Monday 16 December 2013

Come into the Garden

Walter Fish wanted paths, lawns and a symmetrical line-up of dahlias. Margery wanted Jekyll-like drifts, wild flowers and informality. Walter laid his lawn with a very narrow strip of earth down one side where he said she could have flowers as long as they didn’t encroach on the grass. He banished wisteria…
London Review of Books Dec 2013 on gardening writer Margery Fish. When Walter died, she got her garden.

My father sneered at next door’s garden because they had crescent-shaped beds with sharp edges, as in a park. “Half of us get upset if next door’s garden is a jungle”, says the Daily Mail. The other half get upset if next door’s garden is too neat. (June 2012) Or if someone in the street goes all Zen.

Vita Sackville-West (of Sissinghurst fame) sneered at writer Leonard Woolf for putting statuary and a water garden next to a cottage, like a mini-Versailles. Virginia Woolf was caustic about his “leaden cupids”.

The Royal Horticultural Society Encyclopedia has some hilariously snobbish gardening advice: A crazy paving path does not go with an 18th century cottage; “informal” planting should all be the same colour. And “...make sure the furnishings do not ruin the effect. A wrought-iron bench, for instance, might be too elaborate for many gardens, whereas a simple wooden one would rarely jar… A decorated Italian urn is probably too grand for an informal, suburban garden, even if planted with humble daisies… Slight deviations [from original concept] will create a sense of clutter and all your planning will have been in vain…. Avoid crowding the basic pattern with a 'liquorice allsorts' sprinkling of plants.”

Very trendy Rowena Upward has a genuine cast iron “rustic twig” Victorian garden bench, circa 1850.

Granset’s advice on moving to a village warns against immediately cutting down your trees or putting up a two-car garage.  And don’t try to join everything – but do turn up to all the events.

Upper-middle-class Samantha Upward encourages spiders to keep down flies, middle-middle Eileen Weybridge runs screaming, lower-middle Jen Teale thinks spiderwebs are so untidy, Sharon Definitely sprays bugs with Insectrol – which Sam could never do because a) it’s cruel b) it damages the environment and c) CFCs are destroying the ozone layer.

Rockeries and dahlias are beyond the pale (though dahlias may be making a comeback as some gentleman is growing rare varieties). People grow them on allotments, says gardener Alan Titchmarsh, adding “don’t spurn the dahlia – it’s worth a second look”.

In Victorian days, stately homes had acres of greenhouses for raising bedding plants: these were planted in geometric, brightly coloured arrangements by teams of gardeners. The plants were replaced as soon as they were “over”. The bright colours are somewhat out of date (though this kind of planting can still be seen in the centre of roundabouts, at the seaside and in some London parks). Unfortunately, the suburbs copied, and by the early 20th century bedding plants were flourishing in Metroland, the Arts and Crafts suburbs beloved of John Betjeman. These days, bedding plants are bought at garden centres, not raised in your own greenhouses, and are thrown out when they cease flowering. Samantha finds the whole process unnatural. She likes the new style of planting, with tightly packed alchemillas, Chinese grasses, purple loosestrife and herbs.

Upwards can’t have a garden that’s “overlooked”, and Sam turns up her nose at those who turn an entire small back garden into a deck, trampoline, swimming pool or carp pond.

What gadgets can you have in your garden? Is a Kadai fire bowl posh, but a pizza oven nouveau? An outside area with Flintstone walls, an outside hearth and a hot tub is very vulgar indeed.

More here, and links to the rest.

Sunday 10 November 2013

The Middle Classes in the 80s


The middle-class Upwards loved the 80s. Socialism and feminism were a club they could join. Everyone else was a Sloane Ranger, a Yuppie or on the dole. Thatcher was in power, destroying industry and starting wars. The world had got to change. The Upwards thought they were spearheading a revolution, and soon everybody in the world would copy their earnestness, drab clothes and woolly thinking. They had a lovely time bossing everybody about and telling them off for being ideologically unsound. Like any cult, they were keen to recruit you, and then persuade you to give up your personal life and spend all your spare time working for the cause.

Unfortunately they were the last group you’d want running the world – they couldn’t even run a women’s centre. They got funding for enterprises that did nothing but hold meetings (probably about “this group’s attitude to Nicaragua”).

Some time in the 80s a working-class woman wrote an article in the Guardian urging us to “go for what’s winnable”. Upwards were puzzled. It was a totally new idea. Their plan was to go for nothing less than complete equality, worldwide. This excused them from actually achieving anything, like deciding where to keep the stapler. More silly ideas: they thought science was “hubristic”, logic a male conspiracy, and knitting anti-feminist. Show them a party line and they toed it. Instead of science, they believed in magic – they loved Freud and Jung.

They couldn’t say someone was pretty – it was “conventionally good-looking”. They chose plain girl/boyfriends as a political statement. Female pop stars wore long baggy overcoats and danced clumsily to prevent women being seen as “sex objects”.

We couldn’t be girly. Upwards always like being puritanical and ascetic: they enjoyed banning hairstyles, fashion, makeup – and sex with men. They wore cheap, practical, hardwearing dungarees and parrot earrings, and cut each other’s hair. They didn’t read chicklit but Virago reissues of women novelists, or books of boring essays. We couldn’t go to the movies but had to go to political cabaret, pretentious French “cirques” and miners’ benefits. We listened to U2 and Mary Black (PC messages), not Duran Duran or Gary Numan (tunes).

Stoke Newington used to be a hangout for girls with white legs and short hair who wore summer dresses made out of 50s curtains (and were accompanied by stooping, weedy boyfriends). Stokeys have become much more normal, but maybe that’s because many of their obsessions have become mainstream and commercialised (health food, modern antiques, vintage clothes, cappuccino, sitting in cafes, baby slings, massage, yoga, visiting the third world). Also bus services improved and we're no longer so cut off from the rest of the city.

They gave sons dolls and daughters plumbing sets. A writer in The Independent (May 12, 2004) calls the idea that gender is a product of nurture, not nature, “an idea that was briefly fashionable in the 60s and 70s”. It was all a fashion? Unthinkable!

Being Upwards, they worked the system like mad, getting a grant to do up a five-bedroom house in Hackney, or blagging a council flat in Westminster, living on the dole and getting their mortgage paid but still making money at a creative skill that they didn't “declare” (ie you lied or kept quiet about it). They then boasted about their cleverness and creativity in a quiet way. And their friends flourished them in front of their other friends to make them feel small.

The wider world paid them little attention, and 20 years on, high streets are full of tanning salons, nail bars and waxing parlours. Female pop stars went back to being sexy and glamorous in a few years. (OK, some important laws were passed, and society became less authoritarian and unfair. The liberal project is still going – we've got women bishops at last!)

When the party was over, people who had wasted years of their lives in a travelling circus with a political message dusted themselves down, got a teaching qualification and ended up running something, buying a house and joining a pension scheme. They were never much bothered by contradictions.

I even wrote a novel about it all called The Fourth Door.

Thursday 7 November 2013

What to Wear II

Clothes for a girl in a government job

At the time there was, in fact, a perfectly acceptable bourgeois female trouser in circulation – only none of us possessed a pair, of course. This was the knitted nylon taper trouser with a strap beneath the foot to keep the hem from rolling up. This garment, originally some form of skiing apparel, combined with a chunky Italian sweater and beehive hairdo, was standard lower-middle lounge bar gear. (Angela Carter, on the earnest discussions people used to have about what women should wear for sit-ins – protests where they might be carried off by the police and reveal their knickers, suspenders and stocking-tops).

She said it was common to wear silk stockings in the country. (Our Spoons Came from Woolworths, set in the 30s)

I would rather not wear all of these rings at once for fear that I may be inclined to start calling people “daahhling” and ordering them about. ( Miss Manners' Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behaviour)

And she much prefers wearing rings to gloves. Maybe she thinks they do not go together? (Etiquette guru Emily Post on the vulgar woman with an elaborate hat and fur coat who is always to be seen eating in restaurants.)

“From a long way away – a long way – she might have looked 30. Close at hand the result of make-up artlessly applied made her seem rather older than 50, but on the whole he put it at 50. Dark hair heavily hanging. No hat... a dark coat and skirt and a white blouse. Carrying a large tartan bag. A jingly bracelet or two, several rings…” (Agatha Christie, The Clocks This is a character who calls herself "Merlina Rival".)

What has become of the woman who had a small dog, a charm bracelet, pin heels and a fur coat? Plus hot pink lipstick that stained cigarette ends and teacups, and a cloud of choking perfume. She either wore a brocade dress over an obvious corselette, or a frilly white blouse and a very tight black pencil skirt. In early decades her high-heeled shoes had ankle straps. She shakes hands with her tight, coloured suede glove on, possibly saying “Excuse my glove!”, as it would take too long for her to peel the glove off. As well as the lipstick (that went over her lipline in a cupid’s bow and “bled” into the fine lines round her mouth), she wore thick, pale, chalky powder that smelled of Edinburgh Rock. (She’s the one who says “tata” for goodbye, or "Well, I must love you and leave you!" or "Be good!".)

