Thursday 31 December 2015

A Poem for New Year

When disaster overtakes you
Never show it, though it breaks you.
In a crisis truly crucial
One must carry on as usual.

If the chaps all round you panic
Be depressive, never manic.
Though your road be steep and slippery
Cultivate stiff-upper-lippery.

Catastrophic misadventures?
Clench your fists or grit your dentures.
Just be calm and just be static.
Doesn't do to be dramatic.

When the sky begins to redden
At the dawn of Armageddon, 
If a feller makes a fuss
He just isn't one of us.

Afferbeck Lauder

Friday 18 December 2015

Happy Holidays!

...I favour tacky Christmas decorations, the more Poundland the better, and like nothing more than framing a wall mirror with gold tinsel, the last word in naff, I’m told (the Savoy’s creative team decrees any tinsel a “no-no”...). Now I’ve bought an illuminated reindeer in rope-lights: just what our garden needs. It’ll set off my blue drip-effect icicle lights nicely, though even my daughter, aged 11, cringes that it looks like we’re attempting some “cheap Frozen theme”. Let’s just say my husband doesn’t share my penchant for house bling. Once he bought a pricey posh wreath and within 12 hours it had been stolen from the front door ... I’ve never turned my entire house into one of those pulsating light shows with a waving Santa on the roof (more’s the pity) but I’ve no problem with those who do. Quite the opposite. It shows generosity of spirit to give passing strangers a cheery boost at your own expense. And OK, there are eco-concerns but it’s only a few days a year unlike those shops which keep the lights on 24/7/365 for no reason. No, it’s snobbery that drives most grinches on this issue. As it happens I’m slightly disappointed with my reindeer: I’ve been far too subtle. I should have got a bigger one. I should have got three. This weekend I might risk domestic discord and buy a seven-footer. (Carol Midgley Times Dec 2015)

Upwards loathe “merry” Xmas, Xmas not Christmas – and “We’re not allowed to call it Christmas!”

They hate Black Friday – American import, and chavs buying chavvy things as usual. Materialism! They are embarrassed by Sun-style patriotism, and the idea of “loving your country” (especially when it means “brown people go home”). But they do love slagging off the Americans, whom they amusingly call “Merkins” or “Usanians”. They want to ban all Americanisms. How? 

What really galls the Upwards is all the MONEY people spend on Christmas – and now Halloween. Bang goes sixpence right and left – and nobody seems to care! But isn’t it good for the economy, or something?

Someone has suggested we rename it “Greedmas”. Upwards really don’t like to see common people buying things. And they still resent poor people having televisions. Does it all go back to the Puritans and Cromwell banning Christmas celebrations? (Apart from the interregnum, the festival was always a blow-out.)

Apparently the rich compete to invite bigger and bigger Xmas house parties (you have to have a house that fits 26, of course).

Wrapping paper – where did that go? Everybody uses gift bags now. How sensible is that?

Upwards have to wrestle their Xmas lights around the (large) tree (“I refuse to give in! I must have REAL lights!”) because they can’t buy an artificial one with lights built in. Caro’s mother is still attaching real candles to the branches, in Victorian tin clip-on candle holders. Such a shame Stow-Crat Hall burned to the ground on Boxing Day – but it was all insured, they carried the valuable contents onto the lawn, and they don’t have to worry about the roof any more.

This year, the Upwards have an Xmas tree made of recycled wood with traces of distressed paint, adorned with antique glass baubles. They do not hang evergreen wreaths (“garlands”) on their doors. They just might accept one made entirely of bare twigs. And no Xmas decorationss in the home before December. (Oliver Cromwell would have loved them.)

As usual, a vicar has told small children the story of St Nicholas and parents are up in arms, wailing: “They’ll stop believing in the tooth fairy next!” Upwards come up with 99 twisted reasons for lying to your children about Santa. It teaches them how to believe. It teaches them how to be skeptical. It gives them faith in a benevolent society – even though this is a myth. (Parents see the adult the child will be, and reasons for folk rituals always change over time.) And it’s “Father Christmas” not “Santa”.

Who buys that M&S Xmas food that’s all slightly wrong? Or do I mean “traditional with a twist”? Xmas pud with an apricot jam centre? Upwards have pudding, not Christmas cake. Chocolate logs with robins and holly are very Weybridge/Teale.

More here, and links to the rest.

Sunday 13 December 2015

Classy Quotes 20

Strapless maxi dress
Writer Chris Kraus recommends landlording as “a way of engaging with a population completely outside the culture industry. Kind of like in gay culture, where hookups are a way of escaping your class.” (London Review of Books)

“We attract the very top echelon of clients from around the world. This development represents a real threat to our livelihood here at the Goring... It is one of the premium suites in London, accommodating senior royalty, presidents and superstars. All require privacy, and this is how we manage to sell this suite in a very competitive market.” (Jeremy Goring, chief executive of the Goring Hotel, doesn't want social housing built opposite the hotel, especially not in full view of the royal suite.)

The noble Lord says that he does not want a housemaid to carry a coal scuttle up two or three floors. He says there should be a gas fire. I have always believed this was a free country. (The House of Lords discusses the Clean Air Act.)

It is not simply a question of there being too many people, it is the wrong kind of people. (Darran Anderson, Imaginary Cities on certain people's fears for the future.)

Heston Blumenthal: I was at the opening of Soho Farmhouse... and they said, “Oh, when people phone to book we Google them. If they’re not interesting then we don’t give them a table.” Observer 2015

There is, she concedes, “a U and Non-U side of the lighthouse”. U would be living on South Green (Georgian houses; unrestricted views); Non-U is found on the road to the front. (Observer on Southwold, 23.08.15)

In the brilliant 60s film Jigsaw, a neighbour sums up the murder victim, saying she was still wearing a dressing gown and curlers at teatime (and sleeps with the gas fire on). “She was wearing lipstick with the curlers – she was that type of woman.”

George Orwell being rude about the Upwards of his day: The more-water-in-your-beer reformers of whom Shaw is the prototype, and the astute young social-literary climbers who are Communists now, as they will be Fascists five years hence, because it is all the go, and all that dreary tribe of highminded women and sandal-wearers and bearded fruit-juice drinkers...

Famously, there is the attraction of socialist doctrine for “cranks”: One sometimes gets the impression that the mere words ‘Socialism’ and ‘Communism’ draw towards them with magnetic force every fruit-juice drinker, nudist, sandal-wearer, sex-maniac, Quaker, ‘Nature Cure’ quack, pacifist, and feminist in England.

And finally, rising to an apparent pitch of impotent frustration: If only the sandals and pistachio-coloured shirts could be put in a pile and burnt, and every vegetarian and teetotaller sent home to Welwyn Garden City to do his yoga exercises quietly. (

Orwell also wrote of: “The lower-upper-middle-class” who own no land but still feel they are “landowners in the sight of God”.

David’s most spectacular career move... was his marriage to a cousin of the queen, the thus royal Lady Pamela Mountbatten. He unwisely boasted his “grand” engagement to Tony Armstrong-Jones. “Oh, I don’t call that grand,” was Tony’s testy reply. A few days later Tony announced his own engagement to Princess Margaret. (Redeeming Features, Nicky Haslam)

Town and Country have identified a new class: the Upper Middletons. “UMs bring neither vast wealth nor lineage to the table. Instead they bring qualities never before seen in the English upper classes — warm, close family relationships, loyalty, reliability and that most socially derided asset: niceness. UM parents may want their children to marry and mix with real poshies, but they do not do this by copying them. In defiance of the ancient English upper class code, they actually like their children, so refuse to pack them off to prep school at seven. Instead, children stay at home to be loved and nurtured, instructed in good manners and kindness until the age of 13, when they go off to an unflashy co-educational boarding school – Bradfield, Millfield or Marlborough”, says the Times. “Their children are perfectly turned out, polite and, dare we say it, slightly boring. They have nice manners, are popular, attend school parties with perfectly wrapped gifts and get decent grades,” Town & Country said. In London, they live in Battersea, Putney and Richmond, but they prefer “underwhelming” Buckinghamshire, Berkshire and Hertfordshire. They often run small businesses that keep them close to home. Their sports are skiing and tennis. “They don’t have great taste; they have ‘nice’, high-street taste. UMs never wear black (too fashionable). They adore a pop of colour, a stripe or a floral and, for the females, a daring split skirt or plunging neckline. Their weakness is white jeans, which both sexes wear far too often,” says T&C. (They do sound nice, don’t they?)

When we first met, his mother’s chief concern was that, being common, I might get our children to use dummies, which she disapproved of. (Woman quoted in the Guardian)

Competition is fierce, but Hilary Rose in the Times magazine wins the snobbery prize:
"In fact, I think, too much daytime skin in general looks a bit trashy in town, doesn’t it? I’m thinking mainly of those sunburnt women who walk down Oxford Street, hoisting up their strapless maxidresses. Then again, Oxford Street’s awful full stop." (There was a move to pedestrianise it in order to attract a better class of shopper but fortunately it was put a stop to.)


