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)