Wednesday 28 December 2016

Class and Décor in the works of Simon Brett

Mustard and olive

I’ve just read two of Simon Brett’s Charles Paris novels – Cast in Order of Disappearance and Amateur Corpse – back to back. They are early entries in a series that continued into the 90s, both published in the mid-70s. Charles is a usually out-of-work actor who has left his wife about 12 years earlier. His bid for adventure and freedom has led him no further than a dreary bedsit, with a rickety kitchen chair, yellow candlewick bedspread, and gas ring behind a plastic curtain. While picking up work here and there, Charles sometimes stumbles across mysteries or murders, and feels compelled to try and puzzle them out, using the many characters he has played over the years as a disguise.

I find Charles likeable, despite his drink problem, and particularly appreciate Brett’s sharp eye for the contemporary scene.

“The Bricklayers’ Arms was one of those modern pubs that capture all the atmosphere of an airport lounge. Hanging red lights shone on leatherette couches and framed relief pictures of vintage cars.” What has happened to pubs like this? All re-Victorianised? Charles later drops into a “a coach lamp and horse brasses pub” patronised by the “the local Scampi and Mateus Rosé crowd”.

“The door was opened by a woman in a pale pink nylon housecoat and pink fur slippers. She had prominent teeth and dyed black hair swept back in the style of a souvenir Greek goddess. Her face was heavily made up and eye-lashed... She ushered him into a stuffy little room lit by bright spotlights. It was decorated in orange and yellow, with a leopardette three-piece suite covering most of the carpet. Every available surface was crowded with small brass souvenirs. Lincoln imps, windjammer bells, lighthouses, anchor thermometers, knights in armour, wishing wells... On the dresser two posed and tinted photographs rose from the undergrowth of brass.” Popular in the 30s, miniature brass ornaments have never made a comeback.

In one Nouveau Riche interior “all the walls were hung with hunting prints which were anonymously expensive, bought on advice by a man without natural taste. Two enormous china Dalmatians stood guarding the front door” which "had a brass lion knocker and was white, with small square Georgian panels. The up-and-over garage door was panelled in the same way. In fact the whole scheme of the house was Georgian, with thin-framed white windows set in neat red brick. It was exactly the sort of house that anyone in Georgian England who happened to own two cars, a central heating oil tank, a television and a burglar alarm would have had."

Inside Charles finds: “jungle wallpaper, a Raspberry Ripple carpet and a green leather three-piece suite”. Also a giveaway are “the miniature cluster of swords and axes tastefully set behind a red shield on the wall. And the three-foot-high china pony pulling a barrel. And the wrought iron drinks trolley with the frosted glass top and gold wheels.”

The couple who live here sport “saxe-blue silk shirts” (the man) and “rainbow lamé slippers” (the woman.

At the suburban house of his friend, a successful lawyer: “The conversion had consisted mainly of sticking cork tiles on every available surface... The pale green bath, basin, bidet and lavatory were modem and functional. Fluffy yellow towels hung from the heated rail... The walls were olive green and the floor was covered with the same mustardy carpet as the bedroom.”

Gerald “was wearing a double-breasted gangster-striped suit over a pale blue T-shirt. Around his neck hung a selection of leather thongs, one for a biro, one for a packet of Gauloise, one for a Cricket lighter and others whose function was not immediately apparent. His lapels bristled with badges, gollies, teddy bears, a spilling tomato ketchup bottle and similar trendy kitsch.”

Brett is exaggerating, but not much. There was a fashion for wearing a biro or cigarette lighter on a thong round your neck. Another female character wears “a P.V.C. apron with a design of an old London omnibus”. Plastics were trendy because modern, and you could print anything on them, including the retro kitsch popular at the time.

The apercus keep coming: “Charles remembered how cheap he had always found the emotionalism of Wagner’s outpourings... Again Charles was conscious of the other man’s need for him. He was being paraded for the benefit of Hugo’s local crowd.”

There is way too much about Charles’s drinking. He and others (and readers) assume that investigation is his hobby, and that he blunders around until the solution falls into his lap, but actually he behaves quite like a regular detective. He starts off noticing something that doesn’t add up, or wants to help out an old friend or girlfriend, and then does the usual pondering and legwork.