Social capital ... the quantity and social status of their friends, family and personal and business contacts. (Wikipedia)

Social hierarchy is determined by whether you’re more West Street or Devonshire Street on a night out. (Buzzfeed on Sheffield)

Living in Guildford has its advantages. People in Surrey are too posh for Trick or Treating. (Judge Dreadful ‏@KeefJudge)

I worry about people who think that AUTOMATICALLY because of gender/age/cultural background, certain people have it easier. Not always true. (@matthaig1)

Melanie Phillips thinks it is patronising and middle class to say that working class people would find boring work boring. (@JonnElledge)

Well I have always found @McVities Jaffa cakes to be utterly classless whether Eton in #Holloway or #Islington. (@RuthRobinsonLon)

Took my builder cousin into a branch of Fired Earth and he almost literally hasn't stopped laughing about the prices for three hours. (Sathnam Sanghera ‏@Sathnam)

More engineers have regional accents because it’s a meritocracy. (Bloke on Infinite Monkey Cage. He adds that the media is full of posh people because it’s not a meritocracy.)

Most of the time I feel middle class. Until I met someone who is actually middle class, then I feel working class again. (And a real snob would think “So sad – they think they’re middle class!”) (concretism ‏@concretism_mus)

I think the north stops when you go far enough into the Midlands that people start calling you “babs” instead of “duck” or “love”. Or when people have tea instead of dinner and dinner instead of lunch. Or when chippies start asking if you want gravy with your chips. (Guardian July 2015. Don't they mean "the north starts"?)

Grand Edwardian life: the vast houses, the vast house parties, the vast shoots, yachts, hydrangeas, tiaras and aigrettes. (Nicky Haslam, Redeeming Features An aigrette is an ornament worn in the hair - probably comprising diamonds and feathers.)

The Times magazine Aug 2015-08-01has a piece on “smart casual” – the new relaxed style. It’s the old “how to be middle class” under another name. These are some signs you are not “smart casual”.
Changing your towels often
A year-round tandoori tan
Wearing heels at home
Sending lavish, Miss World-style floral bouquets
Designer beach kaftan
Regularly rotating your designer handbags
Teeth veneers
One miniature dog

Smart casual signs:
A sailing/staycation tan
Ditching heels all summer
Cotton book bags
Teeth whitening
Minimum two dogs, one of them Shetland-pony size

The whole idea is to make your home resemble a holiday cottage, and when not at work to look as if you were just about to stroll onto a beach or sailing boat. When entertaining, the smart casuals pile the kitchen table with cutlery and food, and everybody mixes and matches. No formality. “The whole experience is more rustica than roux. More squeeze of lemon than creamy sauces.” (The middle classes have thought “creamy sauces” common for decades: perhaps ever since the aspirant copied them in the form of cheaper white sauce – thickened with flour. Remember Sole Veronique?)

More here, and links to the rest.

Wednesday 25 November 2015

Proper Deportment 2

"Well, he would, wouldn't he?"

Deportment is another of those things that have allegedly disappeared, like etiquette. OK, so we no longer learn to walk tall by balancing books on our heads, but it still matters.

In the mid-18th century, smiling showing the teeth was thought to be a vulgar affectation. In Scandal, Joanne Whalley as Christine Keeler raises her upper lip too high when she smiles and talks – it does something to the voice (makes it more nasal?). All the opposite of the stiff upper lip.

Sometimes a large, plain girl goes all out for personality – bright clothes and lipstick, clanking jewellery, very emphatic delivery with lots of face-pulling and eye-rolling, every sentence full of ironic use of words. Or an attractive girl pulls ruefully amusing grimaces the whole time and makes herself look ugly. The new girl on Antiques Road Trip is willowy and pretty but wildly over-enthusiastic, grinning, pulling faces and clapping her hands. Particularly grating is her mock bow when shaking hands. (But perhaps she's been told to ham it up.)

Upper-class men have very immobile faces (stiff upper and lower lip), but some upper-class women can’t say anything without laughing like hyenas and pulling faces. (There was a character in George Orwell's The Clergyman's Daughter who hung onto her schoolgirl mannerisms for too long.) It goes with shrieking “Find somewhere to park your bottom!” instead of saying “Do sit down”. They never say “Excuse me”, but “Can I just squeeze past?”

“Don’t admire your surroundings. Look faintly bored,” says Scotty to Danny in London Spy as they visit a gentleman’s club in Pall Mall. Those are upper-class manners – Stow-Crats take marble columns, gilded furniture and vast entrance halls for granted.

Upwards, on the other hand, treat the world as if it was a diorama or a museum. They are always looking about them and chirping “What a beautiful sunset!” or “Oh look – original Victorian ironwork!” Stow-Crats despise them for this, and so do Teales, who are mortified if their companions “speak loudly in public”. Jen can’t understand why Samantha wants to “draw attention to herself”, and besides, who's interested in some rusty old iron? Some cool young Upwards abhor this behaviour too – Chill! Don’t be surprised by anything! Please!

We have to say that “there are no social rules any more”, but a Times piece on body language goes into minute detail on social kissing, hands on backs etc. It condemns the possessive arm across the shoulders. “The forearm touch – supposedly entirely acceptable as a kind of first base for establishing a connection. Be careful of this one. It may be officially OK, but it can also be seriously annoying.” But apparently brushing against people as if by accident is effective. “Hand-holding is practically kissing.” And if there are no social rules any more, why are we so obsessed with correct checkout divider use?

I don't mind what anybody does with a checkout divider, but I do mind parents who shush their children constantly in public. Children naturally cry, scream, laugh, crow, and it doesn't bother most people. It’s the shushing that infuriates. I heard a controlling dad in a museum emitting a constant stream of “Ssh sssh ssssh Dougie Dougie Dougie no no no stop stop stop sh sh sh”. Perhaps Dougie had learned to ignore it.

People used to say that ballerinas “walked like ducks” with their feet turned out. And friends criticised me for “striding along” in town on my own. At school they constantly told me off for hunching, looking at the ground, and walking too fast. We weren't allowed to trudge, stomp, shuffle, or clatter. And we were supposed to walk everywhere with another pupil.

An early 20th century social reformer gave a home to city girls in the country, where she trained them to be laundresses. But she complained they were “listless and walked with their heads down”. (Alison Light's Mrs Woolf and the Servants). And lower-class women allegedly sat on the edge of a chair.

Samantha Upward and Caro Stow-Crat used to sneer at Jen Teale for smoothing the back of her skirt before she sat down. Jen doesn’t have so many clothes and couldn’t afford to keep buying new ones, so she looks after the ones she has. (Oddly, people made this gesture in the mid-60s when everybody wore pencil skirts and they didn’t need to – was it a hangover from the 1940s or earlier?) In the film Cast a Dark Shadow (1955) Margaret Lockwood’s obviously common character holds her hand out to be shaken too high and with an affectedly drooping wrist; she also hitches up her tight skirt before she sits down.

Why is it genteel to crook your little finger while drinking a cup of tea? Miss Manners (etiquette guru Judith Martin) says that original teacups had no handles. You held the cup by the cooler rim, but the cup itself (full of hot tea) was too hot to rest your fingers on. Another explanation is the smallness of many teacup handles – you can’t get all your fingers on them. Besides, you need to stick out your third and fourth fingers for balance. The etiquette blunder is to crook your little finger in an attempt to seem ultra-refined.

She apes the graces of the city,
Can frown and ogle; nod, forget...
But ah! Poor wretch, the native trace
Of vulgar birth, you’ll ne’er erase
Some absent shrug, unguarded phrase
Broad laughter, or unmeaning gaze,
These oft the mean extraction tell...

Some dudes “have the impudence of bowing to ladies whom they do not know, merely to give them an air”.
A well-bred person must learn to smile when he is angry, and to laugh even when he is vexed to the very soul.
To study the expression of the countenance of others, in order to govern your own, is indispensably necessary.
“Egad! I must not make a noise, because it will not be good breeding."

(Pierce Egan, in Real Life in London, recommends hypocrisy.)

Now that I am old and white-haired, still have a ridiculously posh voice, and sometimes walk with a stick, people treat me with exaggerated respect. They say “sorry” to me all the time, for no reason at all. Thank you, people, but really there’s no need to cringe. If you want to pass me, please do – but must you hunch, scuttle and throw me an apologetic look? And if I am singing in a group in public and you want to take photographs of these quaint people doing something eccentric – don’t. But if you must, please don’t hunch and grin while doing so.

My mother acquired a title when my dad was knighted and became a “sir” (way, way down the pecking order for titles). She hired a husband and wife as cleaners and they behaved very oddly – ducking as she passed, as if they were trying to make themselves smaller. The wife would even throw out an arm to cover her husband, almost curtsying, and barely speaking above a whisper. Mum ignored all this and was as friendly as possible – it worked in the end.

American writer Florence King once worked as a teacher – she hated parents to “kowtow” to her, especially an “embarrassing” grandmother “thrice my age who called me ma’am and kept bobbing up and down in near-curtsies”. (From the brilliant Wasp, Where Is Thy Sting?) I’ve even had a café proprietor bow and make a praying gesture when throwing me out. “We’re about to close!” – they clearly weren’t. Cafés don’t like single old people to sit over one coffee reading the paper or working. I’ve even had a waitress put a hand under my elbow to eject me – while fawning politely.

