splendidly tacky shops, chippies and caffs… The case against – some won’t like the tat... Look past the seaside veneer, and you’ll find a handsome town.

Upwards are always “looking past” things, and have trouble with the seaside. It’s too democratic – just anybody can go there. And that means the working classes, with their tacky taste, chippies and caffs.

Upwards, including psychogeographer Iain Sinclair, are bemused by writer J.G. Ballard. He spent his whole life in a 30s semi-detached house in the London suburb of Shepperton (after being liberated from the Japanese internment camp where he spent much of his childhood). Why didn’t he move away the instant he could afford it? He could have lived in a Georgian rectory in the middle of the country!

If they move out of town, upper middle class Upwards and posh Stow Crats can only live somewhere called “the real countryside”. The places where middle-class Weybridges live are ipso facto not rural and you refer to them as “leafy” – which is code for suburban. Upwards think they ought to want to live in the real countryside out of sight of other people, seeing nobody from the windows. So you can pretend all those other people who inhabit these islands don’t exist (because they are all, for some reason or other, the wrong kind of people).

Apparently one doesn’t live north of the Harrow Road... the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea's website says "from the 1960s the overcrowded and dilapidated terraces were cleared and replaced by social housing including Goldfinger’s Trellick Tower".

And which ARE the wrong parts of France?

Quotes about areas here.
Where the Upwards Live. 
Where the Definitelies Live.

Gentrification Three

“Gentrification has become more hegemonic.” Some expert on June 27, 12

Back in 1968, when Tim and Penny Hicks bought the dilapidated 157 Portland Road for £11,750, the latter's mother was shocked that they had chosen to move their family from up-market Chelsea into an area more known for rag and bone men than bankers [Notting Hill]. Forty-four years later, their house is now worth more than £2m. "I should think we were the second or third of the settlers," Penny Hicks says. June 27, 12 (The real driver of gentrification was the abolition of rent control.)

A few years ago there was a rash of shops in Stoke Newington selling retro 50s lampshades, nick nacks and furniture. They’ve all gone, or transformed themselves into shops selling framed prints, distressed industrial furniture, mattress-ticking cushions, old orange Penguin books, furniture made out of recycled offcuts (I suspect all manufactured from scratch). Or have they decamped to Dalston and points East? The moneyed prefer the shabby chic look – it’s hipsters who like Whitefriars glass. Or they did five years ago.

More about gentrification here.
Yet more about gentrification here

Sunday 17 June 2012

Classy Transport

The 1930s, when trams were looked down on as transport for hoi polloi. (Roger Nuttall. That's why they were all scrapped after the war. I believe the US is having similar problems in the 2020s.)

Bicycles are beloved of hipsters in Stoke Newington (with a pod/trailer for the baby). Stokey dads also like butch baby buggies that look like lawnmowers.

“People are thinking of driving less” according to Twitter. I never think of driving less. I can't possibly drive less than I do – I can't drive. My friends used to bully me to learn, or at least get a bicycle, because I ought not to travel by bus and mingle with common people. Also if I had a car I wouldn’t have to live near a bus stop, which would be on a high street – I could live in a Victorian conversion down a leafy avenue (that would be dark and scary when you came home at night). (They were so sure they knew what was best for me – why was that? They also thought I should be married to a barrister and live in Fulham.)

I expect there are different kinds of car, and that which one you buy speaks volumes about you to someone who speaks the language, but they all look alike to me. I just about tell apart a people carrier, a Chelsea tractor, a limo and a bubble car. There must be some kind that looks cool but brands you as a vulgarian. N-Rs drive bespoke Rollses with built-in champagne sets and cigar humidors.

But of course if you move to the country, you have to drive. Just don’t forget that one day you might have to give it up. Upwards think that they ought to want to live in the country – in a village, not a country town.

The tube is all right, because everybody takes it. Also, you’re underground, so you can’t see the places you’re travelling through. You can get the tube somewhere acceptable and familiar, and get out somewhere acceptable and familiar. And you have somehow not gone through the places in between -- which might be a bit downmarket. You have to ask a fellow Londoner which part of the city they live in, then you ask “What tube station is it near?” If they say “There isn’t one”, let your eyes glaze over, and drift away to talk to someone else.

Actually Ken Livingstone vastly improved transport to Stoke Newington – more 73 buses, and hopper buses that cross east-west. Night buses made a difference too. No wonder the yuppies are moving in.