In the 50s women were admonished not to wear “clanking” charm bracelets (a polite way of saying they were common). Sealskin jackets, frilly blouses and ankle-strap shoes were also nonos. A schoolfriend was forbidden by the headmistress to take a tartan bag on a day out. (The same nun forbade clip-on pearl earrings – which we had all got free by collecting special crisp packets.)

Upwards never wear 15-denier tights – they’re too sexy. They’re very puritanical about turning yourself into a sex object – or at least they were round about 1975. Even drab icon Emma Thompson (she used to dress entirely in unbleached linen shrouds) has become glamorous now.

In 2012 toffs took to wearing wearing red trousers - with tweed jackets. Hipsters are also wearing very, very tight red trousers.

Stow Crats match the clothes to the occasion. Caro wouldn’t wear a sunhat on a dull day, or in a town or to the theatre. She wouldn’t wear a cocktail dress at 9am, like a weather girl. When Sharon Definitely and her children go on breakfast telly, they all wear party frocks and hair ornaments and look fabulous.

Lower-middle class Jen Teale loves pleated necklines and cutwork (a lot of work for a hideous result). Bryan Teale hangs his jackets or spare shirt on a hanger in the car.

What do you do when it rains? Howard Weybridge and Harry Stow Crat carry black rolled-up brollies in town. Harry shudders discreetly when Howard turns up in an anorak over a city suit. In a sudden shower, Christine Teale buys a “tote” from a stall which breaks before she gets home. (A “tote” is a telescopic umbrella that comes in a little “pochette”.) Jen buys a clear plastic dome-shaped umbrella from a souvenir shop – well, the Queen's got one, though hers isn't printed “I heart London”. Otherwise Jen’s umbrellas are turquoise or fake tweed (but not Burberry). Caro grabs a city brolly, or maybe a huge golfing umbrella. Sharon Definitely has a brolly with cats’ ears, which she uses as a parasol.

In Jilly Cooper’s Class (written in the 70s), Jen memorably wore a plastic mac with a rainbonnet and rain boots. These days she wears a smart trench coat (she calls it a “trench”) and a hat from Accessorize. Caro is still wearing a Barbour jacket and a headscarf. Samantha Upward wears a strange assortment of garments and gets soaking wet because she can’t wear anything plastic or even rainproofed. And she's never "prepared", like a Boy Scout.

Definitelies wear sovereign rings and glitter ball beads (“berry” beads) and pavé diamond chips. The beads have moved up the classes and are now everywhere in 2013. Oddly, Teales have taken to nose studs – but very tiny diamond ones.

More here.
More jewellery here.

Sunday 3 November 2013

The Art of Blending In

Theatre and cinema seats used to be organised by class. Boxes for exclusivity and to be seen (upper class); the upper circle, where you had to wear evening dress; the stalls for the less well-off (but evening dress was still expected); the gallery for the plebs where you could wear what you liked. They had different entrances so the classes didn’t have to mingle. In early theatres there were no stalls with fixed seats: the ground floor was the “pit”, where commoners sat on benches and ate (gasp!) oranges, probably throwing the peel on the floor. The bar was also on this floor and you might expect to bump into some shady ladies.

A friend tells me that on cruise ships, restaurants on different decks act as a filter: some won't serve fried food for breakfast, or chips for lunch. These delicacies can all be found on the top deck.

And why do we have two “classes” of train travel?

A social mobility tsar was appointed in June 2013. Will he address the problem of people wishing to climb down the ladder? The working classes always seem to be having more fun, and the Teales have life sewn up. How do you become lower middle class? Save money and move to a suburb. Enjoy your garden and good local (free) schools. Make friends at the many organisations that exist for improving the area. Join whichever church has the most members. Sing in the choir. Raise money with crafternoons and cupcake decorating sessions. Research careers with your children and send them to catering college or hair and beauty school. Dress conservatively – copy your neighbours.

But if you want to pose as a member of another class, do your homework: on consumer TV programme Watchdog a researcher posed as a “post-modern artist” who’d created an installation out of fly-tipped rubbish. She talked very “posh” – almost an “OK, yah”, something no posh person has ever said and is a cliché from the 80s. She wore a back-combed pompadour held back by an elastic band, with a flowery silk bandeau, teamed with a long, flowery skirt. What was she aiming for? Did she think "artists = pretentious = posh"? Did someone tell her that posh girls wear headscarves and hairbands? (Again, 30 years out of date.) Why didn’t she go to Shoreditch and find out what artists really look like (and sound like)?

How to blend in

The upper-class Stow-Crats go in for bonkers cheese-paring methods – writer India Knight recommends making your own butter, David Cameron says he never buys budget bread, he has a breadmaking machine. In the 20s, they employed French chefs but made their guests hand over twopence if they used the phone.

The middle-middle Weybridges are looking for love online, claiming they are interested in evenings at the theatre or concerts, or long walks in the country. That should filter out common timewasters.

What to say about wind farms: Socialist – not in my backyard! And they’re part of this global warming conspiracy which is just common people telling us what to do.

What to say about fracking: It’s destructive, ugly, aggressive, bullying – what’s not to like? And it will only inconvenience people living in “desolate” parts of the northeast.

What to say about the badger cull: We’re all for it because the lefties are against it, and besides cruelty is somehow good for us.

The upper middle-class Upwards don’t believe in magic any more, but they are into mysticism: the kind that involves a lot of hard work and self-denial and harsh meditation weeks in India. They don’t like a philosophy to be too “utilitarian” – they prefer them to be completely useless.

The more downmarket Teales and Definitelies prefer magic, which is fun as long as you don’t end up handing over hundreds of pounds to Madame Sosostris.

Upwards and Weybridges get terribly wound up over how to ask for things in shops. “Can I get a latte” is a ghastly Americanism and everybody who uses it should be shot, or perhaps just horse-whipped. Can we say “I’ll take a…” No, no, no! And as for “Give us a…” or “Give us one of those”! You expect it to be followed by “dude”! Small children are tortured over “Can I get down?” or “Can I have a biscuit?” “You can – and you MAY,” answer their parents. So, how do we ask for things in shops, cafés and restaurants? I’ll take vanilla. I mean “May I have a…” (How do they feel about “Could I have a…” or “Just a latte, please”? Or “mine’s a pint”?)

Upwards think that they run the world and nobody tells them what to do, but look down on public service roles that are filled by Weybridges and Teales – parish councillors, aldermen, mayors, social workers, probation officers, the staff of town halls. These people are “petty bureaucrats”. A friend writes: “They’re always terribly snobbish about the councillor class, civic pride generally, because they've attained a distinction which has nothing to do with birth or breeding (or culture).”

Sometimes they go so far as to claim they want to abolish government, repeal all laws and get rid of science, because there are too many laws, politicians are all lying twisters, and Brian Cox smiles too much (telling us what to do, and knowing more than us). 

Moving with the times

Upwards frequently “muddle their values” (Margery Allingham). They don’t seem to know what’s really important.

In the kind of shabby-genteel family that I am talking about there is far more consciousness of poverty than in any working-class family above the level of the dole. Rent and clothes and school-bills are an unending nightmare, and every luxury, even a glass of beer, is an unwarrantable extravagance. Practically the whole family income goes in keeping up appearances. (George Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier)

We were prepared to have a nurse and a servant as a necessary extravagance, but would never have dreamed of having a car. If we went to theatres it would be to the pit. I would have perhaps one evening dress, and that would be a black one so as not to show the dirt… We would never take a taxi anywhere… It made for less luxury, plainer food, clothes and all those things. (Agatha Christie, An Autobiography)

My parents tried gracious living on a too-small budget. They couldn’t afford to heat the house, which was too big anyway, so it was always freezing in the winter. Why didn’t we heat one room (apart from the kitchen), put the telly in it, and all live there? People were always being hived off into separate rooms. We ate off Georgian silver but our parents were stingy about butter, sugar and jam. Why didn’t they sack the nanny, sell the silver and buy lots of butter? Of course they had to pretend that it was common to eat lots of butter or put sugar in your tea or be warm enough! Every meal had to be formal, and they were one long opportunity for issuing orders and bullying. Silver items were brought out, not used, and put away again, twice a day. (And then my parents retired to a bungalow and put all the silver in a safe – and there it stayed.)

More here.