Some persons appear always as if admiring their shoe-ties. (Enquire Within Upon Everything)

When books of advice instructed youth to breathe deeply, stand tall and look people in the eye, perhaps they were really trying to say “don’t cringe and scuttle”. They also meant “don’t slouch, sneer and bite your nails”. But if you are 5ft 9in, “stand tall” may not be the best advice. Perhaps I should have stayed sitting down.

More here.

Friday 13 November 2015

World of Interiors 6 (in Quotes)

My parents replaced the old 50s stuff with a refained sort of repro Queen Anne with cabriole legs. (Blog commenter)

The flat above the café... was furnished in a style which seemed to have been copied from a Mae West film; the bedspread was of ruched orange silk, Spanish shawls and ostrich-feather fans copiously collected the dust on the walls, and pierrot dolls sprawled drunkenly on every horizontal surface. There was also a framed sampler, embroidered in cross-stitch and depicting a girl in a poke-bonnet and crinoline watering some hollyhocks. (West End People, Peter Wildeblood)

A throwback to the Celtic Tiger style, it looks like a car showroom. (New house near Dublin, Times March 2015)

Julian Fellowes confesses that he often thinks class is a hideous practical joke. ''For instance, the bathroom thing. There are people with comfortable bathrooms off their bedrooms, with carpets and things, and we always considered them rather middle class.” (NYT)

However rich the Astors, however grand and gilded the Cliveden salons, however luxe the food served in them, the upstairs arrangements were curiously spartan. Single gentlemen’s quarters were narrow bedrooms off school-like corridors, not very near a huge communal washroom. (Redeeming Features, Nicky Haslam)

Wicker chairs, a square of art carpet... On a bamboo table was an old vase which had been clumsily filled with golden chrysanthemums. (An arty interior from Edgar Wallace)

I don’t like modern design. I want something cosy and homely. Woodburner. That sort of thing. (Homes Under the Hammer)

Architectural fads are like pizza toppings, there's always a new one. (Maria Smith)

If something’s out of fashion, it’s probably about to come back. (James Lewis, Flog It!)

Everybody wanted to live in a Victorian cottage – and now everybody wants to live in a loft. (Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is)

Ebony elephants - there were also brass ash-trays, embroidered match-cases... a complete set of Dickens cigarette-cards, an electro-plated egg-boiler, a long pink cigarette-holder, several embossed boxes for pins from Benares... (the contents of a White Elephant stall from The Ministry of Fear by Graham Greene)

A water-colour of the Bay of Naples at sunset and several steel engravings and a photograph of the former Mr Purvis in the odd dated uniform of 1914. The ugly arm-chair, the table covered with a thick woollen cloth, the fern in the window. (Also from The Ministry of Fear, describing a furnished sitting-room that hasn’t been updated for 50 years – not since the 1890s. Note the framed photo as a class marker.)

In Georgette Heyer's No Wind of Blame, written in the 30s, a second husband grumbles about the first, a big-game hunter, leaving the house full of elephant’s foot umbrella stands and a gong made out of hippo’s tusks.

The living room was smartly furnished in an up to date style – a good deal of chromium and some large, square-looking easy chairs upholstered in a pale fawn geometric fabric. (In Agatha Christie's One Two Buckle My Shoe, the flat’s inhabitant is trying to give the impression of middle-income conventional 30s taste.)

In the early 50s, American Muriel Beadle spent a year in Oxford – her husband was a professor. In These Ruins Are Inhabited, she is shocked to find that Oxford isn’t a theme park – Anglo Saxon towers are mixed in with department stores and supermarkets. She is also surprised by the many Victorian buildings, and confesses that England is marketed to Americans as cathedrals and thatched cottages, with everything else cropped out.

Nor did our new house... look quite as much like Anne Hathaway’s as I had thought it might... The room was so little. So full of things. Samplers under glass. Della Robbia plaques. Venetian watercolours in heavy gilt frames. Corner cupboards stuffed with porcelain... Lamps with lace shades and velvet bows. A ship’s clock. Ceiling lights with crystal drops... I let my thoughts drift back to the big living-room in our Spanish-style house, with its unadorned white plaster walls and its wide open spaces of rug.

I once worked at an American firm whose offices were laid out like urban sprawl. We were all so far apart that if you set off with a message you’d forgotten it by the time you reached your destination. In the open-plan areas everyone had too much space, and was just too far away to talk to easily. The US staff found raises voices vulgar, and all business was conducted in a murmur. It was such a relief to get back to a cramped British office where you could talk to the person next to you and yell across the room.

More here.

More here, and links to the rest.

Friday 6 November 2015

Get the Look II


Stylist strips a genuinely retro room from the 60s and replaces all the décor with “the retro look”. “Now it’s a sophisticated retro living room.” There’s a pale sideboard, and an oval coffee table. (Britain’s Ugliest Rooms)

Dear ebay – there is no such thing as “Art Deco Nouveau Victorian”, or "vintage retro Art Deco Edwardian style", for that matter.

Oh, so a 1791 building containing jukebox, baseball photos, a fibreglass rhino & Egyptian cat is "Dickensian"? (Douglas Murphy ‏@entschwindet)

Exposed stone and olde beames – Victorian? The Victorians would have a fit.

industrial chic (Joss & Main) metal pendant lights made for the market and given distressed paint effects (“Channel the loft look with this industrial-inspired lighting selection.”)

contemporary classics, polished Parisian (more styles offered by Joss & Main)

Weathered and Worn: industrial chic décor for the whole home
The Treasure Trove: accents brimming with country charm
(they include a distressed chest and a wire dressmaker’s dummy made as an item of furniture)
Seaside Soiree:
coastal cookware and serveware (aqua crockery, copper pans)
A Rustic Welcome: industrial-style hallway refreshers
(“reclaimed” wood and an antique-looking mailbox)
All from Joss & Main

Pacific Lifestyle
(John Lewis – it’s a copper lantern)

Zoe on Money for Nothing, on decorating a utility chest of drawers: "slightly more traditional, more heritage, more arts and crafts design... masculine, and kind of audacious, and making a statement." (It’s a vaguely Art Nouveau flowers, leaves and fruit design.)

Seven urban warehouse boutique style family homes over four floors

Classic retro with an industrial twist – passionate about mid-century and simple retro designs – with a bit of kitsch thrown in – how you can make them appealing and attractive now... (French Collection)

It’s that shabby chateau look we’re all looking for. (Mark Franks)

The furnishing and appointments of the room were of that style which is believed to be oriental by quite a large number of people. (Edgar Wallace)

I am to dress like a German Milkmaid, a Romanian flower-seller, and an Edwardian rapscallion without invoking "cultural appropriation". (A model explains her “style”. A German responded that they don’t have milkmaids in Germany – it’s all done by machine.)

Time to quote this George du Maurier heroine again:

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!" (Punch, November 29, 1890).

More here.

Thursday 22 October 2015

Class is Dead, Long Live Class II

Intellectual, suburban, blue-collar

The rich man in his castle
The poor man at his gate
God made them great and lowly
And ordered their estate

This verse has been “quietly dropped” over the past few decades, an Anglican attests.

If class has disappeared, why is the “Overheard in Waitrose” Facebook page so popular? Why did people buy The Middle-Class Handbook?

Perhaps it means: people who think they are top drawer no longer talk down to those they think are their inferiors. No more “my man” and “sir” and “madam”. No more routine rudeness, or routine kowtowing. The middle classes have to be much more polite. Elders used to be routinely rude, sarcastic and abusive to very young people – perhaps they fawned on those they felt were “above” them, or might spend lots of money in their shop, whereas teenagers would just cause trouble.

But although 50 years ago society was more class-ridden, nobody talked about people being “middle class” or “lower middle-class”. It was all expressed in code: suburban, local, little man round the corner, is he quite a gent?

Middle-middle-class Weybridges say they like to say they have lost many freedoms since the 50s. But surely what they've really lost is power and influence. There weren't all these Ofsteds back then. They no longer have the unchallenged power to reorganise people’s lives, like the postwar town planners. Fifty years ago it was just assumed that “we” had to dispose of “them” in a neat and orderly fashion. But this attitude co-existed with the mantra that you “don’t interfere, you’ll only make things worse”. You don’t challenge anyone about their drinking, report child abuse or domestic abuse, interfere with local customs, intervene in bullying, bickering or children’s quarrels. It still lingers.

Tourists are supposed to visit for our history, art and culture but actually come for the shopping. See the Lonely Hearts who claim to like theatre, concerts, fine dining and walks in the country. It's all code for "not a chav".

Here's a popular middle-class trope: you lose your cat and put posters up around your home. You then post on Facebook that you’ve been overwhelmed by your neighbours’ response and “there IS still kindness in the world!”. Sometimes you say the experience has “restored your faith in human nature”. Had you really lost it – not your cat, your faith?