What makes these books particularly 70s, apart from the clothes and the décor? Censorship had disappeared less than a decade ago, and now we could say anything, and girls were on the pill, and you didn’t have to marry them... Brett veers between voyeuristic salaciousness, and a vision of how life would really be for a 50-ish actor in this brave new world. Charles has a rather unbelievable number of one-night stands, but wants to fall in love like a 17-year-old, while admitting to himself that this is unlikely to happen.

More décor here.

Monday 19 December 2016

Have a Very Classy Holiday Period!

Upwards moan about Christmas because they have reached 35-40 and now have several small children and they need to do the whole thing – decorations, tree, crib, family get-together, presents. And it’s all rather hard work. They do it, but they whinge the entire time. Also, how can you be original and special? A tree is a tree is a tree.

But they do it – like they get married in church and have hymns. It’s like saying “I’m grown up now and I’ve got to join the establishment".

I’m not going to join in the moan about Christmas starting too early (shops need a lead time to sell to us, and we need the time to buy the stuff), but I do resent being sold “Christmas” scented candles and – "mulled spice scented" thick bleach? “Christmas spice” scented loo paper?

The Times asked a few celebs what they avoided at Chrismas.

Stephen Bayley (head of the Design Museum): "Christmas is a spectacle of alarming excess and waste, although there are ways to avoid the kitsch.” He and his family have neither turkey nor tree. “We eat peasant feast food... minestrone or a cotechino with spicy lentils and mostarda”. (Cotechino is a kind of boiled salami, and “mostarda di frutta is a Northern Italian condiment made of candied fruit and a mustard-flavoured syrup”, says Wikipedia.) Lighting is “wobbly beeswax church candles bought in a Greek market”.

Kelly Hoppen (interior designer): “I can’t bear cinnamon sticks [as decoration] – they’re so naff – and those dried orange slices are the absolute worst.” Her favourite is “getting pine tree branches and putting them on the dining table” with some “big glass witches’ balls”.

Patrick Grant (designer) can’t stand not having turkey, and thinks the one-upmanship needs to stop.

Peter York (style guru) prefers food from Iceland, washed down with Kir Royale and Bayleys.

I’d love to serve Stephen Bayley peasant food – bubble and squeak (fried potato and cabbage), corned beef hash, lobscouse, Lancashire hot pot or stargazy pie (a Cornish dish made of baked pilchards, along with eggs and potatoes, covered with a pastry crust). Brexit cuisine! His menu will be banned once we leave the EU. I’m off round to Peter’s.

In the best possible taste

More here, and links to the rest.

Monday 5 December 2016

What to Wear 5

A woman flaneuse in Paris in the 50s is wearing an authentic orange Mexican “rebozo” as a scarf. Her handbag is a horse’s feed bag. Is she “playing with codes” (Radio 4)? This is a certain kind of one-upmanship, also an “ain’t broke don’t fix it” attitude. According to Cheap Chic, you wear the actual prep school boy’s grey jersey from the school catalogue, not a copy. You carry a Woolworth’s satchel. You go to Mexico to get the scarf. It may cost a few pesos, but it also costs the price of the trip. It has to be a real horse's feed bag and you have to have the secret knowledge of where to get one. Asking the person with the bag where she got it like it would be lame, and she wouldn’t tell you. (I once admired a friend's scarf: she’d got it in Guatemala. So I went to South America to get one like it. Almost.)

In the 70s and 80s it was also a case of grab the generic thing that preserves a 70-year-old design before they stop making it or disastrously update it (Anello and Davide tap shoes). Black patent Mary Janes with a white or cream trim were popular with Teales in the 70s. Mrs Definitely had a wardrobe of plastic shoes (orange square toes with buckles were her favourites).

Upwards were too snobbish to be glamorous. We worked at entry-level media jobs and could only afford home-made and charity shop. And besides, fashion was a capitalist plot, high heels were patriarchal de da de da. We wore grandad vests from army surplus shops as jerseys.

The Teale version of “looks don’t matter” is “don’t pass personal remarks” (old-fashioned), or “don’t be uncharitable”. The Weybridge version is “avoid making comments”. Hippy Upwards would draw in their chins and stare unblinkingly if you commented amusingly on anyone’s clothes, hairstyle or behaviour, especially if you seemed to be “putting them in a box”, or implying that humans could be typed at all (because we’re all utterly original individuals, you see). Nobody could be as conformist or judgemental as a hippy, but it was always about falling short of the ideal in some way – like eating tinned tuna because it’s a) polluted with mercury and b) cruel to dolphins.

