Wednesday 24 December 2014

Choose Your Words Carefully 3

What a drag it is gettin' old

Hippy Sloanes used to call practically everything “draggy”.

In the 60s Upwards and Weybridges were utterly shocked by... the Beatles’ song She Loves You Yeah Yeah Yeah. We’re British! We don’t say “yeah”! After that, practically every pop song had a “yeah” in it. The middle classes survived.

And now Prince William says wahldlife and terrrists (for wildlife and terrorists). Excuse me while I have a conniption.

A woman said she was attacked for “having the wrong accent” during an anti-capitalist protest in Trafalgar Square on Wednesday. She was assaulted after wandering into the Million Mask March attended by 4,000 people. She said: “The person turned to me, saying, ‘not all of us have mummies and daddies to look after us’, then he lunged at me. I assume I was targeted because of my accent. (Times Nov 2014)

George Osborne and Tony Blair are vilified for trying to tone down their public-school accents. (And Tony Benn in his day, according to Jilly Cooper.)

Ben and David Crystal (actor/philologist) say that Received Pronunciation (talking posh) began to go out circa 2000. (But it has been vilified since the 70s, when lefty Upwards adopted a peculiar social-worker mockney accent, which has now quite disappeared. They shocked their parents and more conservative friends by calling children “kids”.)

I wish Upwards would stop saying “Can I just squeeze past?” when they mean “Excuse me”. It’s so passive-aggressive.

Teales don’t understand Upward overstatement. If Samantha Upward says of a hairspray-loving friend: “Her hair was glued into place!”, Jen will think she means it literally.

Sam wails that people say “slaw” to mean salad. (It’s Dutch for salad.)

Teales and Definitelies pronounce Deirdre (dear-dree) as Deedree. They also say “here” as “heee” rather than “hee-yah”. Stow Crats say “hare and thare”.

Teales (and northerners?) say “bip” for poop as in “poop your horn”. (Bipping or bibbing.) Is it because poop now means poo?

During apartheid, Upwards sneered at South African accents.

Posh young people used to call their parents “the parentals”, now they call them “the rents” (except that’s probably about 10 years out of date).

Weybridges pronounce Noah as “nor” and mayor as “mare”. (Upwards give them two syllables.) They also say “haff to be” and “hass to be”. Also "it has bin".

In the programme Under Offer, an estate agent from Durham says she couldn’t work in London because she’d feel uncomfortable. “I’d feel like a common, rough Northerner, because of the accent, which I don’t think I could change.” Her accent is lovely. So, still think class is a thing of the past?

More here, and links to the rest.

Monday 8 December 2014

The Best Days of Your Life

Convinced that "posh people" have perfect lives? Thinking of sending your child away from home to get the "best education money can buy"? Think again.

I burst into tears.
It was like something out of Charles Dickens. (Nicholas Parsons on arriving at prep school aged 7)

Everybody I've ever met who attended a private school has been a superlatively trained con artist/psychopath. (@sredniivashtaar)

Home schoolers and the Christian equivalent of madrassas cut off children from outside sources of information... When they grow older and leave such a sheltered environment, adjusting to the secular world can be like immigrating to a new culture. One of the biggest areas of challenge is delayed social development. (

Tom Parker-Bowles told how his mother regretted sending him away to board so young. After [his daughter]'s seventh birthday earlier this month, he said to his mother: 'You sent me away eight months after this.' He continued: 'My mother was slightly appalled, saying she'd never do it again, but it was the thing you did, you know.' (Daily Mail He sends his children to day schools.)

Parents send their children to boarding school so that they will become instant adults without having had a childhood. (AM)

At university he had to say he went to a small school near Slough so that he wouldn't be discriminated against. (via AF)

If the public schools were so good at improving their pupils, the Cabinet would be full of geniuses. It's not. (Danny Baker)

Like all dysfunctional institutions, from boarding schools to prisons, Westminster appears to have normalised codes of behaviour that elsewhere would mark their practitioners as weirdos. (Marina Hyde Guardian April 2014)

When I was nine I was sent to boarding school, which I despised. The first five years were hideous because I wanted to be at home. I guess I resented my parents a little and it put tons of distance between us. One of the things I took from boarding school is that it made me emotionally self-sufficient. We never sit down as a family and say “Are you OK?”, “By the way I love you.” No thanks. That suits me, but I can see it’s not for everybody. (Al Murray G May 2014)

Our job is not to toughen our children up to face a cruel and heartless world. Our job is to raise children who will make the world a little less cruel and heartless. (LR Knost)

Many people tell me they [visit Eton] and their prejudices are shot to pieces because they see people who are rounded and just incredibly accomplished and bright and hungry. ( millionaire and public schoolboy Brent Hoberman, The Times 22 March 2014)

Choice is considered a dirty word by many educationalists, but parents – weirdly enough – are actually quite keen to push their children into better schools. This site helps them beat the system. (The Daily Telegraph, Aug 2010)

The middle classes outsource everything – even parenting. (Caitlin Moran, paraphrase, Times June 2014)

In the late 18th century, public schoolboys stole ducks, rode home for the holidays (on the stage coach) lashing pedestrians with whips, and throwing stones to break windows. “In 1818, a wave of lawlessness and rioting spread from one public school to another…” "Gentlemanly families ceased to send their sons to public school..." (Muriel Jaeger, Before Victoria, demonstrating how corporal punishment and deprivation make children behave.)

We were surnames and numbers in a quasi-military bureaucracy and we were often made to feel as if we were infuriating hindrances to its smooth running... We were woken in darkness by the clanging of a bell. We had 20 minutes to wash and dress and be on parade on the asphalt outside for roll-call. Then, to barked orders from a duty monitor, we marched in ranks of four, military fashion and still in darkness, the quarter-mile to the dining hall for breakfast… Square-bashing before sunrise – later it would seem ludicrous, yet we also marched to lunch, to the accompaniment of the school brass band – twirling maces and oompah brass – as if every day were a passing-out parade at Sandhurst. (Nigel Richardson, Breakfast in Brighton A former child soldier in Sudan was interviewed on BBC Breakfast. He said that at 11 they were expected to be adults, they were shown horrible sights, and never got enough sleep. Which is also how you brainwash new cult members...)

"School places these days — I mean, it’s a bloody lottery, isn’t it?” That’s what well-heeled parents like to say to underline the awful powerlessness they feel, as their best efforts on behalf of their children are thwarted...  Here, “lottery” is being used metaphorically, in the sense of “not very like a lottery at all”. It means “a situation over which we can use money to exert almost complete but not, infuriatingly, absolute control”. (Sam Leith ES 2014-02-24)

“It is almost a truism that [prep schools] – and the public schools which they fed – were and are instruments of social indoctrination. Here are little microcosms of the sort of authoritarian and hierarchical society that their products were expected to go on and govern… Eton’s forms and hierarchies were easily internalised… I have a craven teacher-pleasing tendency: a deference to authority and a desire to excel within parameters established by others rather than to challenge those parameters. I am a more conventional – sometimes timid – thinker than I would like.” Old Etonian Sam Leith goes on to say that the present government seems to be a continuation of private school by other means. But, he says, the other effect of private schools is that some alumni react by becoming “anti-establishment rebels”. They are “oppressive dictatorships in miniature”, says Francis Wheen, who left voluntarily at 16. (G 2014-02-09)

You have to become autonomous much too soon. (TF)

The following quotes are from Nick Duffell's The Making of Them:

Boarding children, despite their prestigious schools, have to grow up amongst their peers and never really come home again.

It is easy to pretend that the serious bullying only went on in Tom Brown’s day; unfortunately, this is not the case. To those who maintain that the schools have changed out of all recognition in the last 20 years, I would say that possibly the worst excesses may be in the past. Some schools now have radiators and carpets.

The girl’s way is to undermine by verbal abuse and to withdraw... affection, approval... privacy, free time... The insidious thing about the treatment at girls’ schools is that it all comes over as normal and respectable.

Many of my generation will remember how difficult it was to openly want anything.

Physical size and cutting wit... could make you more popular and more safe.

Normalised parental neglect
... they must speedily reinvent themselves as self-reliant pseudo-adults.

Bullying pervades British society, especially in politics and the media, but, like boarding, we normalise it...

Boarding is worth billions and has a massive lobby.

Socially condoned abandonment. (Amazon commenter) 

I left home for school over 30 years ago and haven't had a real home since. (Amazon commenter)

More about education here.

Monday 24 November 2014

Class is Dead, Long Live Class

Have you seen her curtains?
I think she's wearing them!

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Dad was also an alderman (guessing that's what the get-up is). Profoundly petit bourgeois. (‏@oitimesthree Comment on a picture of Margaret Thatcher with her family in the 40s.)