In the Fantastic Four, Reed Richards is the upper middle class intellectual, Sue and Johnny Storm are ordinary suburban Americans, and Ben Grimm (the Thing) is blue-collar – gruff, aggressive and crude. And by far the most likeable.

Somebody called Sam and Dave Cameron “chinless wonders”, meaning “vapid posh people”. Aristocrats were supposed to be inbred, so that features like a receding chin and an overbite became common. “Chinless wonder” was coined on the pattern of fairground attractions like the “armless wonder”. The Camerons may have aristocratic connections (to royalty, in his case), but choose your epithet carefully. They both have quite determined chins.

An odd characteristic of the upper classes is lack of interest in things they don’t know about. I once worked with two rather posh women. Another colleague said to them one day: “When X was talking about that film, you didn’t know what he was talking about, did you?” They admitted it. She went on: “So why didn’t you ask?”

A friend noted that as people get older they go out less, so when they do they are surprised and rather upset to see so many “other people” milling about. But where would they be without them? My parents avoided other humans on holiday because they’d be the wrong kind (“We can’t go to Sennen Cove because there’ll be people with transistor radios”). They mellowed.

There was an outbreak of bitching after it was revealed that the Milibands had two kitchens (a kitchenette upstairs that they used, and one in the basement that they hardly ever visited). Times journalist Sarah Vine (Mrs Michael Gove) wrote that the Milibands’ kitchen looked like a housing estate in Minsk. He’s a SOCIALIST, you see. There must be something Stalinist about his kitchen.

Someone on Twitter even made a quip about “as long as one of their two toilets has a bidet”. Bidets, a class marker? Hey, guys, it’s 2015! Bidets were a brief fad of the 70s. It’s like using “OK, yah” to denigrate posh people. (A fad of the 80s, though nobody ever really said it. In the 60s posh people used to say “yah” for “yes”, but if you’ve said “OK” there’s no need to say “yah” as well.) And if you want to look like a man of the people, just accuse people of going to “dinner parties”. Especially “champagne socialist” Owen Jones.

More here.

Wednesday 16 September 2015

Euphemisms about Class (in Quotes)

Skegness too rough for Peroni. (Guardian, 22 April 2013)

Right. Politicians. Stop calling us "ordinary people". Got it? There's no such thing. Every one of us is extraordinary, don't you forget it. (@ColeMoreton)

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

I’m not “gritty”. I think it’s an almost racist term “Oh, he’s a Scouse working-class lad. He has to be gritty”. (Jimmy McGovern)

We should be championing policies that help people on low incomes and help working people. (Boris Johnson, March 2015)

Interesting how the various Labour leadership favourites are using "wealth creators" to indicate business owners, not their employees. (Daniel Trilling ‏@trillingual)

"Unlike me, who was totally unguarded, she’s guarded by family, friends and comfort” – by which she means money. (April Ashley on Caitlyn Jenner)

Estate agents, the foot soldiers of the housing boom, armed with shiny new catalogues, describe the area as “vibrant” and “edgy”. This is estate-agent speak for “visible signs of poverty nearby”. (Guardian May 2015)

Been told that fox hunts are actually attended by "very ordinary country folk". (@matthaig1)

Clinton will support everyday Americans, whatever that means (Winston Smith ‏@Globalidentity)

Hillary Rodham Clinton calls them “everyday Americans.” Scott Walker prefers “hardworking taxpayers.” Rand Paul says he speaks for “people who work for the people who own businesses.” Bernie Sanders talks about “ordinary Americans.” (NYT)

Stanley Anderson RA drew scenes of London's bustle. (Working-class life, understood.)

More euphemisms in my mini ebook Boo & Hooray – see sidebar.

More here, and links to the rest.
Picture by Diamond Geezer.

Sunday 26 July 2015

Quotes about Boarding Schools

Still wish you could give your children "all the advantages"?

Mount adds a brief exegesis on Spartan schooling (boys were flogged at random to keep them on their toes. Needless to say it appealed enormously to the sociopaths who constructed the British boarding system.) (Catherine Nixey on Harry Mount’s Odyssey, July 2015)

While presenting the Hampton Court flower show, Monty Don said that he’d been sent to boarding school at seven “from chalk to ericaceous soil”. He was so miserable that for a long time he couldn’t bear to look at rhododendrons and azaleas. (Arthur Marshall, once a prep-school master, wrote a book about them called Whimpering in the Rhododendrons.)

After boarding school in Sussex – where she began a Resistance Movement which saw her put unhappy girls on trains home, but later redeemed herself by becoming Head Girl... (Obituary of Jill Hyem, writer of Tenko)

As long as you’re awake, you’re being watched. The first year was miserable. (Stephen Mangan)

Children in the Britain of [the 20s and 30s] did not always enjoy a happy family life. The upper classes shunted them off to boarding schools and the lower classes forced them into jobs at a young age. (

The novelist William Boyd, who started boarding there aged nine, described his nine-and-a-half years at Gordonstoun’s junior and senior schools as “a type of penal servitude”. Smaller children were at the mercy of older ones... In the 1970s there was no central heating. Windows were left open at night: in the winter, the children could wake up with snow on their blankets. (Guardian)

Boarding school is utterly brutal and hideous. It’s a secretive empire where you’re brought up without love... I find it difficult to talk about my feelings, even to identify them sometimes. (Katharine Hamnett March 2015)

Being married to an Old Etonian is a bit like living with a war veteran. Most of the time, they remain stoically silent about the things they’ve seen and done. (Jemima Lewis)

Sending kids away to boarding schools at 7: “privileged abandonment”.

Prep schools have proliferated, but private secondary schools have not. The head of a girls’ prep school in West London says some parents “almost explode” from stress. “The pressure is beyond boiling point now. Children ... will be sitting six or seven separate schools’ exams... There are so many prep-school children and so many more prep schools and no new senior schools to speak of. There aren’t enough places... We’re having to try to prepare 10-year-olds to have sophisticated exam technique as well as knowing how to answer the questions, such as writing legibly, looking at the clock and dividing up the questions, not spending too long on a question that is worth only one mark, allowing time to review what you’ve done. It’s not just about aptitude, it’s about those tricks to go with the aptitude.” Another head says: “There is very little innocence and freedom left for children... pressure on places is becoming such that parents are beside themselves with anxiety to get their children into schools.” 

Earl Spencer told the Times he hated boarding and wanted to go to a state school (January 2015). He found his first boarding school cold and unpleasant, with a “terrifying headmaster”, military-style drill and a culture in which boys whose work was not up to standard were caned on their bare buttocks... “I was sleepless for six months before going. But it was the done thing, so off I went... straight into survival mode.” Those who couldn’t do moderately well at exams or sport “had an absolutely miserable time”.

So what's the point of it all?

The Head of Cheltenham Ladies College suggests that homework and prep are Victorian and stressful and should be banned. (June 2015)

The master of Wellington, Anthony Seldon, replies: We shouldn’t be shielding girls or boys from anxiety and stress – we should be helping them to cope with it because they are essential and inevitable in life. That’s the whole point of the wellbeing agenda. A lot of people don’t understand it. It is not about avoidance, it is about learning to cope with the inevitable things that life will throw at us. (There is always some reason why we should be cruel to children.)

Currently Westminster’s all-party parliamentary group on SOCIAL MOBILITY has published several excellent papers on CHARACTER AND RESILIENCE... noncognitive “soft skills – including DEFERRED GRATIFICATION, SELF-DISCIPLINE, APPLICATION, RESILIENCE AND REFLECTIVENESS...  As John M Doris points out, “discourse of character often plays against a background of social stratification and elitism”. (Obs April 2015)

Private schools don't have a monopoly on "character". They have a monopoly on power and privilege. (Sathnam Sanghera)

Tristram Hunt ... invoked Winston Churchill in his call for good character to be instilled at school: “Churchill was bang on when he said failure is not fatal, and it is the courage to continue that counts.” (Times Dec 2014)

Anthony Seldon also mentioned grit, resilience – and morality. “Every Monday at Wellington, two prefects remind pupils about the importance of values they have chosen: this week it was respect, courage, integrity and kindness. Entrusting this role to pupils not only gives them a sense of responsibility but also carries a greater weight with their peers. We set our pupils difficult challenges inside and outside the classroom. Reflection and self-awareness, helped by regular “mindfulness” sessions, are also part of the mix.”

Things that can’t be tested: creativity, critical thinking, resilience, motivation, persistence, curiosity, question asking, humour, endurance, reliability, enthusiasm, civic-mindedness, self-awareness, self-discipline, empathy, leadership, compassion, courage, sense of beauty, sense of wonder, resourcefulness, spontaneity, humility. (This list went the rounds. Is this “character”? Or “moral compass”? Not much use if you can’t read and don’t know anything, or don’t know how to do anything. And they spelled it “enthusiasum”.)

Private schools need a constant intake of pupils (and their fees) to survive. If they can't do better in the league tables, they have to stress intangibles like the above, and pretend they are a unique selling point.

Be honest, what is the point of it all?