Thursday 31 October 2013

Decor Crimes

“Total modernising, but trying to keep the character of the property back to the cottage style.” “60s is Victorian, isn’t it?” “All the doors have been dipped when they moved in 10 years ago.” “This is our Victorian-inspired room”.  “Artex – it’s a bit old-school.” “Corridor rooms.” “The Wow Factor - finished to a very high standard.”
(All from makeover shows and property programmes)

“The copying on show in Milan proves that not only do most designers not read history books, they also don't read magazines they are not in.” (Kieran Long)

“Cheltenham: Staying in the most incredibly middlebrow hotel. I've seen no colour but taupe in days. This is Britain's default genius loci.” (@tomdyckhoff)

“Glade plug-ins, square plates.”

In American sitcoms, a vivid crocheted Afghan over the back of the sofa is a sign we’re in a blue-collar home.

More here.

And some from

Worst interior design fads: Artex walls, avocado bathroom, woodchip walls, removal of original features, fake laminate wood flooring, exposed brickwork on interior walls, brightly coloured Formica kitchens, lino, spiral staircases, wood panelling

Worst furniture fads: built-in bar, mock fireplaces, animal print rugs, net curtains, MDF built-in cupboards, black ash furniture, futons, reproduction "antique" furniture, teak sideboards, multi-functional furniture

(Don’t they know that teak sideboards and lino are really hip?)

If you have a terrace house, please don’t install:
granite worktops
marble bathrooms
ranch-style stone chimney
rustic white-painted door with black iron knocker, horseshoe, nail heads, letter slot
stone cladding, especially multi-coloured

(Of course, it’s your terrace house – do what you like.)

Looks to avoid:
3D plates hung on the wall
60s psychedelia (Instead of opening the doors of perception and ushering in the Age of Aquarius, it immediately became just another décor style or dress fabric.)

an island, with a tiny overhang, and bar stools for eating in the kitchen (So you can’t relax and there’s nowhere to put your knees.)

boutique hotel style
bright overhead lights
bunting made out of remnants
carpet in the bathroom (Especially pink. Especially when it goes up the side of the bath.)
carpets in pubs
converted mill with the machinery in the living room
copying your parents’ décor (your clothes and lifestyle won’t match)
corner bath
cosies for dining chairs
cottagey feel: same old bland interior, with one “rustic” detail
country house hotel style (gilt mirrors, lots of chintz)
country kitchen: science lab with rustic doors

diagonal wood cladding or wall tiles (80s)
divan beds (except they’re comfortable and can double as sofas)
Dralon (velvet-look material for sofas)
exposed stone wall – in your bathroom
exposed stone wall in an old cottage – especially not lacquered (The original inhabitants would have plastered and painted.)
extensions that create a long, narrow room and make the original rooms too dark

faux granite worktops
feature wall with very dark wallpaper
fitted carpet in churches
front and back rooms knocked through to make one long, thin room
furniture blocking a window

Georgian door with fanlight on a 60s council flat or 30s semi (architects call them “embellishments”)
gold Roman blinds

gravel everywhere: on your sitting out area, on a “membrane” with weeds poking through, as parking for 20 cars in front of your McMansion (It’s all over Prince Charles’s faux-old village of Poundbury, I hear.)

huge three-piece suite crammed into a small room
leather sofas or suites
matching curtains and wallpaper

modernist interiors in a Victorian/Edwardian/30s shell. Gutting a 30s house with small rooms, turning it all into one “space”, and filling it with lime-green sub-Eames furniture.

nested tables

new houses based on converted old houses (They’re being built with a long thin “open plan living kitchen dining area” with a window front and back modelled on two knocked-through rooms.)
ochre-toned art (if you want to sell a picture, use lots of red)

painting a decent Edwardian pub exterior in orange/cobalt, orange/jade or lilac/violet (Mid-noughties - they’ve all been repainted brown, black or grey. I wonder why.)

prominently placed family portraits
ragrolling, dados and stencils (80s)
removing all internal walls from a tiny cottage
removing all original features later than 1900
removing half-timbering from a 30s semi
reproduction antique furniture, patterned carpets and Chinese rugs in a modernist flat (pensioner style)
room with a nautical theme

shells in the bathroom (80s whimsical)
sofas and chairs jammed against the wall, miles apart
space wasted on hallways and corridors, especially in a studio
stripped-back inglenook containing a small wood-burning stove
tartan wallpaper/carpets/furniture
turning part of a room into a “kitchen area” instead of making the whole room into a kitchen you can live in
TVs in cupboards or covered with a cloth

varnishing floors, furniture and all exposed wood in pale orange
Victorian conservatory on modernist house
Victorian grate, Regency mantelpiece

Victorian lamp standards in 60s shopping malls
walls covered with clocks and decorative plates
whimsical bronze figurative garden statues (and sculptures of lions made out of chicken wire)

More decor here, and links to the rest.

Sunday 27 October 2013

Classy Quotes 14

Parents would speak softly, vaguely about influences, friendships and the social environment as children move into adolescence. (A Guardian writer explains why she and her family are staying in the city – and why so many friends left. 2013-10-26)

‘“Don’t fuss; don’t ask personal questions; don’t touch the teapot (this was reserved for the hostess); tea in first, milk after; understatement and stiff upper lip.” But there was also something unnatural in the resolutely unspoken nature of English communication, and a patronising element in the controlled superiority… an unshakeable belief – unshaken to this day, even by the loss of an empire – in their self-evident superiority.’ Refugees Hilde and her husband Peter “in all that time were never invited into a single English household there or involved in the social structure”. She had been a literary and social star as a young woman in Vienna; she ended up being frozen out in Wimbledon. She later wrote about her experiences: “The narrator is bemused by the formality of her host family. The four children, all younger than twelve, speak with the same decorous, joking expressions as the adults, with any regression into baby-speak frowned upon by their demanding parents.”(Writer Hilde Spiel on the English during WWII, quoted by Lara Feigel in The Love-charm of Bombs)

An upper-class hostess in a family where emotions were rarely discussed or prioritised and were secondary always to manners. ‘It seems so gauche,’ [wrote Mrs Graham Greene. She] pretended that any unpleasant events were not actually occurring and concealed any negative emotion behind a manner of ‘the most brilliant feyness’. (Lara Feigel, The Love-charm of Bombs)

It is sickening that vulgar, middle-class virtue should pay. (Somerset Maugham, Of Human Bondage)

All post-16th-century English art contains a sub-text concerning class… modern readers find it unforgiveable. (Angela Carter)

Bourgeois values: independence, perseverance, forethought, circumspection. (Angela Carter)

One important function of bourgeois fiction is to teach people how to behave in social circles to which they think they might be able to aspire. (Angela Carter)

We settled into a curious kind of deviant middle-class life, all little luxuries and no small comforts, no refrigerator, no washing-machine, no consumer durables at all, but cream with puddings and terribly expensive soap and everything went to the laundry. (Angela Carter on the 1950s)

One might also say that anyone bemoaning middle-class decline is really just complaining about a loss of privilege. (David Thomas, Daily Telegraph 14 Oct 2013)

It’s always a difficult line for MCs of either gender to tread – showing you’re fun and spontaneous without going too crazy. (Middle Class Handbook)

MCs often feel under huge pressure to be "interesting" – to talk about exotic travels, fascinating books and esoteric pursuits. (Middle-Class Handbook)

Lesley Bright came out of her O-level practical to find her teacher, Sister Claudia, who had been praying to the Holy Ghost that Lesley would put on her carrots in time. “My task had been to provide a nourishing meal for manual labourers, and I’d been praying that my Cornish Pasties with vegetables were equal to the task, as I had no idea what a manual labourer was,” recalls Lesley. (Daily Telegraph, Sept 2013)

The author describes her subjects as “ordinary people”, and ordinary here seems to mean lower middle class. (Revew of The English in Love by Claire Langhamer Obs Aug 2013)

40 years ago I overheard this at the (state) school gate:
Mummy A: I’m going private, she’s bright and I want her stretched.
Mummy B: No you don’t. You want her to get two A-levels and marry a chartered accountant!
(Writer-in to the Guardian Aug 2013)

They are so busy preserving their status that they can’t enjoy it… “The status of one’s child and your own reflects and builds on one another, it has become mutually defined,” says [anthropologist Wednesday] Martin… [Getting your kid into the right school] requires Olympian displays of school fundraising, donations, coaching and lobbying (The Times on very, very rich women, Aug 2013)

The saturation of the high street with boho meant of course, that the look couldn’t last for long. (Linda Grant, Guardian, June 13 2007)

432 people own half the land in Scotland. (Independent, August 2013 And they don't want to sell it to small farmers.)

More here, and links to the rest.

Saturday 26 October 2013

More Class in Angus Wilson


All from the short-story collection A Bit Off the Map.