30s fashion crimesIn Georgette Heyer's Envious Casca, 1938, Mrs Dean is the vulgar mother of the common Valerie. She appears wearing “a Persian lamb coat and skittish hat, perched over elaborately curled golden hair”. She holds out a “tightly gloved hand” with an “arch smile”. Under her coat she is wearing “a tightly fitting lace blouse” and a “large paste brooch”. Her skirt is too short and tight. She smoothes out her gloves after taking them off. She has an enamelled cigarette case and smokes “fat” gold-tipped Egyptian cigarettes.

40s and 50s fashion crimes
In the late 40s and early 50s, teenage girls were dressed like bigger children, with little sailor hats on the back of the head, short hair, a jersey and skirt. In the late 50s and early 60s, girls dressed like their mothers, with tailored suits, hats and gloves.

In children’s books, the middle-class teenaged characters have nothing much to wear but school uniform or sports gear. Boys have a jacket, trousers and a few jerseys and shirts; girls a few skirts, shirts and jerseys. They mix and match these dull, drab clothes. (The girls have one party dress, the boys one best suit. The girls have one or two brooches they pin onto their tweed jackets.) Only working class teenagers wear red pedal-pusher jeans, ponytails, makeup and stripy T shirts.

60s fashion crimesNylon knickers were naff, and we just didn't see those nylon negligée sets (nightie and negligee, both with two layers and frills, in ice blue or peach).

Jo Grant in Dr Who (70s) is dressed as a Top Shop hippy. Homemade chokers and leather waistcoats quickly became assembly-line versions of themselves. Purple and brown, originally signifying magic and the earth, were just this season’s colours. How annoyed the hippies must have been.

80s fashion crimesGreen furry monster slippers.
Mullet haircuts.
Ties with piano keyboards running down them.
Stonewashed denim.
Giant headphones with a union jack design.
The sort of thing that’s been uncool and untrendy and slightly embarrassing for 30 years. (Victoria Coren Mitchell)

Fashion crimes
high-street jewellery
(cheap, ugly, badly made, jumping on latest trend, e.g. big necklace of flat wooden rings)
filigree jewellery (not seen since about 1965)
glitter ball beads in different colours
It is not done to wear rings on the first and second fingers.
bottomless glasses (common in 50s, 60s and 70s, they made wearers look like librarians) They’re back 2014.

Winter, 2016 The current uniform is a padded jacket with a fur-trimmed hood or collar; navy, khaki, black, grey; skinny jeans and boots; plaid scarf. Sharon D wears her jacket fitted, and it stops at the waist. She wears knee-high black boots and walks with a wiggle. Thalia Upward wears a baggy jacket to the knee, and ankle boots. Christine Teale wears olive suede ankle boots with long fringes.

Scraped-back hair and a very tiny pompadour secured with hair grips is very Definitely, especially when the hair is dyed black or dark brown. Eternal hipster Rowena has adopted a look from early 70s knitting patterns, and is even dyeing her hair grey. But whatever the trend, female Stow-Crats are inclined to wear flowery fabric and quilting, sometimes combined.

I spotted some young European dudes in Hackney wearing correct and very stylish hipster gear – but it was all expensive, good quality, clean, and quite new. Designer work clothes. Accessorised with very expensive, unmarked, new leather mini-rucksacks. No beards, but model looks.

Jilly Cooper described Mrs Thatcher as looking “trim”, and unable to achieve Shirley Williams’ bag lady look that identified her to some as an upper-middle-class intellectual. But when you reach a certain age, you need to look “trim”, and also your clothes need to look “good”, ie expensive, or people will think you really are a homeless person. They also call you dear and assume you are losing your marbles. You can’t carry off the vintage shabby chic look any more. I plan to wear a lot of jewellery, a fur hat, dark glasses, and lipstick at all times. Scent probably helps. And a knock-off designer bag.