As Brooks (2008) notes ‘differences in the social composition of schools and colleges and their norms and practices can have considerable impact on the social capital available to young people and the resources upon which they can draw when making their decisions about higher education’. (Coming to Terms with Being a Working-Class Academic)

It isn’t about money, or class or anything but the style of education. (Telegraph Dec 2014 lies through its teeth.)

More here.

Friday 10 July 2015

Class and Innovations II

In Agatha Christie's The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side Miss Marple and Miss Hartnell face Progress in their different ways: “Nothing was what it had been. You could blame the war (both the wars) or the younger generation, or women going out to work, or the atom bomb, or just the Government—but what one really meant was the simple fact that one was growing old... Miss Hartnell’s house was still there, and also Miss Hartnell, fighting progress to the last gasp... The fishmonger was unrecognizable with new super windows behind which the refrigerated fish gleamed... Where Mr Toms had once had his basket shop stood a glittering new supermarket—anathema to the elderly ladies of St Mary Mead. ‘Packets of things one’s never even heard of,’ exclaimed Miss Hartnell. ‘All these great packets of breakfast cereal instead of cooking a child a proper breakfast of bacon and eggs. And you’re expected to take a basket yourself and go round looking for things.”

And where once there were fields, they’ve built a Development of new houses, harbouring a new kind of family. Cherry “was one of the detachment of young wives who shopped at the supermarket and wheeled prams about the quiet streets of St Mary Mead. They were all smart and well turned out. Their hair was crisp and curled.”

In the Development itself, the very new buildings look like dolls’ houses: “The people, too, looked unreal. The trousered young women, the rather sinister-looking young men and boys, the exuberant bosoms of the fifteen-year-old girls. Miss Marple couldn’t help thinking that it all looked terribly depraved.”

If Miss Marple thinks women in trousers and uplift bras are depraved, what would she have made of a Roman orgy? The bosoms are probably the result of better nutrition. In Miss M’s young day 15-year-old girls would have worn concealing box-pleated gym tunics. And in the 60s Upwards and Weybridges whinged about self-service as much as they now moan about “unexpected items in the bagging area”.

Upwards gibbered that biological washing powder would digest them, microwave ovens would cook them, and they’d be bitten by rabid foxes immigrating through the channel tunnel. None of these disasters happened, but they fail to draw conclusions, and invent a scare story for the next innovation.


The Upward view of technology is uneasy and opinionated. They seize on something to pontificate about.

WikiLeaks, he says, is the extension of a Facebook culture that reflects our prurient appetites for status updates and a constant drip of minutiae… (Interview with John Malkovich, Independent)

The internet has become a “Petri dish of opinion inflation, breeding commentary like bacteria”. (Stephen Randall, LATimes Jan 2011)

But there’s another Upward tribe (possibly more common in the States) who seize onto every innovation and run their whole lives through smartphones, wifi, cable TV (not to mention cars full of gadgets), but eat artisanal food off slate slabs.

And you can get a hemp cover for your ipod printed with a tree of life… and a beechwood mouse. One of the reasons Upwards shrank from technology was the, well, hitech look of the gadgets. They’re so shiny and plasticky! And everybody's is the same! They very quickly got over it and the gadgets live quite happily alongside the retro printed linen and genuinely distressed recycled industrial furniture. The gadgets enable everything from knowing where you are to identifying ladybirds – but where is our pavement cleaning robot?

Upwards are still “succumbing” or “giving in” to Facebook, rather than just signing up, like everybody else.

Some elderly Upwards are still slightly embarrassed about having an email account, and give themselves an arch address.

Upwards would have blogs but they can only say the word in quotation marks. And now they like to say that blogging is so over. They hate the idea of other people (for other read "ordinary") telling the world about their lives, and they loathed it when in the early days of the internet people got their own web pages and put up their holiday snaps. Weybridges used to say that an Englishman’s home is his castle, and Teales prided themselves on “keeping themselves to themselves” – code for not mixing with people who might be less good class. (Novelist Ivy Compton Burnett’s parents wouldn’t let their children meet anybody at all because nobody was quite good enough.)

Twitter is now part of life, but the middle classes are still distancing themselves from it while using it.

The only telephone in the house [hung] on the wall of the silver-cleaning room beside the knife-polishing drum. (Nicky Haslam, Redeeming Features)

When telephone answering machines came in in the 80s, Upward actors made a few bob recording messages for their friends in the voice of Laurence Olivier, Boris Karloff etc. There was a bit of foot-dragging and refusal to leave messages. (“I thought it was you and it was that terrible machine!”) But people got used to them. Now Upwards remark with some puzzlement that nobody has wacky ringtones any more, they just use the default.

People often phone Samantha Upward and can’t get through because her battery has run down and the phone is charging. “I tried to phone you, but I just got a funny noise!” “The battery ran down. The phone was charging.” Other party acts puzzled, and Sam is puzzled that they’re puzzled. The darned battery keeps running down – doesn’t everybody’s? She also goes on holiday without her phone charger or Kindle charger, and when the batteries run down, that’s it. Jen Teale plugs her phone into the charger every night, and always takes her chargers on holiday. She’s making herself a charger bag – a bit like a hanging shoe-bag, with the device names embroidered on the pockets. It’s quilted, and incorporates a lot of velcro and binding. Next year, she’ll go on Dragon’s Den and get funding to manufacture them. All she needs is a whimsical name! (The Chargeit!?)

The English treated this novelty with the grave suspicion due to anything foreign: ‘We need no little forks to make hay with our mouths, to throw our food into them,’ complained Nicholas Breton in 1618. (If Walls Could Talk: An intimate history of the home, Lucy Worsley)

The reservations of my grandmother and her friends [about duvets]: ‘Isn’t it heavy? Isn’t it hot?’. (If Walls Could Talk: An intimate history of the home, Lucy Worsley)

Old BBC radio instructions advised turning off all the lights so that you could “see the pictures better”. (BBC yearbook 1940)
Make sure that your set is working properly before you settle down to listen. (So the first few minutes of the programme aren’t obliterated by tuning noises.)
Choose your programmes as carefully as you choose which theatre to go to. (Don’t just “have it on”.)
You can’t get the best out of a programme if your mind is wandering, or if you are playing bridge or reading... If you only listen with half an ear you haven’t a quarter of a right to criticise... Give the wireless a rest now and then.

They are telling people to treat radio like a middle-class entertainment (theatre) rather than a working-class one (cinema, music hall, melodrama – audiences talked and smoked all through). It sounds like the current “We, the Smugs, took a holiday from all devices!”

Why do we have this obsession with removing technology from our lives? So long as children form healthy relationships, get a solid education and aren't unaware of the outside world, it makes no difference how they spend their leisure time. We used to go to the phonebox all evening to call friends, or used the landline with the wire stretching up the hall to our room. So why not email, IM and Face Time now? It's still communication, it's still forming relationships. There's no need to ban "screens". Simply suggest other activities more frequently. Let's go to the park? The zoo? A museum? Play a board game? (Robert Greenberg Borehamwood, Hertfordshire Guardian 2013-06-22)

And what do "we" think about driverless cars?
But from an emotional and romantic perspective it is a dispiriting prospect: the driverless car belongs in our sexting, vaping, auto-tuned age. There is a smack of fat-free yoghurt and elastic waistband about it, something hopelessly, passionlessly convenient, something so joyless, wipe-clean and flat.”(Laura Barton in The Guardian 2014-08-05)

"New Medium Terror" has begun as ppl callin 4 3dPrinting 2 b regulated. (AdamNathanielFurman ‏@Furmadamadam)

More here.

Wednesday 8 July 2015

How to Be Ever So Genteel

How does lower middle-class Jen Teale talk? She likes to find a nice name for everything and doesn't mind borrowing terminology from adverts, promotional literature or even (shudder) the Americans. The middle class equivalents are in brackets.

a selection of… (too unspecific, avoids listing eg cheeses with foreign names in case they make you feel uneducated)
amenities (word used by PR people trying to sell you a holiday in Teignmouth)

backside (euphemistic)
beaker (toothmug)
bedspread (for a bedcover, quilt or throw)
beverages, a selection of hot, “dispensed” from a machine
bin (wastepaper basket)
botty (bottom)
briefs (pants - except everyone says pants now)
buggy (for baby buggy – American)

cardy (obsolete)
carrier (carrier bag or bag)
carton (word invented by manufacturer, too French in the wrong way, like serviette and crayon)
centres as in chocolates with mint centres (filling)
classical music (music)
close (stuffy)
collection (of Lladro figures or commemorative thimbles)
colourful (too generalised)
comfortable (I don’t feel comfortable with that)
condiment (pepper and salt, mustard, oil and vinegar)
cookbook (cookery book - cookbook is American)

cooked breakfast (breakfast - It’s assumed you have a buffet of grilled kidneys, kedgeree, porridge etc laid out in the breakfast room of your stately home.)