"The polished yet wilting rubber plant which loomed above them had now the familiarity of the aspidistra – once, after all, also a modish exotic…

The unselfconscious dowdiness of the members of The Crowd… [not for them the] uniformity of elaborate male hair styles and female horsehair tails, of jeans and fishermen’s sweaters… But the clothes of The Crowd – the tired suits, the stained flannels and grubby corduroys; the jumpers and skirts, the pathetically dim brooches and ear-rings – were no conscious protests, only the ends of inherited and accepted taste, the necessities of penurious earnings… The Crowd were already taking off the numerous scarves and gloves which both sexes wore at all times of the year… In between was an insurmountable barrier of sports coats and duffle coats, woollen scarves and raincoats… The girls of The Crowd had naked faces and dirty hair… His eyes swept the hideous nakedness of the young women’s faces.

[These pseudo-intellectual young people of just post war have been long forgotten. They probably morphed into Beatniks. Wearing no makeup was very radical for the time. Rubber plants were a sign of modernity. The joke in this story is that these young people are not socialists but followers of Ayn Rand.]

Their protégé: “had been taken back to far grander places in his time – rooms with concealed cocktail cabinets and fitted-in bars.”

Here’s another milieu: "A small Edwardian house. The lawn was planted with standard roses. The half-timbered upper storey was a bold black and white, in the porch hung a wrought iron lantern… [It betrays the] rich Guildford business background that Sheila had tried so hard but had failed to shed…. Carola would admire the simplicity of Sheila’s table-setting, though she wondered strangely at the lack of doilies, of little mats and of colourfully arranged salads and fruit that she copied so carefully from women’s magazines. Sheila must praise Carola’s new blue dress, and wish that she could speak about the dreadful little doggy brooch."

A mother-in-law speaks: ‘There are standards – gracious living, you know – that are surely worth something. It seems terrible to throw it all away unless you’re very sure you’ve got something to put in its place.’  [I think this translates as: "We’re always in danger of sliding down the class system and if that happened it would be a disaster." Or else: "We must go on living as if we had servants even if we have to do all the work ourselves." This way of life was gradually phased out during the 50s and 60s, perhaps because it was unsustainable.]

Professional gardeners like: ‘Double begonias and calceolarias, they couldn’t have more ghastly taste.’

An embarrassing grandmother (a fashionable dressmaker made good) has: “saxe-blue spangles in the ornament that crowned her almost saxe-blue neatly waved hair”. [The middle classes never tinted their grey hair blue, mauve or pink. Saxe blue is grey-blue.] She eats a “canapé of prawns in aspic” and sits on a “striped period Regency couch”.

Her grandson Maurice drives off to visit his uncle’s deserted girlfriend, who lives in a downmarket house of multiple occupation: “a dirty mid-Victorian house with its peeling stucco and straggles of grimy Virginia creeper”. [What would it go for now?]

He is greeted by one of the lodgers: “She drew him into a little ill-lit hall and bent her long neck – yellow and grubby.” [Middle-class writers were always accusing girls of having dirty necks – but it was probably hard to keep clean when you had to share a bathroom.]

Sylvia’s room is barely furnished: “The walls were cream-distempered and dirty; someone had started to cover one of them with a cheap ‘modernistic’ wallpaper.” [Thirty years on, Cubism has been reduced to interior decoration.]

She quickly recovers: Her figure is emphasized by “her tight white sweater, and her hips seemed almost tyre-like beneath her tighter black skirt.”

A teacher who rather regrets she has become too “good” for her background adds one refined touch – beech leaves in a vase – and chews “very carefully with her front teeth”. She shudders at “the vulgarity, the terrible, clashing bright colours of the drawing-room at ‘The Laurels’”.

More here. And more nonconformists here.

Wednesday 23 October 2013

Class in Angus Wilson

Hand-woven djibbah

In Such Darling Dodos, Angus Wilson writes about groups of people who are imprisoned together by money. Adult children get a small allowance. Even after the war (when most people had jobs), it’s acceptable for young women to live at home without studying or working. The idea is that they will meet a suitable young man and get married, but their parents have no spare money for the strenuous social life that would enable this. Things changed in the 60s. A bit.

The rock garden… looked so bare and pathetic in winter, but he anticipated with pleasure the masses of aubretia, crimson, lavender, blue, that would blaze there in May. (Only purple aubretia is permitted, and Upwards insist that it is “aubreta”.)

Here's the room that goes with this garden: “the Medici prints, the little silver bowls, the mauve net curtains, the shot-silk covers, the beaten copperware, the Chinese lanterns and Honesty in pewter mugs – it was all so pathetically genteel and arty.”

A spinster wears: “lucky charm bracelets and semi-precious necklaces”. Jingling or clanking jewellery was warned against by etiquette authorities.

“Dresses on Priscilla would always seem like hand-woven djibbahs.” A djibbah was what we’d call a kaftan (though the word was also used for a child’s overall). They became a uniform for progressive women like Priscilla who in the late 19th century refused on principle to wear corsets. They also became short-hand for a certain kind of woman: intellectual and fey. She might be a social reformer or a spiritualist.

Tony, an elderly conservative Catholic, visits his Oxford cousins: He entered that awful sitting-room with its Heal’s furniture, its depressingly sensible typewriter and long low bookcases… Hard little, bright-covered books full of facts, a dangerous array of so-called scientific knowledge that tried to treat man as a machine. Long, low bookcases were a marker for university lecturers. Penguin (orange) and Pelican (turquoise) paperbacks were full of the “illusory paradise of refrigerators for all”.

Priscilla has written to Tony to say that her husband is ill. Now she regrets it. The sort of wretched, hysterical outburst that one hopes so much will never happen, but which always does at these hateful, morbid times. According to her code, all expression of human emotion is hysterical or morbid.

Kitty visits her relative’s employers: “Kitty came downstairs to meet them, her fox fur and eye-veil resumed for the occasion.” The net eye-veil was part of her hat.

Margaret’s “dainty” room features: “Venetian glass swans and crocheted silk table mats”.

In another story, landlady Greta is out with her elderly boyfriend. He had told her so often that physical caresses in public were ‘just not done’… She no longer said ‘serviette’… She never went out now without gloves… but she also no longer blew into them when she took them off. She was jealous sometimes… but he told her not to be so suburbanBlowing into your tight leather gloves was a class marker: But did anybody really?

Here's poor Jacky Bast from Howard's End in the early 1900s: Her appearance was awesome. She seemed all strings and bell-pulls – ribbons, chains, bead necklaces that clinked and caught and a boa of azure feathers hung round her neck, with the ends uneven. Her throat was bare, wound with a double row of pearls, her arms were bare to the elbows, and might again be detected at the shoulder, through cheap lace. Her hat, which was flowery, resembled those punnets, covered with flannel, which we sowed with mustard and cress in our childhood, and which germinated here yes, and there no. She wore it on the back of her head. (She also "sees to" her hat by blowing on it.)

Wednesday 16 October 2013

Get the Look

“We wanted a cottagey stately home kind of feel.”
1991 Martin Parr, Signs of the Times

Sort of the Scandinavian-French-New England style.
(Bunting-loving seller on Sarah Beeny’s Selling Houses)

Natural simplicity/modern heritage/boutique townhouse (Argos ranges)

The Modern Heritage Lounge Look: To create this traditionally-inspired Heritage style, a leather sofa with an antique feel looks stunning accented with sumptuous textured cushions in deep blues and plums. Adorn walls with Darwinian inspired botanical prints in bold picture frames and opt for paint effects and patterns with the patina of age. Occasional pieces with period detail and a sense of craftsmanship complete the Heritage collection. (

Fair Client: "I want it 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!" (Cartoon by George du Maurier, Punch, November 29, 1890)

We're aiming for a fairly cosy, retro-farmhouse kind of look. (blog post commenter re ripping out a 30s kitchen)

Middle-class Upwards loathed the home makeover show Changing Rooms, with its staple-gun approach to design: the opposite of the genuine shabby chic achieved by living in one house for generations. In one episode a Goth couple got – not Dracula’s castle but a pseudo-medieval bedroom with hardboard arches, fleur de lys everywhere, ochre walls and red and blue swags.

Middle-class Upwards do some historical research on the period or look they want, or think they do. Perhaps they are just as guilty of “getting the look”.

“Moroccan is all about sumptuous fabrics and glowing colours.” (TV programme Get the Look)

This translates as “gold thread”. “Inspired by” and “theme” are key. “The wallpaper picks up the geometric theme” – but it’s a pattern of seed-pod slices. You get the “French look” with “curves and gilding”. Boot sale buys are transformed with a bit of paint. Underneath it all is a small Victorian terraced house.