Quite recently, a group of friends told me that “class has disappeared”. But in the week of the Rochester white van England flags Twitterstorm, Reuters calls England “class-obsessed”.
And the Office of National Statistics (ONS) has produced the “National Statistics Socio-economic Classifications (NS-SEC)... the new occupational scale to replace the Registrar General's scale”.

If you want to say that something has “disappeared”, you can always redefine it very narrowly. You can also redefine “disappeared” so that it means “a bit less common than when I was young”. OK, so class doesn’t exist any more – in the “once a villein, always a villein” sense. There is, as people like to say, more “social mobility” now. I think this translates as “equality of opportunity”. If you get an education and work hard, you can climb up the class ladder. But that assumes there is a ladder for you to climb up.

I’ve always wanted to climb down. Weybridges, Teales and Definitelies have more fun. Nobody has said it out loud – but since the war and the disappearance of servants, the middle classes have learned to live more like the working classes. And they seem quite happy. (Except that they whinge all the time – but they’ll always do that.) What does that mean? They cook and clean for themselves, they eat fast food and takeaways and ready meals, they eat cheap food that’s easy and quick to prepare (often borrowed from European peasants). They live with their children - they’re involved with their children’s lives. They don’t eat meat for breakfast, lunch and dinner. They no longer change three times a day into outfits that need hooking up at the back by a helper. In the 70s there was a fashion for living in your kitchen – time to bring it back.

I live in an area that has a reputation for being 'upper-class', but - having worked all over the country and with a wide mix of people in many different situations (from minor royalty to refuse operatives!) - I would say that the old ideas of class have more or less gone, but snobbery (and inverted snobbery) most certainly has not. I very rarely encounter anyone these days who gives a fig about what social class others come from, but that won't stop them decrying another's choice of curtains etc (or indeed partner!) as being beneath/above them etc. Personal experience does indeed confirm that the most vociferous supporters of the 'class' system are those who traditionally (like my decidedly 'middle-class', but with working-class roots, wife!) consider themselves 'working-class'. (A friend writes.)

Yes, this phenomenon has gone, it has completely disappeared, there is still this phenomenon that is very very like it, but it is something completely different.

Oh, I do see. The people who say “class doesn’t exist any more” mean that “nobody believes it’s hereditary any more – it’s all about socioeconomic groupings now”. Which it is. Which it always was. And perhaps nobody dares use class labels in public any more.

But there’s a lingering belief in some kind of hereditary principle – how could that possibly work? Unless we’re still pretending that Normans are genetically distinct from Saxons. Perhaps people fear they aren’t in the top layer (and unless you have a hereditary title you aren’t), and dread that anyone “above” them will despise them.

So perhaps when people say that the class system has disappeared, they mean they disapprove of it. Or rather, they want to be seen and heard to disapprove of it. And also, they fear that if they admit it exists, their hearers will assume that they place themselves quite high up the rankings, and look down on those “below”. Some assume that anyone who mentions class or writes about it thinks they are an aristocrat and despises everyone else as a pleb, and goes about wearing a tiara graciously waving at genuflecting serfs. (I never wear a tiara, and out of the list above, I have been to Bond Street and Jermyn Street. Anybody can. But they might move me on if I started busking.)

And if there’s no such thing as a class system any more (and how could such a thing just disappear?), why doesn’t Patsy Palmer get asked to narrate nature documentaries?

Tuesday 18 November 2014

Kitchen Suppers


Calling it a kitchen/breakfast room, because you want people to think that for proper meals you use the dining room.

An island or breakfast bar instead of a table. You can’t get your knees under an island/breakfast bar, and those bar stools are terribly uncomfortable, so all you can do is eat and run. You can’t sit down and eat, do homework, work or cook! You have to mix ingredients and roll pastry standing up. And nobody else can sit and chat to you while you peel, chop or fry. You need a couple of sofas.

But perhaps posh people are getting the message:

“At the top end of the market, it is unusual now to see a property without two kitchens,” says Lochie Rankin from luxury property search agent Lichfields. “Many expensive houses have a main kitchen and a catering kitchen used by staff, often in the basement, with huge industrial-style ovens and fridge freezers.” The upstairs family kitchen, with coffee machines and comfy sofas, will be the setting for the informal “kitchen suppers” made fashionable by Sam Cam and the Chipping Norton set... “The trend for two kitchens has been getting an awful lot bigger,” says Rupert Sweeting, head of the country house department at Knight Frank. “More kitchens have arrived partly because people just don’t want dining rooms anymore.” [And the final touch is a third, outdoor kitchen in your garden.] (, Nov 2014)

They are trying to get back the sociable cosiness of the working-class live-in kitchen. Cooking and eating round a camp fire is also bonding. OK, you can have togetherness in a dining room, but it is tainted by a history of sitting there while servants dish up food you haven’t cooked, the older generation bullies the younger, and the entire ceremony becomes about “proper table manners” rather than food, conversation or enjoyment.

“People want larders. The possession of a larder signifies to many people that they have arrived. Most people come from homes that did not have anything like a country house larder.” (Lucy Alexander Times Nov 5 10) Modern kitchen designers, she says, are still hooked on the sleek, modernistic, science lab look for kitchens and don’t really know where to put a larder. She blames Downton. But you couldn’t stir a Christmas pudding for 20 people in a giant china bowl on a worktop. You need a table. (It wouldn’t be easy to butcher a turtle, skin a rabbit or clean a pig’s head, either. No room – and you'd hit your head on the cupboards.)

Nobody has pictures in their kitchen any more – or even decorative wall plaques or hanging plates.

“Cabinets date terribly quickly, so you change the handles or the doors.” (Antiques Road Show)

For people who wear Boden, a company called Plain English Kitchens has been around since the early 90s. They have their own Farrow and Ball style colour range (airforce blue, rust red and shades of camouflage). But basically they are fitted kitchens in “natural” materials, with an industrial chic look. The units probably have recessed brass handles. (Guardian, Feb 2014) “Country” kitchens have the same old “science lab” layouts with more folksy units.

Samantha Upward buys a dresser and a table and a Belfast sink (ripping out old 70s units), and hangs pans from hooks on the walls. She either strips the dresser or paints it white. She complains that people never cook in their “state-of-the-art” kitchens (and besides they cost £10,000). All her equipment is either bought in France (made of enamel to a design nobody’s changed for 50 years because there’s no need to) or in antique shops (also enamel, but cream/green rather than blue/red). She likes blue and white striped Cornish ware, or green Denby ware. Upwards have always loved hardware shops, maybe because the products are generic and never change. And because they love working class paraphernalia - but only when it’s 50 years out of date.

Ultra-Bohemian Rowena Upward buys benches and sinks from a real science lab and installs the lot in her kitchen. She grows herbs in the fume cupboard.

Where have all the kitchen tables gone? They are standard furnishings in hipster cafés. Ask your local café if they can spare one.

Sunday 19 October 2014

World of Interiors 4

Why is it the super rich never seem to have any taste in curtains? (Feargus O'Sullivan)

Syrie Maugham started the trend of stripping and repainting French provincial antiques. (Wikipedia)

Poverty has its whims and shows of taste, as wealth has. Some of these cabins were turreted, some had false windows painted on their rotten walls; one had a mimic clock, upon a crazy tower of four feet high, which screened the chimney; each in its little patch of ground had a rude seat or arbour. (Barnaby Rudge, Charles Dickens)

Today your bedroom is the backstage area where you prepare for your performance in the theatre of the world... The living room... a sort of stage-set where homeowners acted out an idealised version of their lives for the benefit of guests... The inexpensive and slightly lowbrow connotations of gas meant that it was still shunned by the upper classes: they stayed loyal to candles. Lucy Orrinsmith, author of The Drawing Room, Its Decoration and Furniture (1878), suggested that one’s ambition ought to extend beyond a coal scuttle decorated with a picture of Warwick Castle and a screen showing ‘Melrose Abbey by Moonlight’. Instead, homeowners should look out for quirky, exotic flourishes for their best room: ‘a Persian tile, an Algerian flower-pot, an old Flemish cup, a piece of Nankin blue, an Icelandic spoon, a Japanese cabinet, a Chinese fan … each in its own way beautiful and interesting’. (If Walls Could Talk: An Intimate History of the Home, Lucy Worsley)

Middle-class Upwards are still following Orrinsmith's instructions almost to the letter. But Rowena Upward, the ultra-Bohemian, is collecting Jacobethan furniture, little brass animals – and anything decorated with Warwick Castle or Melrose Abbey. She has an eye on a bamboo Edwardian overmantel which she plans to fill with knicknacks. She even intends to crochet frills for all its brackets. It won’t quite go with the Jacobethan – but perhaps she’ll go all-out for 1880, with potted palms on stands and round tables with velvet covers to the ground.