Aristocratic Stow Crats and middle-class Weybridges like to ride (horses, not quad bikes), and Nouveau Richards buy a big place in the country with stables, paddock and indoor riding school (manège).

Trains are full of teenagers, old people, families with small children, and tourists with too much luggage who get on at Gatwick and have a loud conversation about what fun it is to ride on a train for a change. Trains used to have first, second and third class. In wartime morale-raiser movies everybody travels together in crowded carriages where you may be handed a baby or a beer bottle. Quiet carriages and family carriages are the new second and third class. (Trains should abolish classes and improve their interiors.)

Sunday 13 May 2012

Gentrification II

Middle-class Upwards are very keen on indigenous culture, and a sense of community, and a village feel, and preserving old ways of life. But they are colonising Newington Green bit by bit, and they and the original inhabitants live side by side, their lives interleaved with each other. People who live in Hathersage or Besant Court, or on the Milton Gardens estate, shop at Costcutter and have a cup of tea and a burger at Jesshops, the Flamingo or the Gate. Turkish people go to the Turkish Social Club and the Basak Patisserie. Upwards go to the Trattoria, the Acoustic, the Cellars Pub (or is it the Edinburgh?). They don't go to the Weavers, but perhaps everyone meets at the Alma, which has Sunday roasts and sport on big screens.

I've filtered pictures of the Green into Set A and Set B.

More about gentrification here. And here.

Friday 11 May 2012

Classy Quotes Part Ten

She bought the home at a discount because the exterior was covered in pebbledash, unlike any other properties on the street. Now that it has been returned to the brick exterior the neighbourhood has breathed a collective sigh of relief. Times May 11, 2012

More than half of the current generation of young women, for instance, will choose a husband from their own social strata, according to figures last month from the Institute of Public Policy Research think-tank. Mail May 4, 2012

Throughout most of the movie the two leads go sight-seeing on the beach, at a rock quarry and other exciting locations. In between these adventures they talk endlessly about the environment, vegetarianism, fossil collecting, the duty of a proper citizen and proper diet, all things I want to see in a comedy. They bore anyone who will listen to them. imdb commenter on Nuts in May (1976) Ray and Candace-Marie are obviously Upwards.

We’ve kept the gym, the beauty salons, the bowling alley and the cinema. But we’ve only used the cinema once and I’ve never been in the pool. Petra Ecclestone, 23, Times April 2012

The 1950s were the end of the golden age of motoring. Suddenly the middle classes turned against cars… round about the time working class people could afford to drive. There’s a surprise. Simon Hoggart Guardian April 28 12

Chavs: the sort of people who live in two million pound houses with tar macadam'd drives, have neighbours and street lighting - just like the council house tenants they look down on upon. Commenter on Middle Class Handbook

Debrett’s latest guide to neighbourly etiquette draws a delicate but precise line when it suggests that neighbours should be invited only to “big parties” and “al fresco events”. In other words, you mustn’t allow them indoors by themselves and you shouldn’t know anyone who wouldn’t call a barbecue an al fresco event. Guardian March 2012

People from deprived areas visited both other deprived areas and prosperous areas … residents of better-off communities… tended to only visit other privileged neighbourhoods. New Scientist April 2012

Classy Quotes Part Nine.

Part Eight here.

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

Sunday 15 April 2012

Class and the Telly

Middle class people want fame and fortune, but they also want respectability, and that severely limits the [TV] shows they're willing to go on. (Friend RK writes)

Upper middle-class Upwards accepted television in this order: no TV, black and white, colour, set in a separate room (possibly called a twee name like “the snug”), set in the living room. (Then there were the "only BBC2, no ITV" variations.) They’re not yet ready for the Definitelies' wide-screen plasma, or the Nouveau-Richards' vast wall-filling flat-screen disguised by a picture that slides away at the touch of a button. They couldn’t possibly have anything in their house that rose, sank, opened or closed at the touch of a button. Samantha Upward is so glad those awful dimmer switches have gone out.

Upwards pretend not to understand Freeview, and despise cable. Only one person in the family knows how to turn the telly on. In the days of video, they never worked out how to set the timer, or the clock. (But they’ve all got iPads and smartphones.) You can sit on a sofa to watch their telly, but it’s never big or comfortable enough.