You know as well as I do that spike heels are out as far as daytime dress is concerned. The look should be casual. No one goes in for heavy make-up or exaggerated hair styles... It is most easily explained as the absence of bad taste, the elimination of the tawdry, the tinselly, the tacky.... When skirts are short, her knees freeze in the breeze. (Betty Cornell Teen-Age Popularity Guide, Betty Cornell)

The unchanging sub-Sloane look that satisfied Nice Girls for about five decades faded away in the Nineties... (Middle Class Handbook)

The upper and middle classes, who had previously despised the ‘servile’ costume [the kilt], now picked up with enthusiasm the garb which its traditional wearers had finally discarded. (The Invention of Tradition)

Her flowing dress and shawl combined with a tangle of hanging beads to make her look like a bentwood hat stand. (Star Trap, Simon Brett)

The knee-high boot was a hot look until two or three years ago, when it fell out of fashion favour because the norms got hold of it. They wore it with skinny jeans, which was OK, but then they added fluffy gilets and – heaven help us – waterfall cardigans. The high-heeled knee boot went from Carine Roitfeld to Carole Middleton. (Jess Cartner-Morley in the Times Oct 2014-10-11)

All my life I’ve wanted to wear fishnet stockings and hang around dog-tracks eating peppermint creams and using frightful language. (West End People, Peter Wildeblood)

More here, and links to the rest.

Wednesday 30 November 2016

More Classy Holidays

It’s getting so hard to find anywhere “unspoilt” – completely lacking in tourists, especially the wrong kind of Brits. Next year why not try Transdniestria (empty cities with uniformed girl traffic cops at every intersection), or a trip to Kazakhstan to see Norman Foster's follies?

Middle-class Upwards go on foreign holidays or "wild camping" – This year they're staying in a reconditioned shepherd’s hut. Lower-middle-class Teales spend the time and money decorating their house. Jen Teale and Sharon Definitely take a trip to the locations of TV series (Antrim for the Game of Thrones etc). Samantha Upward would never stay anywhere that called itself a “resort”.

Now David Cameron has resigned the Camerons won't have to go to fish markets on holiday any more and be snapped pointing at fish. (Carol Midgley, paraphrase)

I want to go to Cuba before it's not high status. (@BDSixsmith)

Caro Stow-Crat complains that “Milan was impossible!”. She means “crowded with the wrong sort of people”. Sometimes “simply impossible”.

Nothing kills the romance of an ancient castle more than several coachloads of people in pastel leisurewear. (blog)

Despite her love of pesto, peppers, fettucine, polenta and the rest, Sam is still quite shocked that people go on holiday for the food. I was slightly surprised – 20 years ago – to hear about people’s holidays snorkelling in Sharm El Sheikh. They swam, sunbathed, ate, drank, went out at night. Where were the visits to art galleries and cathedrals? The quaint little (cheap) pensioni? The real life of the people? The avoidance of coasts (and costs)?

Even more posh: “She liked travel but dreaded sight-seeing.” This was the Upward view of travel in the 50s. You were supposed to sit at a pavement café and people-watch rather than visiting the Parthenon. And feel slightly guilty about having a guidebook and going to see the cathedral and art gallery. The only physical activity undertaken is joining in the nightly passegiata, when people come out after dinner in the cool of the evening and stroll around the streets, shop and chat to their friends.)
Upwards never go to discos or nightclubs abroad. They never go to them at home, either.

Across the road is the town’s old quarter and here, at least, the mood is upbeat. This is a tiny, charming area — little more than a couple of squares with some pretty streets radiating from it. Bright, attractive small businesses have begun opening here — vintage clothes shops, pretty cafés, great galleries and chi-chi home décor shops...  Even more surprising, perhaps, is the football-free pub, The Lifeboat, where you can perch beside a barrel, sample ales and cheeses, and eavesdrop on the locals — a cheerful bunch who are only too happy to make you feel at home.
(The Times on Margate)

I hate to generalise... but something about low-cost air travel seems to bring out the very worst in certain members of the middle-aged English middle class. I reckon it must be the egalitarian nature of the deal, an absence of the usual myriad indicators of status and rank that some people seem to struggle to live without. “We might all be doing this on the cheap,” appears to be the attitude of some passengers who are unable (perfectly understandably) to resist the lure of a bargain, “but don’t think for a minute I am not otherwise infinitely superior to you. I could and should actually be making this journey first-class on a scheduled service, would that one existed. Or on the Orient Express. Or via a sedan chair borne aloft by contemptible proles such as you…” etc. (Robert Crampton, Times July 2015)

Rick Stein using “mass tourism” to mean chav tourism with draught beer and English football. (Saturday Kitchen March 2015)

But here I feel disappointed, rather as I did when I first went to Center Parcs: it wasn’t the future all under a plastic dome – it was chalets, terrible weather and activities. (Suzanne Moore)