Sofas from the 1950s often had plastic trays clipped onto their arms to hold food or drinks. (If Walls Could Talk: An Intimate History of the Home, Lucy Worsley)

The “random cladding” movement in architecture. (Adam Furman)

In a poncey club sitting on a sofa made from a slab of pumice with no back to it. They know how to make you feel welcome. (Mark Gatiss)

Bow windows with bottle-bottom glass, plus Georgian fanlights, on a 60s council house.

Hotel room en suite bathrooms with glass walls so you can watch TV in the bath. (What if you’re sharing the room???) And many hotel rooms have TVs in the bathroom, some disguised as mirrors or pictures.

“Classic” French provincial bathroom cabinets (including a basin on cabriole legs with faux drawers).

Buying a Georgian house and removing all the fireplaces so that there’s no obvious place to put the furniture and it stands around looking awkward.

Dummy chimneys on new houses.

Bars in Dalston with the “poverty look” - distressed wood and reused school chairs - which are too expensive for local people.

Crazy paving – on the wall.


The Pig Hotel “all shabby-chic Georgian splendour, roll-top baths with views over parkland...” (Times magazine 2014-08-16) Nothing can be both shabby AND splendid. Unless you specifically mean “shabby splendour”. And if the Georgians had had roll-top baths they would not have sat in one looking out over parkland. Oscar Wilde used to say that a gentleman never stood at a window – or was it Lord Chesterfield?

Using a rumpled but neat look. (

“Shaker style” now just means “wooden kitchen units”.

Rustic” is now a catch-all term that has drifted a long way from its roots in clothes and furniture actually made by genuine rustics (You can have a rustic or “woodsy” wedding, according to Etsy.)

The Museum Selection catalogue name-drops frantically in an attempt to convince us that its style-free products are sprinkled with the fairy dust of famous writers and artists.

“Rackham Plaque, redolent of the dream-like paintings by Arthur Rackham” – but not based on any particular work.

“Petal Fairy Statue, recalling those depicted in tales by Andrew Lang...” It looks like a rip-off of the Flower Fairies series by Cicely Mary Barker, and looks utterly UN-like the illustrations to Lang by HJ Ford.

“English Tweed jacket, Beautiful wool tweed jacket evoking the silhouettes of 1940s originals” – but not modelled on them.

“Art Deco Mugs, inspired by the vibrant Art Deco ceramic designs of Clarice Cliff...” They’re a poor imitation. None of the “Art Deco” products look remotely Art Deco.

It continues through the ages, “echoing”, “capturing”, “evoking” – but never reproducing.

Housing crisis.

More here, and links to the rest.

Monday 13 October 2014

Classy Careers (and Money)

The wicker workshop was a great success
“I’ve made an almost vulgar amount of money.” James Braxton, Antiques Road Trip

The Antiques Roadshow “clumsily punctuates [the personal and historical] narrative with a judgment of exchange value”. ( archaeology blog)

Hire-purchase rules were relaxed after the war – middle-class Upwards were furious. Here were common people getting what they wanted now (probably over-shiny furniture), instead of employing “deferred gratification” – something they are still very fond of. Access ("Takes the waiting out of wanting!") was one of the first widely available credit cards in the early 70s. The middle classes had another hissy fit. American Express, Diners Club and Barclaycard were different because they were exclusive.

Upwards and Weybridges used to be very shocked if you bought anything in a corner shop: “It’s so much more expensive than the supermarket!” And of course you can only buy chav food like Heinz salad cream and tinned steamed pudding. But it’s in walking distance, and I haven’t got a car, in fact I can’t drive, and I don’t need to do a huge weekly shop because I don’t have a husband and family... (“You haven’t got a car!!!” I think they stop talking to me at this point. Happy thought: filch a lot of Waitrose bags to carry the corner shop food. Or invite them to dinner and serve up spam fritters and spaghetti hoops.)

Is “artisanal” the new exclusive?

Latest middle-class careers: hand-make bespoke ordinary things like leather satchels, bicycles or fountain pens. I’m not sure how you’ll get organic materials into a bicycle – wooden pedals? Wicker basket? Hessian panniers? Is there a basket shop in East London called “The Wicker Man” yet?

Why don’t middle-class people open internet cafes? For the same reason that they can’t learn to tap dance, act in musicals, or become estate agents.

Is the educational end-game that all children should aspire to pass exams, go to uni and get a white-collar job? Who’s going to do the blue-collar jobs? We need bus drivers, firemen, shop staff...

An Upward wrote in to the Guardian complaining that if schoolkids don’t learn French they’ll “have no knowledge of other cultures”. Reminds me of getting an Arts Council grant: with breathtaking culturecentrism, the form required us to promise we would “contact other cultures”. But Upwards can always send their children to an inner-city primary school - they'll contact many other cultures. Some of the pupils may even be French.

More careers here.
More money here.

Wednesday 8 October 2014

Class and Barbara Pym III

Look out for the peonies on the altar...

Class, Religion and Decor in Barbara Pym's Jane and Prudence

Jane is a fortyish vicar’s wife who has just moved to a country parish. Her friend Prudence is 29, and works in some unspecified publishing job. She shares an office with two female colleagues who are always discussing when the typists are going to bring their tea. (Because they couldn’t possibly make it themselves.) The hours of work were officially ten till six, but Prudence considered herself too highly educated to be bound by them.

Jane, the central character, treats her husband’s parish like a big joke, and tries to find suitable men for Prudence to marry. Prudence is an attractive girl who has had strings of admirers since Oxford – but shouldn’t she have chosen one of them by now?

As the story progresses, Jane becomes more and more irritating. She loved Oxford (where she taught Prudence), but she has never quite got over it. Her memories of “riotous fun” involve gathering autumn leaves and going to evensong. Her “bright” conversation annoys people. Her subject was obscure 17th century poets, and she once wrote a book of essays. But since she got married, she hasn’t cared enough to become good at anything. And: There came a day when one didn’t quote poetry to one’s husband any more.

When she sees someone she knows: She wanted to rush in to him, to greet him with some exaggerated mocking gesture, ‘Buon giorno, Rigoletto,’ posturing and bowing low. Did people ever behave like this? Thank goodness she resists the impulse.

Soon after the move, Prudence asks her: ‘Have you met any interesting people – people of one’s own type, I mean?’

Jane has met Fabian Driver, a local widower, and she tries, rather inefficiently, to bring the two of them together. Prudence could give cultured little dinner parties with candles on the table and the right wines and food... Prue could have this kind of life if she wanted it; one couldn’t go on having romantic love affairs indefinitely.

As usual, Pym’s characters discuss class through other subjects, such as soft furnishings:

‘Oh, but it looks “lived in”,’ said Jane [of her vicarage living-room], ‘which is supposed to be a good thing. I thought Mrs Pritchard’s a little too well-furnished – those excessively rich velvet curtains and all that Crown Derby [china] in the corner cupboard, it was a little overwhelming.’

Jane’s curtains, brought from a previous house, are too short and narrow to keep out the draughts that pervade Victorian vicarages, and she can’t be bothered to replace them, so her predecessor’s were “excessively rich”.

A visitor notices: ...the fireplace, whose emptiness was not even decently filled in with a screen or vase of leaves or dried grasses.

When Jane meets the Pritchards, she is amazed to find that they travel in a “motor” and have “luncheon” with the Bishop. But well-bred people talked like this even today, Jane believed.

Jane muses on living arrangements for the young: ‘I always feel so sorry for young men living in lodgings, especially on a Sunday afternoon. I wonder if he has a sitting-room with an aspidistra on a bamboo table in the window and a plush table-cloth with bobbles on it, and some rather dreadful pictures, perhaps, even photographs of deceased relatives on the wall.’

Prudence’s smart flat has a “general effect of Regency”, and pale green bed linen. Prudence drinks expensive Lapsang Souchong tea “out of a fragile white-and-gold cup”. But Jane ponders: Those light striped satin covers would ‘show the dirt’ – the pretty Regency couch was really rather uncomfortable and the whole place was so tidy...

Miss Doggett snoops around her companion’s bedroom: One would have imagined that a gentlewoman would have her ‘things’, those objects – photographs, books, souvenirs collected on holiday – which can make a room furnished with other people’s furniture into a kind of home.

Jane’s husband, Nicholas, is glad to be working in a genuinely old church: He would no longer have to say to visitors in his gentle, apologetic tones, almost as if it were his own fault, ‘I’m afraid our church was built in 1883,’ as in the suburban parish they had just left.

As usual in Pym novels, there is much discussion of shades of meaning in the Church of England – is the local church “high” or “low” enough? And where you worship depends on your social class: Here Fabian came to the large Methodist Chapel, but of course one couldn’t go there; none of the people one knew went to chapel, unless out of a kind of amused curiosity.

Prue ponders going over to Rome, but can’t face: ... listening to a lecture by a raw Irish peasant that was phrased for people less intelligent than herself... Of course... one just couldn’t go to Chapel; one just didn’t. Nor even to those exotic religious meetings advertised on the back of the New Statesman, which always seemed to take place in Bayswater.