The Get the Look website

offers a choice of:

Shabby chic
Mid-century modern
Art Deco

Bright & bold
Hollywood glamour

Glam Rock'n' Roll
Boutique Hotel

For Hollywood Glamour, “Animal prints and glitz are mixed with muted shades and 1950s style furniture for true Hollywood style. The black sofa brings out the colours of the flamingo wallpaper and the cushions bring a glimmer of luxurious materials to the room - mohair, silk, sequins and diamante. Existing furniture is livened up with a feathered trim added to the standing lamp.”

If Argos customers can get an  off-the-peg Heritage Lounge Look (industrial, worn leather, old books), what will the Upwards do?

And I hate to say this, but it's "standard lamp".

World of Interiors, and links to more on decor.

Tuesday 15 October 2013

World of Interiors 2

Dough-craft wall plaque

The most recent house a middle-class Upward can live in is Edwardian – they haven’t reached 30s Arts and Crafts yet. Chinese millionaires love Tudoresque houses – they think it’s the most upmarket style. For Upwards, this is just another reason for loathing all things Jacobethan. Upwards hate half-timbering because it is just stuck on, not "honest" – though they don't mind classical fireplaces modelled on Greek temples.

In a BBC poll (Sept 2013), “period properties” were ranked:

Upwards, with their Edwardian terrace houses and genuine enamel colanders, like to live in the past (with central heating, broadband, digital TV and Macbooks, of course). The 20s and 30s are too recent for them. Hipster Rowena Upward is always trying to revive a moment that all her relatives will loathe. She’s buying up 80s jewellery, hoping for a boom. She's always ahead – back in the 80s she arranged broken bits of blue-and-white china on an old tin tray and hung a single chandelier luster in her window to reflect the light. When Samantha tried to copy her, it never really worked – the sherds and crystals got lost in the clutter of postcards, nicknacks, books and coffee mugs. However hard she dug, she couldn’t find enough blue-and-white fragments in the garden. She suspected Rowena of breaking plates on purpose.

An old-style millionaire built a many-gabled mansion in the 80s. “He added a 20-foot waterfall to the back of the house and installed an indoor shark tank and private burro zoo….” But ostentation is out. [Now] interiors are ripped out, to turn elegant collections of rooms into enormous voids.” (New York Times)

Upwards always call an eat-in kitchen a “kitchen/breakfast room” because they don’t want to imply that they’d eat dinner in their kitchen, even if they don’t have a separate dining room. And “diner” is American. Nor can they talk about “banquettes” or “breakfast nooks”.

The ever-wonderful Middle Class Handbook notes the way poshos mix old paperbacks, Cornishware mugs and Duralex glasses with expensive wine and looseleaf tea. “Their TVs are old and small.” This is real upper-class shabby chic. You have lived in the same house for decades (extra points if you’ve had the same holiday cottage for decades – preferably since the 20s). If it ain’t broke, you don’t fix it. You just add things, and the result is what “eclectic” café style is aiming at. You do the same with your clothes (and jewellery). And the holiday cottage is full of kilims and durries that have faded almost to extinction with age, also hardbacks with tattered dust jackets spotted with damp and mould.

Lower middle Jen Teale has spotless beige fitted carpets – she has them professionally steam cleaned. According to the Middle Class Handbook Brits buy 25% fewer carpets now than they did in 2006. Jen hangs a reproduction Renoir over the fireplace. Only Teales and working-class Definitelies have “wall plaques” (the Sun, the Green Man, the Virgin Mary). About 20 years ago actress Jane Asher started up a craft magazine which was damned by a reviewer just quoting the words “doughcraft wall plaque”. Doughcraft was an 80s Upward craft – they have moved on to making their own bunting.

Very posh people and the Nouveau-Richards have dining pavilions in the garden.

More here, and links to the rest.

Wednesday 14 August 2013

Make It Legal

Not just a piece of paper

Our country’s governance will increasingly have to be based on legally enforced rules, rather than the universally accepted norms of behaviour that were once “the best thing about British society”. (Michael McCarthy, Independent, paraphrase Aug 2011)

No more regulations; what’s needed is a change in culture. (quoted on BBC News 2013 6 8)

Education, Not Regulation, is What's Needed at Britain's Rowdy Tabloids. ... No, what needs to change is the culture, the ethos that operates in British newsrooms. (Tony Rogers,

“There is no such thing as common law marriage or common law man and wife.” (

The middle classes don’t quite understand that the law applies to everybody – and that means them.

They’re always moaning about regulations (“There are too many laws! We should repeal the lot of them!”). They howl when laws are passed that apply to them, especially about smoking, seatbelts and speeding. They loathe the idea of a DNA database. They want a bobby on the beat, but CCTV is an instrument of the devil. Any law a “law-abiding” citizen may actually break is a “petty regulation” imposed by busybodies and bureaucrats.

But they don’t complain about the “nannying and meddling” that banned adulterated food, or ended London smogs (the Clean Air Acts of 1956, 1968 and 1993), or healed the hole in the ozone layer after econuts campaigned against CFCs. They’re quite happy to benefit from safety curtains in theatres.

They say you can’t ban smacking because it would criminalise most parents in the UK. Or even criminalise innocent, law-abiding people. But if the government makes something a crime and you keep on doing it you are not abiding by the law. (They object to a lot of things on the grounds that they would “criminalise” middle class people – ie treat middle-class lawbreakers the same as chav scum lawbreakers.)

The same people who whinge that Britain is becoming a police state approve of boarding schools, corporal punishment and workhouses, and think the civil liberties of “yobs” should be taken away.

They think we don’t need laws against paedophiles or bottom pinchers: “In my day we easily got rid of them – it’s between the people concerned – these pathetic people needn’t concern us.”

They think people should be kept in line by a “change of culture” (though many hate protesters like Occupy). Upper-middle Upwards think the liberal project should be carried on by “social pressure”, not legal changes. (This may mean Upwards spouting propaganda, organising sit-ins and generally being bossy, as usual.)

"Change of culture" is management-speak, and seems to mean “becoming more ethical”. In the old days we called it “teaching people morality”. But, as the Upwards say, the word “morality” has been “hijacked by the right”. What ARE we to do?

Oddly, the people calling for a change of culture rather than more regulations are the same ones who insist the English language follows rules, and say that Americanisms should be banned. (And that people who say "Can I get a latte?" should be shot.)

Right-wingers think that they are prevented from making racist or sexist remarks by something called “political correctness”. Actually it’s the Crime and Disorder Act of 1998.

They like to say “You can’t legislate away bigotry and intolerance.” Yes, we can. For example, acceptance of homosexuality has risen in countries where civil partnerships have been introduced. Read about it here. And here.

Working-class Mr Definitely thinks “human rights” means prisoners having tellies. (“Prison’s just like a holiday camp!” as he used to say when Butlin’s was popular.) He also likes to say “I know my rights!” and “It’s a free country!”. His bosses call him a “barrack-room lawyer”.

Posh Stow Crats know the law, particularly in regard to inheritance (for the stately home and land).

When it comes to marriage, Upwards think they’re living in a pre-legal society. Discussions about marriage in the Guardian (Why is it out of date, or back in fashion?) never mention the legal aspects: rights to pensions, property, inheritance, guardianship of children. Unmarried fathers have few rights, and since the Children Act of 1989  have to opt in to parental responsibility by filling in a form (“petty bureaucracy” again).

If you exchange vows in your garden in front of your friends you’re married in their eyes which is what matters. “The legal and fiscal side would diminish the relationship and communal side,” say some Upwards.

Upwards think that “making it legal” means that the state thinks only marriage is a legal union. Living together is not illegal (where are the cohabitation police?), it just doesn’t give you legal rights. It hasn’t since 1753.

The rights gained on marriage or civil partnership (they differ) are explained here. Just one example: if you aren’t married, and have a joint bank account, and one of you dies, the remaining partner ceases to have access to the bank account until the estate is sorted out.

Bohemian Arkana Nightshade says that this is all so utilitarian and unspiritual – you should trust that the universe and humanity will look after you. Hipster Rowena thinks weddings are retro – and vintage and antique. She has a Goth wedding at a Unitarian church.

Other Upwards think it’s better not to be married because divorce is so expensive. Splitting up will be even more expensive when you find you have no rights to your home or your partner’s pension. Dividing up your assets will be just as costly if you’re not married. What if you’ve contributed to the mortgage but your name isn’t on the deeds? What’s your legal position? I don’t know, do you?

Some amazingly witless Guardian-readers whine about marriage (September 3, 2011)

Having lived together a very long time, my husband and I … decided to get married for reasons of inheritance tax. Harry was an anarchist, and as such felt we did not need the approval of the state to do so (presumably “live together”), and wanted it not to be known … that he had committed this heretical act.