The Upwards and the middle-class Weybridges never got round to having a second set in the kitchen and whinge endlessly about their husbands hogging the remote and watching sport when they want to watch costume dramas. The Nouveau-Richards have cable piped to every room and everyone has their own telly they can watch their own choice on.

The Weybridges used to keep the Radio Times in a leathercraft cover, or an arts and crafts magazine rack. Their telly lived in a teak effect cabinet with doors that closed. They now buy an entire teak effect unit with slots for hifi and CDs – there are still doors that close over the telly. And I’m sure you can get one in antique repro style to match the rest of the furniture.

Posh Caro Stow-Crat puts her telly on an antique piece of furniture to one side of the fireplace so it doesn’t disturb her sofa arrangement (her sofas are arranged in a hollow square with the fireplace as the fourth side).

Some Upward professors still call it “the tele-vizzeeeon” or complain that the word is a Greek/Latin hybrid.

Saturday 17 March 2012

Classy Quotes Part Nine

Like bankers, landlords have mythical evil status among a certain class of Guardian readers, who seem to think anyone who has had a bit of success has done so by sacrificing babies at full moon. Letter to Guardian Money 11 Feb 12

I had a friend who wore pearls all the time, thinking she looked elegant. She spoke of eloquently of music, travel, fashion, cuisines and tried to speak a French word or two. She managed to get into parties and certain social circles.

A lot of Britain's problems are encapsulated in the very fact that politicians feel perfectly comfortable pontificating so patronisingly about "ordinary people" at all. Yet they all do it. Labour even boasts that it's "ordinary people" that the party exists to champion. Deborah Orr, Guardian January 2012

Reminds me of an overheard at the open-air art show in Hampstead. Cute little girl, about five, looking at pictures: "Oh Mummy, here's an effective one!" (Friend RN writes)

John Lanchester braves the shopping hell that is Oxford Street Guardian headline 16 Dec 2011

Clissold House café, run by Company of Cooks, will sell "beef and horseradish stew and leek and Barkham blue tart". It will also sell "curious cakes such as beetroot & seed and orange & lavender" @northsixteen (After a "class war", it has promised to sell cheaper food including beans/cheese on toast.)

To put my Peppa-mania into context; when I was growing up I wasn't allowed to watch what my mother sniffily referred to as "commercial television", a marvellous snootiness I have nursed ever since when it comes to my children, partly because I was reared on BBC 2 worthiness, and partly because it prevents them hyperventilating over adverts for electronic toys I'm too mean to buy them. Daily Telegraph Dec 2011

Richmond - an affluent suburb of London that was quickly changing from old money into a ghetto for post-apartheid South African exiles, American business execs and semi-retired rock stars. I think my mother was the last working-class person to grow up in Richmond. There should be some sort of plaque on her old house. Age of Uncertainty, March 2012

Part Eight here. More here, here, here, here and here. And here. And here.

Sunday 26 February 2012

Doctor, doctor!

A very grand woman goes to a psychoanalyst. He says: “Now I want you to say whatever comes into your head.” She replies: “I was just thinking what a common little man you are.”Surveys show support for alternative medicine is “more likely among well-educated, upper middle-class women” in the US and Australia, says Cosmos magazine.

Middle-class Samantha Upward complains that doctors use too many military metaphors, but talks about people “battling” cancer. She and her friend Eileen Weybridge from Surrey also “fight off” colds by taking paracetamol (which makes them feel better but does nothing to shorten the cold).

Sam supports alternative therapies and can’t follow the logic behind double-blind trials - she thinks they’re a conspiracy and can’t understand why doctors don’t prescribe placebos if they work so well. She says antibiotics “only suppress the symptoms” because she doesn’t read the instructions to finish the course even if you feel better. When she feels better, she stops taking the tablets and the symptoms come back (because the bugs that cause the symptoms haven’t all been killed and are now breeding again). She doesn’t mind revealing that she doesn’t know what “antibiotic” means. She’s very against treating symptoms because you should be treating the whole person and besides suffering is good for you.

She won’t do what doctors tell her, either, because she’s a member of the boss class and it’s her job to tell others what to do. No wonder she’s hopeless with computers, and can’t put IKEA furniture together or learn a skill.

Forty years ago, Upwards had a theory that all symptoms were caused by toxins working their way out of the system. So you should never take Imodium for diarrhoea. They used to be contemptuous of people who took “patent medicines” (probably over the counter aspirins). The were outraged by the idea that people could just go and buy something that would make their pain go away. Why weren’t these things being rationed by Upwards? Why weren’t Upwards in control?