Jane explains the difference between low and high: Evensong in a damp country church with pews, and dusty red hassocks. No light oak chairs, incense or neat leather kneelers.

The ladies of the parish decorate the church every week. One of them describes a wonderful arrangement she’s seen: She’d put red and pink flowers on the pulpit, rhododendrons and peonies with some syringa and greenery. Red and pink together is a middle-class taboo, and rhododendrons and peonies are far too colourful and showy.

Prudence enjoys novels that are: ...well written and tortuous, with a good dash of culture and the inevitable unhappy or indefinite ending, which was so like life.

The end of the novel is indefinite rather than unhappy. The story contains many tips on how to land a husband, but marriage may involve "struggling with the washing up for six", curbing your husband's penchant for little sentimental affairs, or not realising that his affectionate tolerance for you may be wearing thin. (We also discover that two characters from a previous novel, who had crushes on the two halves of a married couple, have married each other.)

More Pym here.

Monday 29 September 2014

Classy Quotes 18

Are you one of those weathergirls?

My daughter sounds uneducated because she says ‘like’ so much. (writer-in to Mariella Frostrup in the Obs, Sept 14. The girl is living abroad at the moment, but the writer wonders what will happen to her when she returns to the "real world".)

She had decided tastes and a long list of hates. These included: the sort of woman who wants to join a gentlemen’s club; the bits of paper that fall out of magazines; female weather forecasters; visitors to Chatsworth who complained that the countryside was ‘dirty’; the words ‘environment’, ‘conservation’ and ‘leisure’; supercilious assistants at make-up counters; dietary fads; skimmed milk; girls with slouching shoulders and Tony Blair. (Daily Mail obit of the Duchess of Devonshire)

I received little praise if things went well. I remember once saying this to her ladyship. ‘What do you expect me to do, Lee, keep patting you on the back?’ Given an answer like that I never laid myself open again. (If Walls Could Talk: An Intimate History of the Home by Lucy Worsley, quoting from a butler’s memoirs)

A character in Dickens’ Barnaby Rudge says he has “risen from nothing” – he means his father was a butcher.

We were professional people; the other people who lived in our street were not and they were not asked to the party. Most of them were better off than we were but I was the only man who owned a dinner-jacket. Nora would have been shocked if I had suggested that she was a snob. She explained her attitude carefully. “It isn’t a matter of social standing, Tom. I haven’t anything in common with them.” (Change Here For Babylon, Nina Bawden)

She liked listening to the light programme and reading the popular women’s magazines – I would find them carefully hidden under the sofa cushions—and she was ashamed of these things. (Change Here For Babylon, Nina Bawden)

They were tremendous houses in Adelaide Crescent; they started off with a basement and went right up to an attic, there were 132 stairs in all, and the basements were dark and like dungeons. The front of the basement, with iron bars all down the bay windows, was the servants’ hall... We were ushered into a hall that I thought was the last word in opulence. There was a lovely carpet on the floor, and tremendously wide stairs carpeted right across, not like the tiny little bit of lino in the middle we had on our stairs. There was a great mahogany table in the hall and a mahogany hallstand, and huge mirrors with gilt frames. The whole thing breathed an aura of wealth to me. I thought they must be millionaires. (Below Stairs, Margaret Powell)

There are some very regrettable people come settling round here lately—people one can't dream of knowing. It's a great pity. (Non-combatants and Others, Rose Macaulay)

Clare Balding has written several books about her upper-crust, horsey family. The Times interviewed her. Hers is the traditional dysfunctional English family – where stinginess is championed and scorn a form of tenderness. Her father is “pouring sherry into his Cup a Soup while muttering disparagingly about people who drink at lunchtime”. Her brother Andrew is cast as the family idiot and gently bullied throughout.

When Balding introduces a new pet to her mother:
“A white dog? Good Lord, how London can you get?"

My mother is a firm believer in: “There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing,” Balding tells me. "She’s very 'stuff and nonsense. Crack on. Are you bleeding? No. Go on with you then. Are you concussed? No, you’re still talking. Crack on.'

Her mother agreed to join her on a radio ramble. Balding was thrilled, but didn’t let on:
That would be too close to being emotional or even “soppy”. And she might think I am going to give her a hug or something awful.

(Times September 2014-09-06)

Oh it is hard you will agree
To know your place in Britain's meritocracy
It's most important you should know
The people who're above you and the ones below

If Parliament's where you would be
Be sure you come from Oxford with a good degree
For then you may in your accent smooth
Persuade the shiftless workers to the polling booth

A redbrick university
Puts you on the lower branches of the tree
And even there you'll have a ball
Scorning those who never reach the tree at all

Lawyers, doctors, dentists pass
Their examination to the middle class

Especially if they just scraped through
I'll give you ten to one that they'll look down on you

If proper status you would win
Be sure to hang your curtains with the right side in
No one's below you, fancy that
Then your only consolation is to kick the cat

(Kick The Cat, by The Spinners)

When a middle-class man moved to Bruton in the West Country: "I was slightly traumatised. You couldn't get a decent coffee, a Bloody Mary or decent bread." (Times 2014-08-04)

Like many cities at that time, it was rigidly class-structured, with each class having its own way of life, diet and types of eating-house. (Amazon review of The Victorian City. Is it different now?)

The film is redolent of the class-consciousness characteristic of that period – there is little no possibility of anyone wanting to improve themselves. (Amazon reviewer of In Which We Serve uses “class-consciousness” to mean “once a villein, always a villein”, hinting that now we are modern and enlightened, we expect people to try and move up the class ladder. Who is happier, though? The working classes cosy in their tiny terrace house, the lower middles bickering in the parlour, or the toffs hiding their feelings over the tea table? They have more space, but it seems to have pushed them further apart emotionally.)

With funds channelled into private schooling and little to spare, we hovered between austerity and middle-class privilege. (Emma J Page, Times 2014-08-02 Oh, we did!)

More here, and links to the rest.

And more here.

Saturday 27 September 2014

Class and Noel Streatfeild

Hello, boys!

Noel Streatfeild, the children's novelist, came from a middle-class background, but worked as an actress for 10 years before starting to write. Ballet Shoes, her first children’s book, was published in 1936. She recalled, "The story poured off my pen, more or less telling itself ... I distrusted what came easily and so despised the book." But according to writer and playwright Samantha Ellis (and internal evidence), Ballet Shoes was a retread of an adult novel, The Whicharts. So much for the story “telling itself”.

To create the children’s book, she removed snobbery, cruelty, anti-Semitism – and sex – from the backstage story. The Whichart girls are three half-sisters, bastard children of a Brigadier, brought up by his devoted, discarded and childless mistress, Rose Howard. Though he leaves them some money and a house, they struggle financially until someone suggests to Rose that she send the children to stage school to learn to dance, and let out rooms to lodgers. (But they hang on to a nanny and a cook.)

From a young age, the three girls work in panto, and then the chorus of musical comedy – just as in Ballet Shoes. But they are not cute, innocent and whimsical – they are pettish, spiteful and amoral. Maimie, the eldest, quickly becomes the mistress of a theatrical impresario. When he drops her, she moves on to Herbert, who has made money in the garment trade. In the Ballet Shoes version, the girls live in a strange world in which they work, but don’t have boyfriends.

The Whicharts describes a world that has disappeared, in which children can work in the theatre from a very young age (eight?). After the war, rules became stricter, and dance academies trained children for a life that no longer existed.

Streatfeild stresses that the eldest two children’s mothers come from “nice” backgrounds, as does Rose. The youngest child’s mother was a dancer from Balham, and this fact is quite frequently cast in her teeth. Daisy is the most talented of the three, but ends up moving in with her real grandparents who have risen in the world and landed in Surbiton.

Through her characters, Streatfeild expresses her contempt of shabby theatrical lodgings and the people who stay in them. She has the prejudices of her era and class – despising “slop” (sentimentality) and “showing off”. The story is not aspirational, like Ballet Shoes – she does her best to make the life of the theatre sound unpleasant.

The eldest girl, Maimie, is pretty and a “show-off”, but not an inspired dancer. The middle child, Tania, is hard-working and competent, but would rather be a mechanic. Only the youngest, Daisy, is a natural dancer (those Balham genes). The other two sneer when she is marketed as a “child wonder”.

As the story becomes more about Tania, the "plain" one, it becomes a better read, especially when she falls in with some genial but incompetent Shakespeareans who are doomed forever to tour the provinces.

Streatfeild refutes some well-known platitudes. Tania ponders: “All that bunk people talked. ‘Life is what you make of it.’ All that muck!... Daisy would probably make money because she really could dance.”