Last year my husband (shudder) and I had to get married for tax reasons…

I never thought of marriage as mandatory

We had no religious beliefs and regarded marriages as no more than a piece of paper. We thought there were some beneficial tax reasons but did not make enquiries. Then my husband found out from work that if anything happened to him, his dependents would receive nothing, whereas if we were married we’d be secure…

(What do they teach them at these universities? They always bring out the bit of paper line as if they were the first to think of it.)

Update: After 10 years, the middle classes are as idiotic as ever: 

A précis by @stevewebb1 of the many ways in which unmarried couples are discriminated against (in life and on death) relative to married couples, even after (as here) 30 years together. Time for the law to catch up with modern society. (@MissJoEdwards. They just need to get married. Costs about £100.)

More here.

Saturday 10 August 2013

More Euphemisms

Leafy suburb

“Look at inner city. Once merely a descriptive term to distinguish a core urban area from the surrounding suburbs, it has become a code word for 'the place where unemployed black people on welfare, living amid the drug trade and homicides, send their children to bad schools and the penitentiary.' The inner city is contrasted with the tree-lined streets of leafy suburbs, meaning 'the place where affluent white people live and where the writer lives, or would like to.' Contrast leafy suburbs with any place described as hardscrabble, which indicates 'usually rural area or place in flyover country where working-class or poor white people struggle to get by'. (The Baltimore Sun, January 2013)

be yourself: don’t copy Kevin and Tracey from down the road

brands: Decipher expert says ABs shopping at Primark while CDs buy aspirational brands. The Times, Oct 29 2011 (Meaning that the best upper sets are saving money by shopping for clothes at budget store Primark, while the less well-off buy branded merchandise by Armani, Louis Vuitton etc. Top people may buy Cath Kidston and Boden but in some mysterious way these are not “brands”.)

civilised: A “civilised” (i.e. posh) festival, Rewind has 1980s pop, “glamping” and champagne bars. (The Week, May 2011)

educated: middle class

emerging neighbourhood: embourgeoisement, gentrification

fine dining: linen tablecloths and obsequious waiters

from all walks of life: all classes

grinding chaos: other people (“I hate the noise, the dirt, the fumes and the grinding chaos." Politician Ian Duncan Smith on living in London, March 2013)

he rose from a humble or non-academic background: working-class background – it must have been if he “rose” from it

heavy, heavily: code for vulgar décor (“The rooms, though heavy with brocade swagged curtains…” “The tablecloths are heavy with starch.” Daily Mail, May 2012 “Heavily decorated chiffonniers inlaid with of mother of pearl.”

hysteria about paedophilia:
using the word “paedophile”. (Only chavs say “paedophile”. Chavs are hysterical about paedos. We have legitimate concerns about child molesters.)

idyll: middle-class cosiness, flight from reality

intelligent: Men like to say that they find intelligence attractive. This means “not an Essex girl, won’t show me up in public”. Middle class, in fact.

It's only the poor and the posh who “breed”. (Andy Lewis/@lecanardnoir)

locals: yokels

man, woman, girl: In Agatha Christie, if characters refer to people as “the man Archer” or “that girl Amy”, it means Archer and Amy are working class. Same goes for “a woman called Mary Smith”.

mannered (of an actor’s performance): posh

our absurdly risk-obsessed society: We had a teensy fire at our house and firemen and paramedics turned up and started telling us what to do!

petty bourgeois: lower middle class (They’re soooo petty! Actually it’s “petit” and it just means “small”.)

popular culture: working-class culture

potential: “The middle classes are leaving the state sector in droves… partly because they think their children will be mixing with pupils who will not help their child reach full potential.” (Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, reported in the Evening Standard, Nov 23 07)

product of the northern club circuit:
working class (Telegraph piece on Frank Carson explains, Feb 2012)

reality TV: common people getting on television

regional accents: the Home Counties (around London) are not a “region”. (Viewers switch off the One Show because the presenters are from the northeast and Wales. Or do they just say they do?)

regional: working-class (Regions are where “we” aren’t.)

rentier class: always petty like the bourgeoisie (from Marxism?)

rough: working-class (Skegness too rough for Peroni, Guardian, 22 April 2013)

run-of-the-mill: people we are superior to

rural idyll: chav-free zone (“Why is the rural idyll I call home voting for Marine Le Pen?” Independent headline April 30, 2012)

social mobility: upward social mobility

There are certain standards!: I am a snob.

very ordinary people: working-class people (writer to The Times explaining that it’s not just middle-class Anglicans from the south who sing in choirs)

we, us: middle-class white people

More here.

Sunday 28 July 2013

Quotes About Class (and Kirstie Allsop)

Labour MP @SimonDanczuk, humiliated by @OwenJones84 on BBC2, yelled "It's alright for you, you come from the posh part of Stockport!" (‏@mrmarksteel, 2 July 2013)

I was astonished to find that it was possible to spend your life surrounded by great literature and remain (or become) paralysed by snobbery. (Julian Barnes, Guardian, July 2013)

A London of struggling writers "living in a middle-class style on a working-class income”. (John Goode on writer George Gissing)

Cashed-up bogans... It is a term my middle-class tribe uses disparagingly to make us feel better about being educated, but comparatively poor. I am not the first privately educated university graduate who wishes she had done a truck-driving course instead. (BBC on Australian chavs 2013-02-24)

Nothing is more bourgeois than to be afraid to look bourgeois. (Andy Warhol)

The journey was mind-numbingly tedious: a sequence of Ms and As with various numbers attached, interspersed with service stations that appeared to be patronised solely by people who had recently been released from prison. Where were the middle classes? There's a gap in the market – I'm sure a service station that incorporated a contemporary art gallery and a sushi restaurant would be a huge success. I'd go there. The Age of Uncertainty

The old class stratifications have gone – it’s much more nuanced now, says the BBC 2013-04-03 commenting on its new survey. (People have said this every year for the past 30 years.)

In girls’ school stories by Angela Brazil and Enid Blyton (they flourished from the 1900s to the 50s), girls allegedly expressed approval with the phrase “Oh, jolly hockey sticks!”. NGram Viewer shows that it appears in the mid-60s and rises sharply to the present. says it was invented in the 50s by Beryl Reid for her radio character, the schoolgirl Monica.

It has become What To Say About TV property expert Kirstie Allsop, who went to the progressive and non-hockey-playing Bedales school.

As always with Kirstie, it's all very jolly hockey sticks. She's an Enid Blyton head girl on a mission and she's starting with the hall… She's right, it is much more satisfying to pick up a vintage one-off or to make something yourself than it is waiting for your ticket number to come up at Argos. And you'll never run the risk as having the same curtains as Maureen down the road. But while all of this is very nice, does anyone in their right mind really have the time to design their own stained glass window, weld their own bookends or crochet a five-sided gift box "perfect for chocolate, soaps or even a plant”? (

Jolly hockeysticks? That's all Nancy Mitford, Kirstie Allsop, "Ooh rah, time for games!" isn't it? (Facebook) (Nancy Mitford never wrote school stories.)

Kirstie is terribly jolly hockeysticks. (

Kirstie used to seem naive, jolly hockeysticks, flirtatious. (mumsnet)

Kirstie’s jolly hockeysticks persona is a bit unusual in TV these days but I think she carries it off. I like crafts but I find her craft shows a bit too twee. (mumsnet)

The world presented in the movie is a kind of jolly-hockeysticks rural idyll where kids can run around the countryside all day unimpeded and the locals are eccentric yokels. The threats to this way of life come from city-dwelling interlopers and the loss of good manners. (Review on of a Nanny McPhee film. “Running around the countryside” does not involve hockeysticks.) has a category of “jolly hockeysticks books”.

More classy quotes here, and links to the rest.

Wednesday 24 July 2013

Yesterday's Papers

The upper middle-class Upwards whinge when all the press gives huge coverage to events like Wimbledon, assuming that everybody in the country likes the same things. Upwards are always trying to assert their difference from the rest of the country, and they have never really got over the introduction of 24-hour news (about 25 years ago).

They adored the royal baby watch, using the word “fawning” in every sentence and grumbling about BBC flannel. Upper-class Caro sheds a tear and pours herself a gin and tonic, middle-class Eileen Weybridge and Jen Teale share a baby watch party and love every moment. Working-class Sharon goes to Kensington Palace and leaves a cuddly toy and a card.

Journalists, Upwards and Weybridges agree, get everything wrong, write sloppily and are despicable human beings. This doesn’t stop all Upward graduates trying to get a job in the media. And if you are a journalist, people assume you write for one of the broadsheets (not for one of the hundreds of magazines that still exist despite the web – 3.7m sold every day, says, and spend all your time meeting celebrities and going on free trips abroad. (So when do you fit in door-stepping the bereaved, stalking the royals and rehashing press releases?)