couch (Upwards rest on a sofa or chaise longue (not lounge), Weybridges sit on a settee, Nouveau-Richards recline on a divan)

counterpane (see bedspread)
creepy crawly (insect)
crispy (crisp)
cuddly toy (baby talk)

dentures (false teeth)
dessert (pudding)
diced vegetables (Upwards don’t dice things, they chop them up - but not into neat square cubes)
diddy (small)
dinette (obsolete, sadly)
dips (too nonspecific)
dishwasher (washing-up machine - “dishes” is American)
divan (see couch)

ellie (elephant)
ever so

fitted units
for the minute (for the moment)
fully licensed, fully lined

gift (present)
goodness (ad speak and too vague)
grand opera (opera)
hottie (hotwater bottle)

housecoat (no one wears them any more – they have central heating. Unless they’re trying to save money/the planet and cuddle up in a slanket.)

jumper (jersey)

kitchen units (everybody says units now, and has them in their kitchen, though it’s still naff to have wall units)

kitchen/diner (diner is American)
knickers (pants)
knits, knitwear (term invented by people trying to sell you the stuff)

leisure activities (name them)
lemon (yellow)
lightweight (raincoat)
lilac (purple)
lounge: sitting room (lounges have morphed into “open-plan living areas”)

matching set
mauve (purple)
meal (specify lunch, dinner)
mules (slippers)

navy (navy blue)
newest silhouette
notepaper (recalls sets of notelets with pallid flowers on them)
nuptials: wedding

odour: smell
of your choice

op (somehow goes with those other medical terms, “slip” off your clothes and “pop” on the couch.)

open-face sandwiches (smorgasbord)

packet of (some)

pantyhose (tights - obsolete, but there was an awful fuss about what to call them when they took over from stockings, even though ballet tights had been around for years and were called “tights”)

park home (caravan)
pastry (for bun, turnover, slice etc.)
pendant (Sam might excruciatingly call it a dingle dangle or be specific and call it a jade butterfly.)
pillow slip (pillow case)
plate (false teeth - far less common now, thank goodness)
plump (overweight)

polo (polo neck/polo-necked jersey)
poorly (ill)
pop on (put on, get on)
portion (helping)

pullover (Sam says jersey for anything woolly which doesn’t undo down the front. She doesn’t call anything a pullover, jumper, popover, sweater or slipover.)

pully (woolly pully)

reclining chair
refreshments (food)

relatives (for relations as in people you are related to. It’s genteel to call sexual relations “relations”, but then you can’t use the same word for your sister’s cousins nieces.)

Santa Claus, Santa (Father Christmas - Santa Claus is American)
scatter cushions (cushions - what you do with them is your business)
select (choose)
serve with

serviette (are all words ending in “ette” pretentious? dinette, banquette, leatherette, moist towelette, colognette, pochette. French in the wrong way again.)

serving suggestion
serving (helping)
set (luggage set)
shade (colour)
silky (silk)
similar to (like)
sink (basin, washbasin)

slacks (trousers - but no one wears slacks any more)
slip (v)
slip cover
slip on (put on)
slip (petticoat)
speeding (exceeding the speed limit - speeding is American)
squash (drink)
spring break
steps (ladder)
stitching (sewing)
street light (lamp post, street lamp)
stroller (pushchair)
suite, en (bathroom/loo)
suite, three-piece: sofa and chairs
sweater (jersey)

tablets (pills)
teatowel (drying up cloth)
throw (like gilet, a word made up by advertisers and manufacturers and as such deliberately classless)
toddler (small child, but surely no worse than sproglet?)
toilet roll (loo roll/loo paper/lav paper)
toilet (loo)
top (blouse, shirt, jersey, teeshirt)
topped with
track(y) bottoms (tracksuit bottoms - at least no one says sweat pants any more)
trim, slim (slender)

unsightly (ugly)
upset, emotional (Upwards have no word for this because you’re not allowed to be. Unless it’s “hysterical”.)

valance (Upwards don’t have them because they don't want to hide the legs of their furniture with a frill.)

vanitory unit (washbasin)
vanity bag (makeup bag)
vehicle (car)
vinegarette (vinaigrette)
violet (purple)

wash-hand basin (basin, washbasin. Definitelies call it a sink.)
welly boot (welly/Wellington/Wellington boot)
woolly (jersey, cardigan)
worktop (work surface)
wrapper (printed on the wrapper)

Wednesday 20 May 2015

Come Into the Garden Again

“Cut out all affectations, such as small bridges... human figures, china animals, glass ornaments, model houses, windmills etc.” advised the London Gardens Society of the 1930s.

When bedding plants (huge beds of one colour) slipped from Queen Victoria's house Osborne to public parks, they became “vulgar and garish”, says Alison Light in the London Review of Books reviewing The Gardens of the British Working Class by Margaret Willes. (Now despised, calceolarias, salvias and begonias were originally exotic imports that needed raising in hot houses.) Oyster-shell edging looked right in a Tudor knot garden, but not in a suburb. (Light repeats the canard that working-class people used most of their garden for growing food – not according to Charles Dickens, who described a village of wooden shacks, each with its outside seat in a “bower”. And hang on, what about all those paintings of cottage gardens?)

Quick-growing cornus provide a dark canopy in high summer – but be sure to avoid the garish pink varieties. I have used pink flowered forms in Japan, where the sugariness sits better with a Hello Kitty sensibility, but I wouldn’t use them here. Stick with the simplicity of cream and you won’t go far wrong.
 (Dan Pearson, Observer July 2014 Love the way he uses "simple" to mean "tasteful".)

Wavy fences are suburban (and 30s). Anathema to Upwards are suburban roads lined with pink flowering cherry and yellow forsythia in front gardens. That strip of land is supposed to keep the world at a distance – they don’t like all these Weybridge personalities coming right out to greet them. You are supposed to read a front garden as really being acres of parkland with deer, sheep and 500-year-old oaks, even if it is only a clump of cotoneasters and spotted laurel. Samantha Upward flinches at talk of the Britain in Bloom competition: all hanging baskets of lobelias.

Beautiful modernist houses (like Farnsworth House) are always in woods. No garden, just a clearing or lawns, with trees. It would be a crime to surround one with bedding plants or herbaceous borders. (But where’s the drive? How do you get there? And where do you park?)

You can get an “outdoor bonfire” (like gas logs). You may call it a “fire sculpture”, but who installs one of these? Surely only the Nouveau-Richards. A circular deck surrounded by a Richard Long ripoff (cemented together), and with a dining area in the middle is beyond naff. A “fire pit” is a fire wok, and you can get them in the style of Andy Goldsworthy. But a circular outdoor conversation pit with one of these in the middle would be rather cosy.

Domestic goddess Martha Stewart has a 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York – including horse paddocks, cutting gardens, a clematis pergola and “long allée of boxwood”. Good for her – big bare houses look so stark. The rich are still surrounding their mansions with a few timid plants, a table and chairs set huddled close to the house on a tiny patio, and vast areas of gravel (in front) and grass (at the back). What do they do on the grass – apart from mow it? With all that money, why don’t they turn their grounds into an adventure playground for adults? Or a maze? Or a treasure trail? Or a series of “rooms”? Or a forest?

At the least the houses need a flower bed and a flagged path all round. And a flower bed or small box hedge encircling the lawn. And features in the garden – paths, ponds, sundials, fruit trees, shade. They could spread themselves – build a bigger terrace, call it a parterre, put in some steps, a pergola, a few vines, some trees, fountains, statues… But I suppose proper stately home gardens require a staff of gardeners.

It was a green tunnel through the wood which opened suddenly upon a garden of rampant roses. Behind that, out of ample robes of roses and all kinds of clematis and jasmine, oriel windows gleamed... (A Clue for Mr Fortune, HC Bailey, 1937)

In Georgette Heyer’s 30s mystery No Wind of Blame, a  a vulgar ex-hotelier is aiming for the country house style, but doesn’t really like the “wild” garden with its rhododendrons and azaleas. He prefers the neat formal garden and “carriage sweep” at the front of the house.

Between King’s Cross and Highbury there are backwaters of huge Georgian houses that must be worth a million or two. The associated gardens all feature laburnums and wistaria.

In large country houses, flowers were grown in hothouses and flowerbeds to decorate the house. The lady of the house, or one of her daughters, arranged them herself. The idea slid down the classes, and Metroland grew roses and put them in rose bowls on occasional tables. Bowls of growing hyacinths were also popular, and hydrangeas in the garden. Metroland devised new types of flower vase: the bud vase for a single rose, little horseshoe-shaped containers in moss-effect pottery for primroses. And now we’re left with a lot of vases of various periods that mainly hold commercial bouquets we have been given for mother’s day.

The Times (May 16) has a tip for keeping the birds off your grass seed – use bunting.

More here, and links to the rest.

Thursday 7 May 2015

Gentrification 6

Stoke Newington becomes the Cotswolds

Some time soon, London will be nothing but a playground for the wealthy that doubles up as a tourist attraction. (Bryony Gordon DT Dec 2014)

It was a lot more upmarket than where we lived. (Countdown to Murder)

Is France the new Tonbridge Wells? I now dread readers' letters that end with words like "Aix" or "Rochefort-en-Terre" the most.

Overheard in Weybridge: “They’re opening a Morrison’s? Not very Weybridge!”