As for Maimie, she becomes a chorus-girl and “This changed her.” (So much for “Change comes from within”.) She wishes she had more money. “Money can’t buy happiness, you know,” says Rose. “Oh, my God! Fancy handing that slop out to me... Look at us! Taking in boarders. Too few servants. Too few clothes. Us children dancing to help things out.” Brought up by the ladylike Rose, the children think of themselves as middle-class, like the other girls at their school.

When Maimie gets her hands on some money of her own, she buys “rubbishy, showy clothes”. But she wants a good time, and “a good time was going out with boys... in her new clothes she was a great success”. (So much for “inner beauty”.)

Tania “detests” going on tour. She “loathes” her lodgings. “...the woolly mats, the aspidistras, the enlargements of the landladies’ family, the curious smell of old food and dirty carpets, the shiny horsehair sofa with the stuffing coming out and all the springs broken... the bedrooms with the wallpaper hanging in shreds... the dreary row of equally awful little houses, the dirty paper blowing up the gutter...”

An aitch-dropping dresser (whose “humorous” speeches I skipped) notices that the sisters are "so obviously a cut above the other children.” Rose suggests some other careers to Tania: “Very nice people work in shops nowadays.” After Rose dies, Tania suggests pawning her jewellery to buy Daisy some audition clothes. “Nanny was really shocked. Pawn! Ladies and gentlemen didn’t pawn.” But she does.

Nanny’s name is Mrs Riggs, Daisy’s real family are Mr and Mrs Higgs – standard “working-class” names. Daisy describes the Higgs’ home: “Imagine! They’ve got the loveliest house with the neatest garden. All the flowers in rows – a different colour in each row – and such a pretty drawing-room – everything pink – and heaps of pink bows... And there were heaps of pictures all in bright gold frames... and lots of ferns – with green bows on them to match the carpet.”

Having discovered their granddaughter, the Higgs would “like to do well by her. Like her to have a chance of meeting really nice people. There were lots of nice boys growing up in the neighbourhood. Nice for Daisy to have a chance to meet nice boys...” Which is kind of them. We hope she meets and marries a nice boy. It’s suggested that Maimie turns down Herbert and breaks her heart over a married man. As for Tania... well, read it for yourself.

I would love to read Away from the Vicarage, the second volume of Streatfeild’s (fictional) autobiography, in which she becomes an actress in the 20s.

More literary snobbery here.

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Class and Joanna Cannan II

Joanna Cannan: All Is Discovered

There is not a single likeable person in this book, apart perhaps for the murdered woman, a "peasant type" who only ever wanted to work on a farm. It is all about class. Joanna Cannan uses her story to pour scorn on council house dwellers and farmers’ wives who want to climb up the social scale thanks to cheap wallpaper, manmade fibres, fridges and convenience foods. It is the early 60s.

The only halfway attractive character is Arthur, an elderly man who lives in a "cream and green" council house and grows his own vegetables. But even he has every dropped H notated.

His wife Edie has aspirations and a seersucker tablecloth. There are “sandwiches to cut and fill with a new recipe from Women’s Weekly Outlook – pineapple with a dab of mayonnaise – and then she must comb out her hair, at present set in curlers under a headscarf, and change into her Terylene skirt and Acrilan twin set.” The couple have just dined on “baked beans, tinned luncheon meat and processed cheese”.

Even worse is Sylvia Lumley, wife of a farmer. She “teeters” across the farmyard in stiletto heels. She owns a miniature poodle and a “baby” car, and wears a mohair stole, a black lacy nightdress and an apple-green corduroy housecoat. Not all at once.

She is not unfaithful, but likes to go on dates with men – usually her cousin Eddy – who take her out to dinner in a nearby town in posh restaurants like Antonio’s. She waits for her date sitting on the edge of a “couch” in a “niche”. The date is a frost – she is too “ingratiating and unsophisticated”. She chooses scampi followed by pressed duck, though “she would much have preferred vol-au-vent and chocolate mousse, and all the time she talked brightly, trying hard to please. She was unsuccessful and knew it.” She “had looked forward to a harvest of expensive entertainments in Sandbourne’s hotels, concert halls and theatre.”

When we see inside her house, we find that “the ‘lounge’ had recently been redecorated in one of Sylvia’s foolish attempts to follow a fleeting fashion with two wallpapers of cheap quality and unrelated design; roses rioted over the three-piece suite; the eye was further confused by patterned curtains, a patterned carpet, a rash of small brass objects...”

Cannan’s series tec is Detective-Superintendent Price – she loathes him. He wears “Strydeout” shoes that fall to bits in the rain. He has twin boys called Howard and Norman, and is married to Valerie, who has a “rat-like” face and is not interested in becoming more middle class. They holiday at Seaview, Ryde or the Pines Hotel, Budleigh Salterton. He uses words like “desirable”, refers to people as “that worthy”, and brags that he doesn’t read novels but “biography, travel, history and current affairs”. When he wants to let his hair down he takes off his tie, undoes the top button of his white shirt and spreads “its collar over that of his navy blue blazer”.

He has opinions like these: “I haven’t much sympathy with loneliness. I believe that it is almost invariably self-inflicted. Any man or woman of goodwill can find a niche in the community – only freaks and those who wilfully refuse to conform remain outside the human family.” And “This insidious ‘couldn’t care less’ attitude is spreading.”

The farmer’s daughters are “plain”, and behave like a parody of Cannan’s usual horsey girl heroines. They talk too much about their pets’ ailments, and rabbits with myxomatosis, and call things they approve of “jolly dee” (jolly decent).

About two-thirds through the book, Price drops out and we leave these scenes of provincial squalor. The murders are not local after all, but connected to rackets based in Soho – prostitution and what we’d now call people-trafficking. We meet a whole new set of characters who are repulsive but unreal. The case is taken over by one Frobisher, who seeks out a felon called Delano in a peeling Georgian boarding house. “He was in a passage carpeted with worn linoleum, smelling of gas, cabbage and old sins.” (They usually smelled of paraffin, incense and Alsatians, as well.)

Suddenly we’re in the world of 50s film noir as the story gallops to an end. Where is the witty and warm writer of A Pony for Jean?

Liz Jones met her daughters, the Pullein-Thompsons, who wrote many pony books between them: "The family never had any money; their parents believed that to worry about it was beneath them... ‘They had ideas above their station,’ says Josephine."

More here.

Tuesday 12 August 2014

World of Interiors 3


Why is it every so-called luxury development in the UK a mix of velvet, dodgy chandeliers, dark wood, silk or sateen cushions, beige... Brown stippled walls, ugly accessorizing, ugly vases, beige marble bathrooms? (Christian Harrup)

Nice kitchen, but the monkey statue is a distraction. (

Furniture from an all-over scheme is transported into an environment with a completely different style where it has no practical use, is too big or is the wrong colour. A jardiniere stand from a late Edwardian drawing room is surrounded by generic modern oak furniture, children’s toys and shabby sofas. Sometimes pieces of furniture look as if they were missing their friends. Interior decorators always try to persuade us that an eclectic mix will look marvellous, but this isn’t what they meant. The upmarket version is an arty interior with lime-washed carved oak, black distempered walls, stag’s heads, classical sculpture and that perfect chaise longue/Italian cassone/George III commode.

Half-baked makeover: you repaint the walls and replace the chairs but can’t change the banquettes. Or you add peach curtains and cushions but they clash with everything else.

One-bed flats, studios and bedsits with family-sized kitchens. And why waste space on halls and corridors?

Tudor panelling – in your bathroom. “It was all done by the present owner. He wanted it to be in keeping with the rest of the property.” Escape to the Country

Elaborate pelmets: so 80s – and they belonged in a stately home, not a bungalow.

Black tiles and black granite work top in a tiny kitchen: makes it look like a prison cell.

Volume builders copying a copy of a copy of a copy of “vernacular architecture”. Details are simplified, shrunk, dumbed down, slapped on without any knowledge of their original function. Particularly miniature oriel windows.

Corrugated plastic roof on your lean-to “conservatory”, especially when covered with the dirt of years.

A few very small pictures.


“We’ve got a large baronial lounge.” (Delboys and Dealers)

"Diana Dors had a sumptuous lifestyle. Home was Orchard Manor, a mock-Tudor mansion in Sunningdale, Berkshire. It had a mirrored indoor swimming pool, leopardskin sofas, a Rolls for the school run..." Daily Mail (She slept under a mink bedspread.)

“It’s kind of shabby chic cum glamping,” says the owner of house she can’t sell on Under Offer. Her home sports black baroque mirror surrounds, lots of gilding, and a zebra-striped cocktail bar. More hair salon chic than shabby chic. “Everything is top spec. The banisters are Brazilian mahogany.”