Whenever snow is predicted, the middle classes will panic because they think everybody is going to panic – or even whinge. And they’ll go on about it too much. (Translation: the BBC will try to be prepared and tell us about it in advance.)

Upwards and Weybridges spend a lot of time moaning that newspapers and news programmes are full of stuff they aren’t interested in. They like to say:

Newspapers? All opinion or trivia. Haven’t contained any news since the Anglo Saxon Chronicle. Are full of ads which will hypnotise you into buying things you don’t want. Are full of porn. If a newspaper writes about anything you know about, you’ll find it’s got the facts wrong. Only need to capture the attention for a day. Ephemeral. Yesterday’s papers wrap today’s chips. Print media is dead!

This is a quote from my mini ebook Clichés: A Dictionary of Received Ideas ("Everything you need to know in order to be accepted as a member of polite society" Flaubert) A paperback version is now available.

More clichés here.

Monday 24 June 2013

Excruciatingly Correct Behavior

When Miss Manners' Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior was written in the early 1980s, author Judith Martin adopted the persona of a refined lady of the 1880s. This update reveals that Americans are still strangely obsessed by “engraved” invitation cards, and wearing a corsage on the correct wrist. Martin is in favour of being polite, well-mannered, kind and fair, and deprecates bad behaviour of all kinds. Her style is catching, but I will never share her sincere love of “service plates”.

If Miss Manners hears any more contemptuous descriptions of etiquette as being a matter of “knowing which fork to use,” she will run amok with a sharp weapon.

Presence, the dignified precursor of what deteriorated to Poise... and then disappeared into a pottage of Assertiveness and Sensitivity from which it has not yet managed to surface.

“It is what we used to call postmodernism,” she continued, making it sound unattractively dated.

Much as we would love to believe that we saucy and imaginative moderns are responsible for introducing misbehavior into a previously fun-free world, Miss Manners is afraid that the population, even back then, consisted of actual human beings.

First names for parents are in vogue from time to time.

Speaking for someone else is a vile practice.
Are we to have only temporary friends whose experiences happen, at the moment, to match ours?

If it is wrong to make cracks about the elderly, and an aging population is working hard on that, then it should be wrong to make cracks about the young.

It is the meek and mild mannered, polite children that often get bullied. The same children are often at risk for being victimized by adults.

The sensitive child will notice that grown-ups worry endlessly about the judgment of their peers and can be thrown into agonies of embarrassment by trivial transgressions of conventionality.

Miss Manners realizes that parents cannot hope to protect their children for long against outside influences, however nasty.

What pretentious people call “body language” and make fortunes writing paperback books about, Miss Manners considers merely details of etiquette that vary from culture to culture. In a way, it is more important to learn these when going from one society to another than it is to learn the more obvious forms.

People often fail to realize that such behavior as eye contact is learned, and they pounce on it as being psychologically revealing.

The only truly safe and proper subject for a joke is oneself. Many a person who thought this privilege extended to his or her spouse, parent or child, has lived—but not very long—to find otherwise.

You are quite right to seek advice from an etiquette column, rather than a psychologically oriented one. Miss Manners believes that the true value in people is not what is in their murky psyches… but in how they treat one another.

When he cuts off intimacy with you, it is called experiencing a crisis and investigating a relationship, and when you cut off intimacy with him, it is called prudery and eye-for-an-eye revenge.

The other person cares for you more than you care for her. Like you, everyone describes this as being possessive and crazy.

The spontaneous demonstration has, as you recognize, a strict code of behavior.

Reciting to innocent people a list of the sort of behavior to which one has been subjected by others in the past and the declaration of never putting up with it again has become one of the rites of early courtship.

Pickups, to seem respectable, must be contrived to seem accidental.

In the proper world, romance is supposed to develop out of friendship. A gentleman and a lady both pretend that they are cultivating each other for common interests, shared humor or whatever—and then they both act surprised when passion strikes.

Miss Manners had hoped that the plague of social originality among lovers had been stamped out.

Attempts to obfuscate, such as “I love you, but I need room to grow,” don’t fool anyone. The patronizing sweeteners customarily added to these explanations are particularly galling.

A ceremony is not a show, and the emotion connected with it is supposed to be derived from participating in a known ritual, not from being diverted by jokes and surprises. The tendency to undercut ceremonies—which is being done frequently, not just at graduations but at weddings and even funerals—all but directs the participants and audience to be bored.

Now that weddings have become drama festivals, the marriage proposal has turned into a pageant that serves as the curtain raiser.

Miss Manners hopes couples will “plan weddings that will be pretty and festive, but not to attempt to make them grand on a scale unrelated to the rest of their lives”. Weddings are “not an occasion for people to attempt to play grand and unfamiliar parts in a fantasy”.

Perfectly charming people can plan perfectly charming weddings, only to have these events sabotaged by a variety of wedding-related outsiders who have their own ideas of what a wedding should be like and put them into action without asking.

…that nasty double standard which we keep thinking we have banished, only to see it repeatedly hauled out of retirement.

The habit of teasing perfect strangers persists.

If you want something to look at while you listen, you can go to the opera and watch people stab one another.

We still have the old form of naïveté, which says that people should judge everyone on what’s inside, not what they’re wearing.

When the female equivalent of the male suit first began to be widely worn [in the mid-60s], it provoked outrage.

I would rather not wear all of these rings at once for fear that I may be inclined to start calling people “daahhling” and ordering them about.


The further away the title holder is from earning his distinction, the more distinguished he is considered… [Old titles are best.]

It has been perceived that fame leads directly to such fortune-making opportunities as book contracts, lecture fees and photograph sessions in which the subject can keep the jewelry.

When the television people instruct you to be “lively,” “spontaneous,” “controversial” and full of “energy,” what they mean is that you should feel free to ridicule others, interrupt, toss off opinions from the top of your head, argue with cleverness rather than evidence, and display intolerance for any opinion but your own.

Before the first World War, ladies did not put on makeup in public for the sensible reason that they were pretending that they never wore any… In recent times, onlookers revolted against both smoking and grooming at the table... They have therefore been banned by the new school.

Murder on the Home Front

Murder on the Home Front: A True Story of Morgues, Murderers and Mysteries in the Blitz describes Molly Lefebure's work as secretary to a forensic pathologist during the war and after

Molly, a nice middle-class girl, loved her work in the morgues of London and southern England. It took her to places she would never otherwise have been able to visit.

Sometimes she travelled to the “amazing no man’s land of the suburbs”, returning with “relief, to stewed fruit and junket”. If they were in a hurry, “sausage rolls” were “gobbled”. But if they were lucky, they got “sausage toad-in-the-hole” followed by “chocolate mould”. (This is a kind of English cuisine few are keen to revive.)

Sex was described in odd terms: “Presently he began to suspect intimacy between them and on the Sunday before the murder he accused them of this. Both denied any such thing. Rosina’s mother said they were ‘not playing the game’. Her father told them ‘to keep the courtship clean’.”

She thought the 30s were “The decade of unemployment, chips on shoulders and sloppy thinking. Religious conviction waned, the old values declined.”

When visiting crime scenes, she notices the “eau-de-nil décor”, “a pair of uninspiring china figures” on the mantelpiece, and “rexine” furniture. (It’s “an artificial leather leathercloth fabric”, according to its manufacturers.)

She is curious to see the flat of a prostitute, and notes the cold, dirt and discomfort of the "model dwellings" where the poor live - all with grandiose names like "Briar Rose Court".


Class in the Novels of Barbara Pym

No Fond Return of Love, written in the 50s, concerns two women in their 30s who have both been disappointed by men (one fiancé, one crush). Dulcie and Viola end up sharing a house, and in a very genteel way start stalking Viola’s love object (Aylwin). Dulcie (deserted by her fiancé) is a gentle, intelligent woman who could “make more of herself”. None of her friends guesses that she is an outrageous snob, always spotting the signs that someone (such as Aylwin’s mother-in-law) is from a slightly inferior class to her own.

Aylwin has a “Florentine leather stud box”, showing that he has travelled to the right part of Italy. But the box is a touristy souvenir, despite its good taste.

“It would have to be one of those classically simple meals, the sort that French peasants are said to eat and that enlightened English people sometimes enjoy rather self-consciously – a crusty French loaf, cheese, and lettuce and tomatoes from the garden.”

Variegated ivy” is a regrettable sign that a garden owner is not quite-quite. And as for “tradescantia with striped mauve leaves”! These appear in the flower shop where Stephen Beltane, the son of a neighbour, works.

A “hand-embroidered duchesse set” is being offered at Aylwin’s mother-in-law’s sale of work. A duchesse set consisted of three doilies intended to go under the powder box and pin trays on your dressing table. The name is pretentious (French and aristocratic), like “duchesse potatoes” – which are mashed potatoes piped into little suburban swirls.