Trapped waiting in a Shoreditch coffee joint. Overheard convs inc mortgage options, 2nd homes in Cotswolds & green juice recipes. (James Wong @Botanygeek)

Would love it if, one day, the mystery house on Escape to the Country was a bedsit above a kebab shop in West Bromwich. (Sathnam Sanghera @Sathnam)

Times writer Robert Crampton used to think he could never own a mobile phone or live in a gated community or use a Filofax or drink imported lager or bottled water because that’s what 80s yuppies did. “What a dick,” he observes of himself. (April Times 2015)

Nothing says "I'm a member of the gentry" like "gentrification is a myth, but besides maybe it is actually good for places." (Chepotle Guevara ‏@AlJavieera)

I was quite as happy in Waddilove Street; but the fact is, a great portion of that venerable old district has passed away, and we are being absorbed into the splendid new white-stuccoed Doric-porticoed genteel Pocklington quarter.
(The Christmas Books of Mr. M.A. Titmarsh, William Makepeace Thackeray)

There's always some naive artist saying 'We just wanted a warehouse to take over – I'm shocked, shocked to see gentrification going on here!' (‏@davidjmadden)

Yes, yes, I’m sorry for young people trying to rent or get on the property ladder. When we were young our salaries were tiny. It was very hard for a single young woman to get a mortgage. You had to save with a building society, in the hope that it would give you a mortgage when you found a tiny flat in an “unfashionable” area. (“Fashionable” areas are where richer people live.) There was no spare cash for renovations. There were no credit cards in them days. If you wanted to rent a flat, you had to hand over “key money” of about £500. This was illegal, but a fact of life. And people were quite shocked at different genders sharing a flat or house. Even if you shared with one or two other girls, this was seen as something you did for a few years before getting married, not as a lifestyle choice. And most flats above shops were empty and decaying, for some legal reason. It made streets look tatty and depressing.

Back then, some middle class people worked the system so that they had a cheap flat in central London – housing association, co-op, top floor of some rich person’s house, pretended they lived in Westminster and bought a flat off Shirley Porter. It meant they had more spare cash than the rest of us and could afford a low-paid but high-status job or occupation – usually something impressively creative that we all wanted to do. Sometimes they had quietly married somebody with private means.

And now I hear middle-class young people are being forced to live in tiny bedsits to save on rent! Just like the 50s! (See Cooking in a Bedsitter, The L-Shaped Room.)

The chatterati are wringing their hands and moaning that London will become a bland theme park for the rich, and all the shops will sell nothing but overpriced chandeliers – ignoring the vast swathes of London where poor people will presumably go on living, as long as nobody kicks them off their estate so that they can sell it to developers or private investors. (By “London” I think they mean “central London” – or even “West London”.)

GENTRIFICATIONGentrification no longer means a few hippies, writers and artists moving into a run-down area; it no longer means hipster cafés; it no longer means nice-middle class families buying up Victorian houses that are cheaper than the Crouch End equivalent – it now means destroying beautiful old buildings, building soulless investment flats and waiting for the money to roll in.

Gentrification proceeds like an amoeba – the first pseudopods are hippy cafes which are almost working class. Cheap and inclusive, with batty décor. They are soon followed by upmarket coffee shops. The hippies move further out. It all happens so fast now! But perhaps when you’re 60 everything seems to happen fast. Perhaps that’s why people talk about “the hectic pace of modern life” – they mean it changes much faster than it used to. When we were children nothing changed much! At least that’s how it seems to us.

Hippy café in Dalston Waste

We used to talk about areas “coming up”. Areas can also go down. I wish they would. Middle class people used to move into an area that was said to be “coming up” and hang on for years among the pound shops and wind-blown litter while nothing happened and none of their friends came to join them. In Michael Frayn’s Towards the End of the Morning, one of the newsmen has moved into a South London suburb, and is always rather desperately trying to get others to move there, as he and his wife are lonely. Another character owns a large Victorian house but spends her time improving it with tacky “modern” features made out of MDF and hardboard – such as a cocktail bar in the lounge.

Apparently incomers can always point out the building that used to be a crack house. (I can – at the top of Sandringham Road, Dalston. Now spruced up, with a French church and a net-curtain shop as neighbours.)

Former crack house

Landlords put rents up so that only the affluent young can afford the area. The poor move out. Ordinary shops become middle class cafes. Is the exterior of your local pub now painted with blackboard paint – and “chalk” menus promising locally sourced grub? It’s happening in Finsbury Park.

Many more people go to uni now, and then they all come to London to become artists and actors and writers and work in the media (or get arts-related jobs). What did they do in the olden days? Many stayed in the provinces and became bank clerks. They joined a manufacturing firm and rose through the ranks. But banks have fewer branches and fewer clerks. The manufacturers have closed down. The warehouses are now studios. But we can’t all be artists – is this sustainable? Like the hippies who sold sandwiches from vans at festivals, the other route is to run a café with a difference. There’s a pub in Islington called The Library, and a café in Hackney called The Advisory. In Balls Pond Road: Salvation through Noodles, Subtitles, Artichoke.

Hipster style is the same old Ye Olde Tea Shoppe artsy craftsy William Morris (but without the medieval look). Nostalgia for the old ways of carving teaspoons, writing with a fountain pen, commuting by bicycle, growing a beard, wearing the costume of a Victorian builder. Meanwhile we run our lives with sophisticated technology, and all around us lovely bits of old London are being razed in favour of glass towers out of Metropolis and dull imitations of Georgian townhouses. Perhaps the hipsters will protest, if they’ve got a moment. Can’t wait for the first hipster to commute to work on horseback.

"It can feel strange to be surrounded by the same person wherever you turn," said a Hackney resident about the hipster incomers. The hipsters held a street party and only invited their friends, no local people. The same woman commented: “If another culture did that they’d be accused of not integrating.”

The broadsheets talk as if Stoke Newington has been gentrified – done and dusted. They never mention the people living on the many council estates; or the Turkish, Greek, Jewish, Chinese and Vietnamese communities who have lived here for decades and still do. Gentrification happens around these people.

We thought Stokey would always be the home of dissenters – travellers who went to Nepal and brought back silver jewellery and handwoven textiles, which they sold at the Stokey Festival. We used to shut the street and sell our wares (or sing) on the pavement and listen to salsa bands. We thought it would be like that for ever and ever. We never thought Stokey would become Islington. And then Fulham. And then the Cotswolds. But why wouldn’t it?  The rot set in when the street was no longer closed, and the festival became an ordinary rock gig in the park (and we sang in a tent), and then fizzled. Now there’s a music festival centred on the churches, with string quartets and lute recitals. I never go, my heart is broken.

More here, and links to the rest.

Monday 27 April 2015

Classy Quotes 19

Stockbroker belt

Everything in the environment I grew up in seemed to suggest that making a fuss would be a bad idea. (Washington Post on reporting rape)

That's what you get from middle-class conformity. That crime victims are told "not to make a fuss". (M. v. Aufschnaiter ‏@mva_1000)

It's a shame but most ppl in the UK are snobs would hate to be thought of as working class. (Kevin Ryan ‏@RyanLinandkevin in a discussion of "hardworking families")

I love being told people can't be working class as soon as they have a decent job. Not patronising at all. (@salihughes)

Notions of class/posh/status are all relative and often unknown beyond your own.
(Mr The Boy ‏@knitboy Someone told him “You’re better than me – you’re posh”.)

Folk have an odd concept around "poshness" don't they. Often preconceived and wide of the mark in reality. (Ed Chadwick ‏@photo_ed)

The whining, hypocritical, know-nothing wing of the middle class who can never admit that they are fortunate and must always pretend to be put upon. (Guardian on Nigel Farage March 29, 2015)

That strange class that straddles the awkward divide between the English petite and haute bourgeoisie... in-betweeners. (Will Self on Nigel Farage)

Aspiring to be a higher class than one is. Derived from bourgeois - meaning middle/upper class, traditionally despised by communists.  (Urban Dictionary – not for those of a nervous disposition. Nothing to do with the French for “candle”.)

Domestic servants who know their place and are not foolishly "above it" are respected and not "looked down on". (Girl’s Own, late 19th century)

I’m in practice at Churchford. You know, stockbrokers pretending to be farmers and expense-account executives pretending to be gentlemen. (Richard Gordon, Dr Gordon’s Casebook)

The only reason anyone listens to opera is because it's bad form to wear a hat saying "I went to private school". (Comment is Free commenter)

My problem with Mother’s Day is I just don’t know the form. It is essentially, an alien ritual, one I struggle to take seriously. We never kept Mother’s Day in my family. We dismissed is as a capitalist plot, a scheme imported from America to encourage the downtrodden proletariat (as well as the undowntrodden middle class to which we belonged) to part with their hard-earned money. (Robert Crampton, Times March 28, 2015 He grew up in the 80s, when practically everything was a capitalist plot.)

To counter being too 'middle class', the @nationaltrust will take art out of its stately homes. Really. (Bendor Grosvenor ‏@arthistorynews)

Simultaneously most bourgeois AND most bookselly thing I will say today "Oh no I dropped labneh on the book-token printer". (@lucyfishwife)

"I think the broadcasters are getting above their station." (Tory MP Philip Davies tells Radio 4, March 2015, not 1915 Or was it a joke? Radio? Station? You kill me!)