Rachel and Justin build a house in Alderley Edge (known for blingtastic footballers’ homes):

“There are lots of houses going up that are glitzy and footballer-style,” says Rachel, “but we’re in a village and we wanted it to be in keeping – we wanted a Georgian box. People have this awful impression of Alderley, but it’s not what they think. There is a lot of bling, but not everyone is like that. People stereotype Cheshire but, actually, the people who’ve lived here for years aren’t like that at all.” Their house has 4 storeys, 5 beds, 4 baths, recep, dining room, huge living area and “a ballroom sized basement themed around country sports (an expensive add-on to the plans after Justin saw something similar in Country Life.) “Although she had no training as an interior designer, Rachel felt she had a natural flair... “Although our style’s quite traditional, I’ve tried to put a fresher, modern twist on it. I wanted the rooms to be very colourful, to be smart but cosy.” [She teams chocolate, lime and violet.] Taupe is fashionable, and I can do it for clients, but it’s not me... I wanted a simple, hand-painted kitchen, in Farrow & Ball’s Bone, with Mouse’s Back walls... We haven’t done the dining room yet, but I’m tempted to use De Gournay emerald silk, with handpainted chinoiserie. Don’t tell Justin.” [The dining room has a fake vaulted ceiling “which they limestoned to look like an authentic wine cellar in Bordeaux”]. “Much of the furniture came from antique shops over the border in Staffordshire or Derbyshere ‘because there’s nothing really left in Cheshire’, and every room is lit by antique chandeliers.” (Times June 2014-06-22)

More here, and links to the rest.

Sunday 10 August 2014

Get the Look 2

The 60s were all about colour
Yes, I’m addicted to property and makeover programmes. You don’t need to know any design history, just throw around words like cottage, rustic, country, original, shabby, Victorian, French farmhouse. As somebody said, the French wouldn’t recognise it. And it all seems to mean “paint everything grey”.

If you want to “preserve the character” of your older home, strip back the fireplace to a hole in the wall (and call it an inglenook), and install a woodburning stove. Remove ALL other original features. “Preserve the Victorian character” seems to mean “remove all Victorian characteristics”. (And “Victorian” seems to mean “olde worlde and rustic”.)

The 17th century Shakers wouldn’t recognise a “Shaker kitchen”, either, and nor would the 70s designers who revived the look.

“30s-style, inspired by..., reflects the...”
“It’s shabby chateau!
French farmhouse, rustic probably” (some carved wood).
“Love the kitchen, it’s got the country modern feel.”

“They’ve reclaimed these floorboards from a Victorian church.”
“Right – quite rustic!”

“It’s got a cottage feel to it.” (Escape to the Country)
“The 60s were all about colour!” (Great Interior Design Challenge has never heard of Op Art.)
“It’s glamorous, opulent, classic, shabby chic, French rustic.” (Great Interior Design Challenge)

“The new bathroom is elegant and captures a period feel.” (Homes under the Hammer)
It’s kind of vintage but modern and relevant.” (Homes under the Hammer)
“It’s not cottagey, but it’s got that old-fashioned look to it.” (Homes under the Hammer)

“The kitchen is sympathetic to the style of the property.” (Escape to the Country But it’s not IN the style of the property.)

“But don’t get carried away too much, or you’ll end up living in a museum, and you don’t want that.” (Nick Knowles’ Original Features)
“I want to be faithful to the period (1900), but not so it’s like a museum, maybe a modern twist on the 1920s.” (Homes under the Hammer So that’s “completely unfaithful to the period”, then.)

A B&B in Bath has a “subdued, minimalist style”, with whitewashed walls, sisal carpets, oriental vases and crystal chandeliers (and you can get a "standard king-sized" room). (The Times Feb 2014 Yes, it’s a chandelier, but it’s a subdued chandelier.)

“The council is poised to knock down 16 houses in Dalston Lane thought to date from 1807 and replace them with new buildings in ‘heritage likeness’.” (Hackney Gazette, January 2014 The terrace was reprieved, and an organisation has offered to do the renovation. Hackney Council has turned down the offer. Aug 2014)

“Design is cyclical. Look how retro design is back in vogue. What we have done is take designs that have served us well over the years and remodelled them and they look very current now.  Nothing came close to the popularity of the daisy-chain patterned fabric designed by Pat Albeck, which arrived in 1964… her daughter-in-law has reworked the design for a teapot.” (John Lewis spokesman, Times, April 2014. They couldn’t quiiiiiite bring themselves to revive the original. The “reworked” design on the teapot looks nothing like the original Daisychain.) More here, and links to more about decor.
Pat Albeck's Daisychain fabric

Saturday 9 August 2014

Class and Decor in Love, Nina

"The kitchen has a massive dresser… all covered in trinkets and pretend fruit, little animals and people and little cups and in each little cup a little thing… The knives and forks are giant…. The floor is planks of wood with gaps… I have a giant mirror, like out of a posh pub. The surround is ornate and painted bright orangey red. … Some people have water filter jug things but they’re a bit of a faff, to be honest… If everything else in your house is all charming and junky, why would you want an ugly plastic jug?"

From Love, Nina by Nina Stibbe, a book of letters written while the author was working as a nanny for a writer in Gloucester Crescent, London - in the early 80s or thereabouts. She's describing a high Bohemian interior in Gloucester Crescent, London in the early 80s. Rich Bohemians bought Victorian cutlery, which was big and heavy. They exposed floorboards, but were too impractical to realise that you needed to fill the cracks. Dressers (Victorian, stripped) were a good idea, but they cluttered them with twee nicknacks.

"Some new people have moved into the crescent and put lace curtains up at the windows (where there used to be Venetian blinds). A kind of half-curtain. They’re the talk of the Crescent. Everyone keeps saying, 'What about those curtains!'" (Nobody has lace curtains in NW3 – they're so suburban.)

"Mary is getting her house done bit by bit. She’s had a dark brown shag-pile carpet in her bedroom… And the walls are dark brown too. It’s all very brown."
(This sounds more 70s.) 

"MK is an art lover and has a wide variety of pictures…  She’s got a picture of an emu just standing there (side view) and one of a big vase of daisies (unrealistic yellow) on a green background, also a cricket match on a green background. In fact, quite a few of her art things have a green background. Not bluey-green, but bright plasticky green."

More here.

Saturday 2 August 2014

What to Wear, Part 4

Working class young people will always create an over-the-top fashion, or version of the current fashion, and often look fabulous. (Which is why “advice to young people” always tells you to “avoid extremes”.)

Danielle Sheridan in the Times, 2 August, writes about tattoos almost entirely in terms of class:
"Tattoos were once the preserve of sailors, prostitutes and criminals: a warning as much as a decoration. Now they are most likely to be found daubed on to the skin of Britain’s middle class.
Over a quarter of the section of society once known for its love of pampas grass and teasmaids now sports some ink..." Tattoo parlours are now "stylish" rather than "dark and scary". Tattooist Mr Coppoletta says: "Coming through the door now is mainly professionals, aged between late 20s and 40s. They have careers."

Women’s magazines used to warn against baggy, grey, torn underwear. Were Upwards so poor that they couldn't afford new pants – or too miserly? Trouble was, sexy underwear in the 50s and early 60s was all made out of nylon (in red, trimmed with black lace), which the middle classes couldn't wear. And then Janet Reger happened (silk French knickers), and manmade fibres became more like silk. But in the 80s Upward women agonised over looking sexy – surely it was common?

Stow Crats say: "No rings during the day apart from wedding and engagement rings that you never take off." Presumably you can wear a “cocktail” ring at the cocktail hour – a large stone that can be either genuine and priceless or outrageously faux. In the 50s and 60s huge arty pottery rings were acceptable. (Presumably the women who wear all their valuable rings – engagement rings and eternity rings from several marriages – have nowhere safe to keep them.)

Hippies wore bells round their neck in 1967, sometimes attached to a string of beads. Indian traders immediately bought up all the budgie bells they could find (or are they temple bells?), attached them to beads, shipped them West and sold them to young people at a huge markup. They had been a spiritual aid. They became instant fashion and were sold off stalls in Oxford Street. They were bought by Teales in Pinner who wore them at a festival one weekend and then threw them away. They saturated the straight world almost immediately. And then you couldn’t giv’em awye.

From clogs to clogs... Shops like Fat Face take an ordinary jacket shape but make it in loose woven, unevenly dyed fabric and give it shell buttons. But then some cruisewear label does a knockoff with more polyester and fake coconut-shell buttons. And the topstitching creeps back.

Samantha Upward is amazed that Americans are still wearing plaid Bermuda shorts. (Americans have an admirable "if it ain't broke" attitude to clothes, and left their stylish 40s uniforms as they were while we Brits were creating frumpy 60s versions which then became fossilised.)

More here, and links to the rest.

Thursday 31 July 2014

Can I Get a Latte?

In cities as far apart as Glasgow, Manchester and London, respectable citizens have been producing guns from bags and from under coats and fatally shooting office workers, tourists and students.

Their crime? Using the formula “Can I get a latte?” rather than “Could I have...” or “May I have...”.