When women writers for The Guardian have a baby they are the first person in the history of the world to undergo the experience: “All my life I’ve been used to being in control—at school, passing exams, university, relationships, planning my career!” And now they’re being bossed about by common nurses and midwives, and in the grip of a natural process.

When Sam’s friends are ill, they have to be positive because it’s faith that cures you. They have to have a story to tell about going to a homeopath and encouraging the body to heal itself because of course they “don’t want to take drugs all their lives”. (It may just be a story.)

Elderly Weybridges despise those who “go to the doctor for every little thing”. They decide their ailment is minor, and they refuse to understand that their taxes pay the doctor’s salary, and if nobody ever consulted him he’d be out of a job. Lower middle class Jen Teale doesn’t want to “bother” the doctor, and is afraid of wasting his time. But some Weybridges can turn any health chat into a discussion of waiting times. They join health insurance schemes like BUPA that promise waiting rooms like hotel lobbies and a whole hour with the doctor.

Sam agrees that doctors don't give you enough time. She can’t afford BUPA, but she’ll go to any alt. practitioner who’ll listen to her. The NHS is too democratic — anyone can get the same treatment — except that if you are a Guardian reader doctors tell you much too much about your ailment. Also doctors know better than you and may tell you to lose weight, drink less and give up smoking. They aren't paid to massage your ego, but you can always pay an alt. medic to do that. Homeopathy is better than the NHS because you get a half-hour chat about the uniqueness of you. Plus it’s a treatment you have chosen.

For Upwards, illness is a wonderful opportunity to feel guilty for being weak enough to be ill in the first place. Even though they love being in control, many Upwards can’t be ill unless someone in authority tells them they are. Or else they suffer from Reverse Munchausen’s Syndrome by Proxy - they won’t let anybody else be ill, either. They accuse each other of having "sniffles" rather than real flu, and may send their friends to psychotherapists to find out “why they chose to be ill”. Fatalists they are not.

Posh Stow Crats and Upwards loved the word “neurotic” and loved using it as a stick to beat each other with. Upwards in particular should never have been allowed near the word “psychosomatic” – what Stow Crats call “making a silly fuss”.

Gideon Upward refuses to go to bed when ill but hangs around the house waiting for any passing female to treat him like a baby, because that’s what his mother did. Jen infantilises any patient and uses words like “meddy” and “tummy” – or even “tum-tum”.

Jen eats probiotic yoghourt. Like the women in the ads, she uses the genteel euphemism “bloating” for constipation. She’s not ashamed of using Buttercup cough syrup, with its nauseating advertising jingle. Sam calls it “cough mixture”, Caroline Stow-Crat “cough medicine”.

Jen says self-righteously: “I don’t take tablets.” Caro calls them pills, Sam calls them “drugs”, and thinks they’re all the product of a conspiracy by pharmaceutical companies to medicalise life - and sometimes she’s right. Eileen refers to her “medication”. Caro still believes health myths that are 50 years out of date – Vitamin C cures colds, aspirins help you sleep, but you shouldn’t take painkillers because you’ll get “used to” them, and when you really need them they won’t work. Or do you become dependent on them? (This may be a folk memory of times when laudanum was available over the counter.) Very posh people fall for “marvellous little men” operating weird black boxes, and trust anyone with an address in Harley Street.

All classes go into work with terrible colds and give them to everybody else on the tube, train and bus and in the office, despite advice to the contrary. They hope their colleagues will tell them to go home and take some days off, but they have to prove their genuine illness first. If they call in sick, they put on a croaky voice even if they’ve got appendicitis or ingrowing toenails. This is so the colleague on the other end of the phone can say “Yes, you do sound a bit rough.” If Jen’s embarrassed to explain what’s wrong with her, she says she’s got a migraine. (If you don’t have an explanation, your colleagues will think you aren’t ill at all, so you have to be prepared with a) symptoms and b) how you are treating them. Of course it’s easy to make all this up. Cue anecdotes about employees who insisted on taking their entire quota of sick days as of right.)

Saturday 18 February 2012

Say It With Flowers

If middle-class Samantha Upward gives people flowers she has them wrapped in paper, not cellophane.