I was asked how old I was, what school I’d gone to and - when the recruiter hadn’t heard of it - whether it was fee paying. She enquired what my boyfriend and my parents did, and then finally told me that I’d be easy to place because I had a “nice accent” and a “nice face.” She “popped” me on to a job working for De Beers because “they can’t have someone with an accent answering the phone.” (Daily Telegraph on temping, March 2015 (not 1975)

The pedants’ complaints are not about real rules of grammar: they are a means of keeping divisions sharp. Their cause is not about culture but about class. (Times language expert Oliver Kamm)

Place settings are measured to perfection with a ruler, the footmen’s buttons absolutely correct, yet everything important is absolutely wrong... Modern capitalism promotes the myth that we are all masters of our fate. (Polly Toynbee in the Guardian on Downton Abbey, and the way it leaves out the gruelling toil of servants’ lives, their job insecurity, and the rudeness and inhumanity of their employers.)

I’d like to be very British about it but I can’t. It’s been horrendous. (Woman flooded out last year in Somerset apologises for being upset about it.)

She was terribly middle-class and ordinary and respected the establishment enormously. She virtually curtsied when the Queen came on television. She used to curtsey before the royal children, for goodness sake. (Margaret Thatcher's adviser Tim Bell, Times Dec 14, sticks a stiletto into his old boss)

Under the levelling process of college, it had been possible to ignore the differences in their upbringing. (Jeffrey Eugenides, The Marriage Plot)

The posh, quite swiftly, have become a hell of a lot more like everybody else. As in, when they aren’t riding side-saddle to hounds, they’re watching Doctor Who and going to Topshop. (Hugo Rifkind Nov 2014)

"Talking about class has become a proxy for doing anything about it" Guardian editorial in the week of the "plebgate" verdict (AdamNathanielFurman ‏@Furmadamadam)

He even made a suggestion for a feature about how the middle class becoming rich “had ruined everything”. “They have ruined taste in Britain,” he moaned. (Tatler editor Matthew Bell in Posh People: Inside Tatler. He himself is middle class, the article pointed out.)

This is a splendid satire of what happened when the counter culture began to trickle down the affluent middle classes in the 1970s. Kate and Harvey are a typical Marin County couple. They've dropped their previous square lifestyle (where Kate got off on baking cookies and starching the kitchen curtains) to get in touch with their real selves. This involves scream therapy, encounter groups, consciousness raising sessions, dope and granola. The book follows an uneventful year in their lives when they experiment with an open marriage, life on a commune, and a series of new and ultimately disastrous partners. It's pretty tough on their daughter Joan (who joins the Moonies) and their pets, Donald Barthelme (an Afghan, who doesn't survive his mistress' affair with a poodle-groomer) and Kat Vonnegut Jr (a cat). The book was originally written in short weekly episodes, like Bridget Jones’s Diary, and the style of humour is very like The Diary of a Nobody or the Mapp and Lucia books: lots of bathos and a series of mini-sagas that overlap. Despite everything Kate and Harvey are quite sympathetic (they both secretly hanker after their old lifestyle). I thought it was very funny and prescient. The truth is that nowadays we ALL live in Marin County! (Amazon review of Cyra McFadyen’s The Serial, written in the 70s)

"An honest John Bull would only laugh at the knavish fool whom he saw blubbering and groaning over a grave stuck with daffadowndillies." (Victorian quoted in Dirty Old London, Lee Jackson. And you thought "the Dianafication of society" was a new thing?)

[Edwin Chadwick, architect of the infamous 1834 Poor Law] would not be considered for a post as one of the three Poor Law Commissioners, due to his ‘station in society’ – such berths were reserved for the well-connected elite. (Dirty Old London, Lee Jackson)

A classic Telegraph obit: "Trendell, known to his friends as Trixie, enjoyed entertaining at the Athenaeum."  (Andrew Brown ‏@seatrout. The Athenaeum is an expensive London gentleman's club.) 

Anthropologist Kate Fox writes in the New Statesman about the perils of meeting your grand friends for lunch at the weekend: your belt and shoes look too new and shiny; your wristwatch is too big and flashy; black labrador Monty’s collar has his name on it in inverted commas; you are sitting with your legs too far apart... (Oct 2014-10-15)

It's not the quality of the photo but the signifiers it includes - messages about race, class and educational background - that is most likely to influence [success on Tinder]. (BBC News)

According to Nicky Haslam in the Daily Mail, the following are common in 2014. (He says “It’s nothing to do with snobbery.” He also damns "relaxing" and "talking about kitchens".)

Talking about being ill – “just ghastly”.
Organic food.
Calling yourself an “intensely private person”.
Not owning up to having had “work” done – “everyone can tell at a glance”.
Wearing shirts with your initials on the cuff.
Wearing a bikini top with a skirt.
Saying “gardern” and “portrayte” instead of gard’n and portritt.
Flying somewhere hot for Christmas.
Saying “Louis Vuitton” (it’s just “Vuitton”).
Being a DJ at a party.
Mouthing the words to a song when dancing.
Living statues.
Drinking vodka and tonic (instead of gin).
Harvey Nichols.
New Mini Coopers (they ruined the design, apparently).
Young royals – dull, apart from Harry.
Avoiding carbs.
Foodie restaurants like Noma.
Personal trainers.
Going to the gym.
Bellinis (the cocktails, not the paintings).
Claiming that where you live “has its own micro-climate”.
Glass or polished wood fruit in a bowl.
Dress codes on party invitations (apart from “black tie”).
Putting “carriages at....” on party invitations.
Gourmet canapes.
Saying that something is “a nonsense”.
Serving both sparkling and still water in a private house – it should be a jug of tap water.
“Cuff links and shirt studs. The Queen’s dressmaker Hardy Amies told me that they should only ever be worn with a starched evening shirt with cuffs too stiff to be buttoned.”
Richard Branson.
Elaborate coffee, milk in coffee.
Conservatories (become a children’s playroom).
Wearing airline pyjamas.
Dog walking.
Garrick club ties.
Collapsible umbrellas.
Ultra-expensive bikes.
Skiing in France (apparently Courchevel is full of Russians!).
Speeches at weddings and office leaving dos.
Minding about smoking.
Farm shops, and especially meeting for coffee at one.
Enormous bath towels.
Saying “uz” for us.
Knocking easyJet.
Telling everyone that your blood sugar is low, or that you’re wheat intolerant. Or “I can’t eat dairy.”
Art and design – too ubiquitous.
Miniature trees in window boxes (too tasteful).
The hymn “Lord of the Dance” – so happy-clappy. (It’s a 17th century Shaker hymn.)
Cheese boards with too many cheeses – means the host is insecure.
Long-running TV shows and plays (Downton, Phantom, The Woman in Black).
Box sets.
Talking back to the Satnav.
Saying “bye-bye” instead of goodbye.
Scottish accents.
Saying “All the vegetables came from our garden.”
Tiramisu. James Bond. My Way. Jazz.
And “It’s terribly common to be confident.”
More here, and links to the rest.

Monday 6 April 2015

Classy Sports and Pastimes 2

Sick of this post-Olympic meme about how wonderful athletes etc are compared to footballers. Assumption behind it seems to be that working class people are corrupted by money, footballers as undeserving rich. Not like wonderful Olympians who do it for the love of sport and because they are so hard working and dedicated. (Mark Fisher ‏@kpunk99)

Upwards never go to London’s ExCel centre (upcoming events include the Holy Ghost Festival of Life and the Property Investor & Homebuyer Show). Their children wonder why they can’t go to Cinderella on Ice at Alexandra Palace like all their friends.

Tennis (and having your own tennis court) used to be a sign of sophistication. Then it was proximity to a golf course. This has been replaced by nearness to a gym, and doing strange exercises on an elastic attached to a tree (just as in the first chapter of E.M. Forster's Howards End, set in 1905).

In the country, Upwards go for long, muddy walks along the same few routes. Apart from being “good for you”, these walks have no object. They don’t look for archaeology, observe botany (though "foraging" is fashionable) or sketch. And they never walk anywhere near a café or shop. They like to go somewhere where they’re unlikely to meet anybody else – they don’t want to have to say “Good afternoon” to a stranger. Weybridges play golf, and hang out in the clubhouse, which makes Upwards despise them.

Upwards do contemporary dance, Teales and Definitelies do jazz dance and tap. Upwards perform for free in “arts centres”. Sharon Definitely gets a job in Cats. Bryan and Jen go ballroom dancing.

Upwards never go to interior ski slopes or dry ski slopes. Stow Crats go there to practise, or just go to Verbier three times a year. It’s a mating ritual. Upwards can’t go snow sphering either – bang goes sixpence and it’s not mind-improving. Besides, they're just not very physical, despite all that netball at boarding school.

Teales know how to wrap their bathing things (as Samantha would call them) into a neat roll to be carried under the arm. Sam shoves hers into an old canvas bag. Sharon makes herself a beach bag from a pattern in a woman’s magazine.

More pastimes here.
Olympic legacy here.