The killing spree, organised on Twitter by a man calling himself @englishassheisspoke, counts university lecturers, teachers, accountants and a great many retired people with time on their hands among its team of executioners.

“I just found that I wanted to shoot anyone who said ‘Can I get a latte’,” explained @englishassheisspoke, “And I discovered that many of my friends did too. And so did their friends. We could have lobbied to get it made a capital crime, but it would have taken too long. So we organised. We all bought guns, and joined gun clubs to learn how to shoot them. Then we decided on a date. We call ourselves the Latte-Day Saints.”

More conventional criminals have had a field day as police found all their time taken up by calls to blood-splattered cafés. The perps did not wear masks (it would have attracted attention), though some wore wigs, dark glasses and latex gloves. Many were caught on CCTV or through DNA left at the scene (on coffee cups).

Police vow that all the killers will be caught, and predict the number will run into the thousands. The courts and prison system will be even more over-stretched. When questioned, @english further clarified the group’s aims. “'Can I get...’ is an Americanism. And the Americans are expansionist imperialists. Soon we will all be identical with Americans unless brave men and women stand up for their language and culture.”

But with most of its defenders in prison or Broadmoor for life or a very long time, what will happen to British culture? Has the Saints’ sacrifice been worth it? Mr @english was still fumbling for an answer as the men in white coats took him away.

Meanwhile, police advise anyone wishing to buy a cup of coffee to be very, very careful about their wording. "Dude, where's my latte?" should do it.

Sunday 27 July 2014

Classy Holidays

"Cities mindful of tourists have built elaborate “tourist traps” which, luckily, work." (Andrei Codrescu)

Whereas the Armani set has descended on other Sicilian islands... leading to a rash of smart hotels and high summer prices, Levanzo, Favignana and Marettimo remain, for the most part, as sleepy, peaceful and unaffected as ever. (Tim Jepson in The Daily Telegraph. I think he means "cheap".)

“One of the things I like about Italy and Rome is that there aren’t that many Brits there… It’s a pretty touristy city, so I’d go in the spring or autumn – or even winter – though even then you sometimes have to struggle to avoid the parties of schoolboys all wearing caps the same colour… Visiting some of the most popular museums can be trying too, given the length of the queues… I’ve never been to Dubai, and I never plan to go. It just seems a soulless place to visit, overcrowded with Brits.” (Adrian Edmondson on My Rome in the… Telegraph, Dec 2013 We love you too, Ade.)

My husband and I like to holiday in very different ways. He likes to stay in 5-star all-inclusive places, and fully relax and not think about anything other than lying on a beach and reading books. I like to go more off-piste and explore more than just the hotel. (Writer to The Times, Aug 10 2013 See E.M. Forster's Passage to India for English people in search of “the real India”.)

Can upper-middle-class Upwards go to Italian resorts where Italians holiday – marinas, hotels with their own beaches? Perhaps Italy but not France – Upwards are quite shocked to find that France is full of the wrong kind of French people.

Nouveau-Richards traditionally went to La Spezia and San Remo, while Upwards avoid most coastlines, and anywhere with yachts. Weybridges go to the Boat Show at the Excel Centre. Upwards don’t know where the Excel Centre is. They won’t be going to the Science Fiction Convention or the Wedding Fair there either.

Upwards are very into the beauties of nature, which many Teales and Definitelies would just find boring or pointless. They go to Alentejo in Portugal where you can see cork forests populated by eagles, while Teales go to the Algarve where you can play golf, loaf on the beach and swim and paddle-board, and there are lots of restaurants and bars. Apparently Rousseau invented “the bourgeois cult of romantic sensibility”, and the Upwards are still devotees.

This summer, Samantha and Gideon are avoiding Minehead and Watchet, which are “very caravanny”, I'm told, and visiting a few “boutique music festivals” like Latitude. They're looking for an "experience" (it's the new "adventure").

More here, and links to the rest.

Saturday 26 July 2014

Classy Quotes 17

[My mother was] really ashamed of our toaster, so she kept it in the cupboard until we could afford the perfect one that could be put on display. (Fashion designer Emilia Wickstead)

In debunking superficial and unilateral forms of etiquette, we have lost sight of the importance of genuine courtesy in human relationships. And in attacking despotic and abusive adult rule, we have failed to cultivate appropriate respect for just and rightful authority… (David Ausubel, 1961)

Mindfulness classes in 2014 are what interior design classes and knitting Kaffe Fassett jumpers were in the 1980s #middleclasshobby (Colonel Blimp ‏@adamcreen)

His parents lived in reduced circumstances in South Kensington, where they courageously kept up appearances... He knew to the finest shade of nuance the exact levels of English middle-class life. (Obituary of Bentley Bridgewater, Indy 1996)

“The class system [is] laid painfully bare on the plane.” (Guardian on a programme about airports, June 2014)

"Have you had any maids or cooks that were satanical, made your life hell?" Libby Purves, Radio 4, 21st century. (Robert Rotifer)

"Quintessential Cotswolds England. Bastards won't get you here!" (Estate agent outside thatched cottage, Under Offer)

35% of British people admit to being Middle Class, though 60%< have middle class jobs. (The untrustworthy @byzantinepower)

In the US, 99% of us are middle class. No one will admit to being anything else. (Bill Thayer ‏@LacusCurtius)

More here, and links to the rest.

Saturday 19 July 2014

Class and Joanna Cannan

Whodunnit? Must have been a rank outsider!

Joanna Cannan (1898–1961) was the author of the influential children's story A Pony for Jean. It gave rise to a whole genre - largely written by Cannan and her daughters, Josephine, Diana and Christine Pullein-Thompson. The family were intensely horsey and ran their own stables. (A Pony for Jean was unusual in its time for being convincingly narrated by the girl heroine. The series is also funny: the usual plot about a girl who teaches herself to ride on an unpromising mount and then wins all the prizes is surrounded by some sly social observation. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography says Cannan’s writing was “witty, satirical, even cynical”. I think they’re trying to say “critical”.)

Cannan also wrote detective stories. I was encouraged to read Murder Included by Clothes in Books who hinted that it was a guide to the English class system in the early 50s. And so it is.

The aristocratic d’Estray family have turned their country house into a hunting stables and private hotel (for “paying guests”) – on the urging of the latest Lady d’Estray, who is rather Bohemian and has been living in the South of France. (She has breakfast in her bedroom – imagine!) The police are called in when one of the guests (a horsey old lady who is also a d’Estray cousin) is found poisoned. The local fuzz request help from Scotland Yard, claiming that they can't be impartial as they are all either friends of Sir Charles d’Estray, or closely related to the staff.

They are sent Inspector Ronald Price, a solidly lower middle-class socialist who has the gall to live in Finchley and eat in a dining recess with folkweave curtains. His bathroom contains a mirror-fronted cupboard full of laxatives, and a cork-seated linen basket. His idea of a good meal is tinned soup, potato pie and trifle (stale cake and instant custard). He is also pompous, calling sleep “recuperative slumber”.

The whole book seethes with snobbery (and racism), mainly expressed by the cast – the contempt for Price and another character called Marvin seems to be entirely Cannan’s own.

Among the guests is a couple called Rose. Here’s the Chief Constable’s view: “Well, Mr Rose is a type that I daresay you’re familiar with, though it’s not common, thank the Lord, down here. A few years back his name was Rosengarten or Rosenberg.” (His wife, Sybella, calls the drawing room the “lounge” and her coat and skirt a “costume”. We’d now call it a suit. Sidney Rose’s hunting clothes are too new and too brightly coloured: chestnut tweed coat and socks; yellow tie, waistcoat and handkerchief. What’s more, his tie has a pattern of foxes’ masks and hunting whips, and his socks are cable-stitched.)

Inspector Price flinches when local cop Treadwell refers to the housemaid (who is also his aunt) as a “servant”. “Don’t they realise we’ve done away with masters and servants?” thinks Price. He winces again when the Chief Constable complains that he has to dine early to let the cook go home. “How well they were taking it, these doomed and done-for ladies and gentlemen – but dine early!”

Treadwell complains that the village was “pretty enough once, but spoiled by bungalows run up by retired Harborough tradesmen”. Price writes to his wife, Valerie, that he may have to remind everybody that “a few years have passed since we did away with the feudal system”.

Price ticks off the boot boy for saying “What?” rather than “Pardon?” but is put in his place – “Sir Charles won’t ’ave pardon in the ’ouse.” It’s “I beg your pardon” to the gentry and “What?” to equals.

Bunny (Lady d’Estray) is advised not to wear espadrilles in the presence of the police. Her conservative stepdaughter Patricia is wearing “trim Coolies”. (What can these be? Basketweave shoes?) “The more you wear sloppy shoes,” says Pat, “The more you have to.” (Espadrilles were a foreign import, and rather shocking.) Pat admits later that “ ‘what corners I had were duly knocked off at St Olaf’s'. She smiled, evidently recalling humorous incidents connected with the loss of her individuality.” She is a perpetual prefect, and has yet to discard the “snubbing manner” acquired at school.

