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.