It’s difficult to find bouquets that aren’t in trendy colours like purple and green (including ornamental cabbage) which are probably grown in the third world and involve air miles and a union-less labour force. In the 80s Samantha loved flowers hand-dried in a shed in Norfolk by somebody with a double-barrelled surname, especially those giant seed heads. They were a terrible dust trap and were eventually thrown out never to be replaced.

According to John O'Farrell in Things Can Only Get Better, in the 80s some people were so politically correct that they thought flowers were right-wing. I really did know someone who thought cut flowers were murder.

Eileen Weybridge, or possibly her husband Howard, creates elaborate arrangements with dead leaves and red berries that last all winter. Nature morte, or what Sam sneeringly calls “dead life”. Bryan Teale buys Jen a bunch of daffodils from a street stall or petrol station. She cuts off the ends and puts them in a plain glass square vase and may call them “blooms”. Her women’s magazines used to have flower-arranging tips but now they’re just full of celebrity gossip. She also has a floor vase with sticks or curly twigs that she bought at a knick knack shop near the London Dungeon. Eileen puts rosebuds in a green glass bud vase.

Pound shops still sell plastic flowers, so somebody must be buying them. Slightly passé cafés and unsuccessful businesses have papery fake greenery impersonating trees in a tub in the foyer or creepers around the dado. The cafés also have lustre-cum-marble tiles and diamond-shaped mirrors. And the failing businesses have 20-year-old pink and grey carpet tiles. They'll get "listed" status one day (maybe not the carpet tiles).

The Definitelies leave bunches of flowers (still wrapped in cellophane) outside royal residences and at the sites of local murders with handwritten messages (MISS U 4EVER UR A STAR IN HEVEN LIL ANGEL). The Upwards shudder and write complaining articles in the broadsheets. It offends them on several counts:

showing emotion in public
caring about someone you don't know
plastic is unnatural and made of chemicals
it looks untidy
it reminds them that the non-Upwards they share these islands with are far more numerous than they are

“Public sentiment has evolved its own crude form [of mourning] – bouquets are left in their cellophane to show they were shop-bought, not humble cut flowers. This un-English sentimentality dates, of course, to the mass hysteria that followed Diana’s death, when Kensington palace was turned into a charnel house of putrescent daffs.” Spectator, July 31 2004

Friday 13 January 2012

You Are What You Eat III

Middle-class Upwards all go on the January detox because we all drink and eat too much in December – don’t we? But it’s not enough to give up drink – they insist on going on very exclusive diets. Exclusive as in “excluding most food groups”. They spend January munching a mixture of swedes, lentils and pumpkin seeds washed down with spring water, which makes them miserable and depressed. They keep falling off the wagon and eating chocolate biscuits washed down with chardonnay but their spirit, their self-image and their reputation have had a massive hit of Puritanism and they’ve had the fun of boring on (and on, and on and ON) about it and even writing articles about it in the broadsheets. They don't really like self-denial, but they love the attention-seeking. (But isn't it just what we used to call a "slimming diet"?)

Sam still suffers a faint twinge of Puritanism when she hears or reads of somewhere being a holiday destination because of its “great restaurants”. She knows we’ve moved on from “food is just fuel for the body”, and plain boiled cabbage, potatoes and cold mutton, but… visiting somewhere just for the food? Are we allowed to do that? Even though we fuss about food 25% of the time? (That may be a junk statistic.)

Upwards also shudder at the American use of “restaurant” to mean a fast-food joint. You dress up to go to a restaurant, and expect to find polite waiters who treat you like members of the aristocracy, velvet-covered chairs, linen napkins and French food. Otherwise you specify the country of origin. You expect Italian and Greek places to be cheaper and more relaxed, but they’re still restaurants. Chinese restaurants are quite downmarket unless you go for a region, like Szechuan Cuisine (this may be rather 80s). Upwards and Weybridges haven’t quite got to grips with Japanese restaurants - there may not be any in Winchester – but Teales are game. They’ve come a long way since they regarded pizza and paella with suspicion in the 70s.

Upwards also wince whenever an acquaintance says they have “given up dairy”. It’s “dairy products” - but you can’t say that either, because only someone trying to sell you something would use the word “product”. Falling for silly diets is a middle class thing – they can afford the expensive nutritionist who tells all his clients to give up dairy, gluten and relatives of the deadly nightshade. (It used to be leavened bread and alcohol, as all clients were diagnosed with candidiasis. Next year, who knows?)

Doctors recently advised us to drink moderately, eat sensibly and exercise all year round - but where's the fun in that?