One of the guests, Flight-Lieutenant Marvin, is described as a “temporary gentleman” by other characters. He has been taken up by Miss Hudson (the first corpse), and is probably after her money. Lisa, Bunny’s daughter, says that he’s “of the people”, and uses words like “perspiration and serviette and excuse me”. Cannan introduces his mother, apparently just so that she can sneer at her. She wears more than one ring, a tight corset and a frilly white blouse. She enjoys walking round shops, also “bridge, matinees, an occasional dress show”.

Beatrice, the housemaid, explains how servants’ halls have become more democratic: “Of course, in the old days the under-servants weren’t allowed to speak at table until the upper servants ’ad withdrawn, but me and Mr Benson and Mrs Capes decided that, within reason, we in the ’all should adapt ourselves to the spirit of the times.” Yes, I’m afraid the servants all drop their aitches, which makes their dialogue quite difficult to read.

I guessed who the murderer was, and the solution is quite shocking. I want to read more Cannans now...

Thursday 3 July 2014

Decor Crimes 3

So much stuff. Looking back the other way, we can see Betty Boop as Lady Liberty. And if we step back some more, we see a suit of armour in the dining room. (

You can visit any historic building in Britain and find the same things: tea towels, mugs, 'local' biscuits, CDs of pseudo-Celtic music, small jars of preserves, a pewter replica of something, a book that's £5 cheaper on Amazon and some pencils. (Age of Uncertainty)

furniture in inappropriate places
– an antique dressing table mirror on the landing

linenfold panelling – on kitchen cabinets, or the front door of your 80s cottage

classical Adam Regency fireplace in an Art Deco block, plus a classical Regency-style bed surround with a cupboard over the top

exposed beams in a Georgian house (The Georgians would have a fit.)

Flintstones fireplace copied from a 15th century stone cottage (slate surround, beam or stone lintel) – in a Victorian villa

feature wall with big bold wallpaper – it’s always the same black flowers, leaves and scrolls on magenta, teal or coffee. Makes small rooms look smaller.

block of flats with huge windows on the stairwell, and tiny windows in the flats

stone effect cladding that comes in panels, on a terrace or ex-council house

toxic levels of good taste: every room done up to look like an abandoned servants’ wing in an Irish country house. Peeling plaster, iron bedsteads, distressed furniture, bare untreated floorboards (or treated to look “untreated”), no clutter or personal belongings, no object later than 1910, everything plain and never-fashionable

Victorian lamp standards in 60s shopping precincts (it was an 80s thing)

After the fake stripped Victorian furniture varnished a bit too orange, comes the fake recycled wood furniture in a plain blocky style, looking too new and varnished a bit too orange.

furniture blocking windows

engraved mirrors (but I rather like them)

deeply buttoned, very shiny leather sofas

nests of very shiny, dark brown mock Sheraton occasional tables

leather sofas that have been distressed to look 50 years old

overambitious conversion of a small ordinary house (not just marble, granite and downlighters but an avant garde spiral staircase in an added turret

More here, and links to the rest.

Wednesday 2 July 2014

What the Classes Read: Books and Media II

Suitable for shop-girls
An Upward saves money and despises the Americans in one fell swoop:

When it came to anniversaries, high days and holy days, my parents were non-believers. We worshipped at neither Hallmark nor Clinton. Immediate family birthdays were remembered; my mother would dig out a notelet from a pack of 12, a sheet of A4 folded into quarters, with a blue tit or wild flowers on it, and write “Happy birthday darling”, and on their wedding anniversary my father would give her a peck on the cheek. And that, more or less, was it. Easter, Valentine’s, Mother’s or Father’s Day cards, these things were entirely foreign. Cards for passing exams or driving tests, saying welcome to your new home or sorry you’re sick: these were unimaginable. If someone died or had a baby, she wrote on Basildon Bond. I suppose she was, in her own mild way, an unconscious card snob. Why don’t you care about Mother’s Day, I asked her, worried I was doing something wrong when I saw other children buying their mothers the obligatory outsized padded satin cards and flowers. Even then there was peer group pressure. Oh, that’s just a silly American thing, she said. They’re trying to make money out of you. Mothers don’t need a card to know you love them. In that regard, thankfully, our family didn’t do gush or guilt trips.
(Melanie Reid, Times April 11 2014)

It used to be terribly common to write letters on deckle-edged notepaper (Upwards called it "writing paper"), but some Weybridges in the 60s thought it was awfully grand. Ditto coloured writing paper, envelopes lined with blue tissue paper, purple ink, and linen-effect greetings cards.

Back then, Weybridges were the ones with pompous pen sets and blotters. They gave their children expensive Parker pens with gold-plated nibs for passing exams. Upwards bought antique sets. (My parents used to shower me with Victorian writing slopes and inkwells in the shape of Venetian gondolas in an attempt to improve my handwriting. Or did they just want me to write more letters?)

Some Upwards and Weybridges forbade their children to watch ITV when it appeared. (Coronation Street? It's about working-class people!) They probably forbade comics as well (will stop children learning to read). Now they forbid mobile phones or Facebook, or ration the use of “devices”.

When Upwards complain about the huge coverage given to sport or royal weddings/babies because they’re not interested in these things, they forget that they are the smallest segment of the population, and that people who care about sport and the royals far, far outnumber them. Is that why they moan about “materialism” and “celeb-worship”? Lord Reith would cringe at X Factor and Strictly.

Upwards have always whinged about news media and are always asking “How is this news!?”  Odd, when all Upwards want to work in publishing. If you are an Upward who works in publishing, other Upwards will assume you work in book publishing or on one of the broadsheets (EITHER the Times OR the Guardian). Their smiles become rather fixed when you explain you work in magazines – in fact, you love magazines! (One asked me once, rather crossly, “What are all these magazines that you love?” I wondered if she’d ever been inside a WH Smith, where you can choose between three different magazines on carp fishing. She was more of a Stow Crat, so perhaps she never had. Or perhaps “we” just don’t “see” magazines.)

In his day Edgar Wallace often was dismissed, with unabashed class condescension, as a writer of cheap thrills who appealed only to clerks, mechanics, shopgirls and house servants. (

Upwards love “funny” programmes that are not funny at all. Like Garrison Keillor and Twin Peaks. And The Office. Do they like watching people suffer agonies of embarrassment?

More here.

Friday 20 June 2014

What to Wear III

A fur coat - with a swimsuit?
Posh Caro Stow Crat always dresses appropriately – she would never wear a fur coat in Florida, or over a swimsuit, or appear on breakfast television in a gold lamé dress, like JK Rowling. Here’s her guide to necklaces (also not to be worn with a swimsuit):

An evening necklace is loosely round your neck (double or triple strand).
Matinee length reaches the first couple of ribs below the collar bone.
Opera length reaches your bust.
A riviere is more fancy, with dangly bits.
Rope length is longer than opera.

“Dangly earrings should never be longer than your hair; only wear hoops in the summer, and enormous hoops are vulgar at any time. furthermore, we are all too good to wear fake diamond studs: either we get the real thing, or we choose another, cheaper option.”
Hilary Rose, Times June 2014

In the 60s and 70s, only lower-middle-class Teale men wore practical items of dress like plastic pocket protectors, sleeve restraints (elasticated armbands) and tie clips (in stainless steel and fake abalone). Upwards were supposed to wear gold and jewelled tie pins left over from the Edwardian age, but these too have disappeared.

In the 50s, ballet shoes were black, never pink or bronze. Plimsolls were white, never black. And middle-class Upwards never wore bronze party shoes. (Party shoes were white, black - but never patent leather - or coloured to match your outfit.) Those who let their daughters wear bronze party shoes would have shuddered with horror at silver or gold party shoes.

Virginia Woolf notes in her diary that Lady Abingdon described Princess Mary “dressed like the upper housemaid in peacock blue”. Vivid blue and green were common. If Woolf and her set wanted to put somebody down, they said they had “the mind of a housemaid”. (Mrs Woolf and the Servants, Alison Light)

There was a recent flap about a clothing trend called “normcore”: young people wearing generic downmarket clothing. Of course it’s shocking to Americans, because they are used to being able to tell who has “class”, ie money, and who hasn’t. They wear very conservative clothes, but of the right (expensive) brand. If middle class kids start dressing like common baseball fans, what are they to do? (In the 60s, people used to say “You can’t tell what class anyone is any more, because the young all wear jeans.”) The real snobbery of normcore is to source the perfect generic plain grey jersey from the hard-to-find, word-of-mouth, well-kept-secret prep school clothing catalogue (as we used to do in the 70s).

More here, and links to the rest.