“Each ‘bloom’ had cost one-and-three.” We’re back in the (over-priced) flower shop. “Flowers”, never “blooms”.

Academic women have a limited choice between “frightening elegance, frowsty bohemianism, or uncompromising dowdiness” ponders Aylwin (he is intimidated by them all).

Maurice, Dulcie’s ex-fiancé “held up his hand and contemplated his nails delicately”. There were two ways of checking that your fingernails were clean – Maurice’s method, or with a lightly curled fist and the palm of your hand towards you. His gesture betrays that he doesn’t move in the best circles – or is he gay?

Aylwin wonders “how he could stop a mat in his lounge from curling up at the edges”. Fifties houses were full of mats that tended to slip about on the linoleum floors. You kept them under control with  ugly rubber net backing. And he calls his sitting room a lounge! He is not as middle-class as people imagine.

“The fluffy little woman in the mauve twin-set, wrapping up the pottery donkey” – Dulcie’s negative judgement of Aylwin’s ex-wife. Pottery donkeys, brought back from European holidays, were the depth of fashion. She is pointed out to Dulcie as wearing a “lilac” twinset. People of Dulcie’s stratum in society only referred to colours by their names (mauve), not by something that might be that colour (violet, lemon, primrose).

“The kitchen was warm, and comfortable in a rather old-fashioned style, with deep basket chairs and a round table covered with a red plush cloth.” This is where a friend’s cook lives and works, and it sounds lovely. Whatever happened to kitchens like this?

Dulcie’s neighbour Mrs Beltane, who dotes on her tiny dog Felix, “was of that school which prefers to worship in a garden or some lovely ‘spot’: indeed, she would probably have maintained, if challenged, that one is nearer God’s heart in a garden than anywhere else on earth.”

“Felix yapped vigorously.” Middle-class people don't have yappy dogs.

“I have a black lace mantilla which I wear when I want to cover my head,” brags Viola. In a Catholic or Anglo-Catholic church, far classier than a hat. (If you want to wear a mantilla, remember that the middle point of the triangle goes over your forehead.)

“…what she thought of as ‘mean’ little semi-detached houses”. Dulcie being judgmental again.

In a churchyard, the area in front of the headstone is “filled in with green chippings, which looked like bath salts”. Not in the best taste.

On the train, “The furtive sandwich eating and the bringing out of the flasks of tea was accomplished with hardly any embarrassment.” People like us are not ashamed of eating in public.

Mrs Beltane is “using a new watering can of some white iridescent material – plastic, he supposed – in the form of a swan”. Oh dear!

“‘That’s far more what poor old Basil himself would have wished,’ said the woman firmly. ‘A few natural flowers – whatever there happened to be in the garden, even if it wasn’t very much – rather than an expensive sheaf of wired flowers from a Kensington florist. He would have hated the idea of wired flowers – he abhorred cruelty in all its forms.” Middle-class people still give this speech almost word for word – especially when complaining about the “heaps of flowers in cellophane” in front of Kensington Palace after Diana died. (In the book, Stephen Beltane spends most of his time at work wiring flowers into place.)

“‘What an odd smell,’ said Marjorie. ‘I suppose it’s the dust burning on the fire. When they aren’t used much they do get dusty.’” Marjorie is Aylwin’s ex-wife, and his mother, who runs a hotel, has an electric heater instead of an open fire.

“‘Oh, that academic stuff – where does it get one,’ said Viola impatiently. ‘One only meets people like Aylwin Forbes, and what use are they?’” Viola realises she has been wasting her time with the “right” kind of people, and marries someone who works in a shop.

Wednesday 29 May 2013

What Your Name Says About You, Part III

“Mister is a courtesy title, so shop and hospital staff should call me Mr Weybridge! Anything else is impolite!” Yes, Mr, Mrs, Miss and Ms are courtesy titles – that means they have no legal force, unlike aristocratic, military, legal, religious titles. It’s against the law to call yourself “Major Weybridge” or “the Rev Weybridge” unless you are a major or a minister. Lord Weybridge is the lord of his domain. It’s not about being polite. Manners change, and a democratic smiley friendliness is now the norm, thankfully. (Howard Weybridge will now have a conniption fit about the use of “thankfully”. “Who’s being thankful? It’s a dangling modifier!” He enjoys all this very much.) Wikipedia explains that courtesy titles began as titles for the younger sons of Dukes.

Posh Caroline Stow Crat fills us in: "To the Normans, a person called de Launay owned land in a place called Launay. So calling yourself 'de Snooks' in an attempt to look more posh only makes you look silly."

Middle-class Upwards like “old-fashioned” names – their grandparents’ generation. Working-class Definitelies like names with no history because they don’t know any. They call their daughters Madison and Tayla because they think it sounds pretty (it does).

Upwards never call their children Tulip – unless they’re Rowena. She may call her kids Brandi, Cullum and Kane as a gesture. Arkana called her kids Gandalf and River – but there were still five Gandalfs in the playgroup (run by a co-op whose members could never agree about anything and eventually split into three. All three parts failed after a few months.). Lower middle-class Teales used to call their daughters Heather, Sorrel, Fern and Bryony. Middle-aged Weybridges are Cherry. Sharon Definitely's gran is Rose. What are the flower names de nos jours?

At the risk of sounding snobbish, I… favour children who have good old-fashioned Victorian names such as George, Henry and Victoria. And, if a child has a name with a Latin or Greek derivation such as Ariadne or Helena, all the better. It indicates the parents are well educated. (Katie Hopkins, Daily Mail May 2013) She says her children know she likes them to befriend high achievers. And she’s worried about sounding snobbish? Read the whole ghastly farrago here.

Expect a notable absence of men called Derek, Roger or Nigel from the garden centres of Britain today. #UKIPConference (James O'Brien‏/@mrjamesob)

Part II here.

Sunday 12 May 2013

Gentrification IV

Wise words from housing-watcher and London-lover @robbieds: "Emerging [neighbourhoods] means they've pretty much emerged already though." (‏@RobertaWedge)

The trappings of gentrification – expensive coffee and bike shops, junk sold at a premium as “vintage” and, soon after, bitterly resented chain outlets… The crowds these areas attract also look pretty samey, and… can also seem just as aspirational and judgemental of others as the primmest suburbanites… with each community maintaining separate cafés, pubs and even grocery stores. I didn’t see much inter-class mixing among my neighbors either, publicly or privately. (Feargus O’Sullivan) (But why does he assume suburbanites are aspirational, judgemental and prim?)

I was wrong about Stoke Newington – it hasn’t become Fulham (though London Fields may have become Notting Hill). Instead it is full of young men with short beards and their vintage-clad girlfriends. At weekends, they all like to go out to breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner and then to a club, so there are lots of cafés, pubs and clubs that cater to their tastes. At the moment they may outnumber the couples with large houses and children. They have taken over a lot of Dalston and Stoke Newington High Street. Every week another under-used pub gets a clean-up and a paint job and becomes a packed gastropub. The 30s tearooms are still a bit ironic - but Ladurie macaroons are plain luxury. We middle-class Upwards are ashamed of luxury so we disguise it as something else. We pretend we prefer the shabby and run-down because it’s all we can afford. And the last thing we want is for people to say “But they’re just you with more money.”

And God forbid anybody should suggest we are these young people, 30 years on.

Working-class Sharon Definitely and her partner Darren want to move to Australia where you can get your own house for far less and have lovely weather and a pool and be near a beach. They have transferable skills: Sharon works in a care home and Darren is a builder. Of course the kids will miss their friends, and they’ll miss their friends, and leaving their elderly parents will be a wrench… maybe they’ll stay put and just get a caravan somewhere.

Upwards don’t move to Australia or New Zealand despite the stunning scenery. No culture, no theatah, no decent telly, no art galleries – no Radio 4! No Archers! Except they could listen on iplayer… But basically, no People Like Us. Everyone can afford a more luxurious lifestyle in the former colonies – just like in the olden days.

When Upwards think “I deserve better than this poky flat!” they move to France.

Many more have bought lovely properties in rural France and then found themselves isolated, both physically and culturally, especially in winter when much of rural France effectively closes down. (Daily Telegraph July 2012)

It's the dream of every Samantha Upward to live in the country and support herself by writing and illustrating children's books. If Sam writes a novel, the central character will be a woman who does just this. No need to commute, or wear a repressive uniform (smart office clothes), no need to conform, no need to suppress your individuality, no need to Work For The Man… Some Upwards live their whole adult lives in London or another big city while thinking they really ought to be in the country. The empty countryside they think they want to move to is of course “tranquil” and “idyllic” and a “rural idyll”.

It's important to realise that while many people with jobs in cities feel like they absolutely must have a house with a big yard, it still is a choice. (Economist blog Nov 7 11)

More here.