Part One here.
Part Two here.

Monday 2 January 2012

Conformists, Nonconformists and...

In the early 60s, Mad Magazine could read us like a book. Only a few details have changed. Hummingbird on toast, anyone?

According to Psychologists, most of us clods prefer to follow the “herd instinct” – that is, we prefer to think look and act alike – which makes us CONFORMISTS!

Now and then, however, a few clods with imagination break away from the “herd” – and try hard to think, look and act different – which makes them all NON-CONFORMISTS!

Only nowadays, more and more clods are trying to be different, so there are more and more NON-CONFORMISTS. And all these NON CONFORMISTS are so busy CONFORMING to not being CONFORMISTS they all wind up CONFORMING to their NON CONFORMISM!

All except for a small group of bravely idiotic MAD readers – to whom this article is dedicated – mainly because, in this article, we explain in nauseating detail…


ORDINARY CONFORMISTS raise parakeets, cocker spaniels, boxers, collies, turtles, snakes, cats, white mice, snakes and tropical fish.

ORDINARY NON-CONFORMISTS raise Russian wolfhounds, French poodles, Weimaraners, ocelots, minks, deodorized skunks and rhesus monkeys.

MAD NON-CONFORMISTS raise ant colonies, anteaters, falcons, leeches, octopi, anchovies, water buffaloes and performing fleas.

ORDINARY CONFORMISTS go in for uninspired Technicolor musicals, stories with happy endings, migraine-provoking Cinemascope, and 6 1/2-hour double features that destroy the eyes, ears, nose, and spine.

ORDINARY NON-CONFORMISTS patronize stuffy out-of-the-way movie houses that show "experimental" films, arty-type films, documentaries, and obscure foreign language pictures with the sub-titles in pidgin Swahili.

MAD NON-CONFORMISTS enjoy hand-cranked penny arcade machines which contain film classics like the Dempsey-Firpo fight, Sally Rand's Fan Dance, old Ben Turpin comedies, and Tom Mix pre-adult westerns.

ORDINARY CONFORMISTS insipid show scores, dismal pop tunes conducted by Jackie Gleason, sickening dance music by Guy Lombardo, rock n’ roll hits by Ricky and Elvis, and occasional works of Gershwin and Tchaikovsky on complicated hi-fi sets.

ORDINARY NON-CONFORMISTS obscure folk songs sung by obscure folk, dull chamber music played in dull chambers, Wagnerian operas in their entirety, Gregorian chants, and readings of minor Welsh poets on super-complicated hi-fi sets.

MAD NON-CONFORMISTS bird calls, tap dancing and exercise lessons, transcriptions of Senate Committee hearings, Gallagher and Shean, The Singing Lady, and theme music from famous monster movies on easy-to-operate hand-wound victrolas.

…wear narrow-shouldered charcoal-grey Ivy league Suits, button-down shirts with tight collars, silly caps, cramped Italian style shoes. Females wear Empire dresses and shoes with spike heels that constantly break off.

…wear sloppy-looking sweatshirts, grimy blue jeans, arch-crippling sandals, and scratchy beards. Among the females of this group, leotards are usually substituted for blue jeans, and the scratchy beards are optional.

…wear smart-looking MAD straitjackets, glamorous opera capes, roomy knickers, comfortable Keds, and light-weight pith helmets which offer good protection in bad weather and provide storage space for day’s lichee nuts.

… waste their time reading banal best sellers, trashy whodunits, dull popular magazines, sensational daily newspapers and commuter timetables.

…go for childish science fiction novels and scientific magazines, arty paperbacks, boring literary journals, and anthologies of avant-garde poetry.

….read The roller Derby news, the pre-Civil War congressional Record, old Tom Swift books, and back copies of classfied telephone directories.

…prefer meals like on menu below:

Sam’s Chop House
tomato juice
celery and olives
vegetable soup
sirloin steak
green peas and carrots
French fried potatoes
hearts of lettuce salad
apple pie a la mode

…prefer meals like on menu below:

Kerouac’s coffee shop
beef Bourguignon
wild rice
pommes de terre soufflés
hearts of artichoke salad
Camembert cheese
caffe expresso

…prefer meals like on menu below:

hummingbird tongues on toast
kippered guppy
puree of electric eel
flamingo under glass
creamed crab grass
sweet potato chips
hearts of cactus salad
licorice sherbert

You can see the original with the pictures here.