By revamping the hotel, Kevin Smith, the general manager of the Craigellachi Hotel, said they wanted to create an unpretentious but high-end venue for “posh house parties”. He said they had already had dukes and duchesses to stay and “have a lot of famous faces booked for next year”.
As for celebrity guests, Mr Adam suggested the A-list had been retreating inconspicuously to Scotland for a while, the world just hadn’t noticed. “Some really prominent people go fishing on the Spey, it’s a mecca for old-money families. Then you’ve got the people who come up for the Johnstons of Elgin cashmere, which is the cashmere Chanel and Hermès use and is made just down the road. The Highlands is attracting some amazing people but the paparazzi aren’t on the banks of the Spey taking photos.” (Times Dec 26 2014)

More here, and links to the rest.

More Quotes about Boarding Schools

The dear old place

Send your child to a single-sex boarding school for a wonderful education and a lifetime of crippling social awkwardness.

Having served time at both Stonyhurst College and HMP Dartmoor, I can confirm that I was treated better at the latter institution. (A friend writes. He recalls cross-country runs in the dark every morning, followed by Mass. Cold showers, a tepid, shallow bath once a week, and daily beatings. This was the 50s – that Golden Age UKIP members want us all to go back to.)

Lol @ old Etonian criticising the left for “only talking to each other” and “not understanding the people.” #bbcqt
(Ellie Mae O’Hagan ‏@MissEllieMae)

Eton “teaches you charm, concealment of your true purpose, the ability to make people believe in you”. (writer Charles Cumming)

I used to write notes, says Giles Coren. That was how I passed exams and got into a good school. But “I did not have a single friend. And I had never met a girl. So I looked around me at the boys with friends and, more importantly, the ones with girlfriends. And when I started in the sixth form I made a few changes. I yanked down my tie and untucked my shirt. I threw away my briefcase... and swore never to take a note again... By the end of the first week, I had mates. By half-term, I had a girlfriend. By Christmas I had a hot girlfriend.” (Times 2015-10-03)

Maybe, if that’s what you’ve grown up with – no play, no chat, no flirting, no female friends, no girlfriends who will and girlfriends who won’t, no trips to the cinema, no gradual understanding of when a coffee is just a coffee, and when you ought to not go for that coffee, because “coffee might mean something more"... Forget Isis. Worry more about that.
(Hugo Rifkind on a programme about Muslims, Times 2015-10-03 But why does normal behaviour have to involve a strange code about coffee?)

Gabriella Wilde, Poldark star, went to boarding school, which she hated... “I went to quite a lot of schools. I was at Heathfield for three years. It’s a fun school but basically it’s a lot of girls who get bored and get up to no good. MY children will have different childhood; I don’t think they’ll go to boarding school. I think it’s a bizarre thing to do. I didn’t enjoy it and my husband hated it. It’s a strange way to grow up.”
Being sent away to board at Eton was as unhappy an experience as his parents’ death, the actor Dominic West has said. “It was the worst feeling I have ever had, very similar to the grief when my parents died. It’s the same thing really; you think you’ve lost your parents. (Times 2016-07-26)

Mike Tindall, former England rugby captain, told The Daily Mail: “I’m certainly not keen on sending Mia away to a boarding school at the other end of the country. I know many people who say boarding was the making of them because they forged great independence from their parents, but I don’t really want her to be distanced from us. My school was a public one and plenty of my mates lived in, but I was just a day student and it definitely didn’t do me any harm. If anything, I enjoyed the best of both worlds. Personally, I’d rather she attend a school that’s nearby, where we’ll always be on hand if she needs us. Anything else goes against my instincts.” ( 5 Jun 2016)    

Parental interest can compensate for a lack of financial power to some degree: the children of the most interested and involved parents on a low income may do ‘better’ than wealthy children whose parents are less interested. (LRB May 2016)

My years at public school here in England were the unhappiest of my life. I have never taken kindly to discipline; I hate to be forced to occupy myself with things which don’t interest me, and I hate all the cruder kinds of physical discomfort. The only time I was ever warm at school was in bed... and the food was foul. The English school system leaves boys quite incapable of dealing with women in later years. (Leslie Charteris/Bowyer-Yin)

Sending a seven-year-old to boarding school probably isn’t a good idea. People would tell me that schooldays are the best days of your life, and I used to live in horror that it was true. I was probably all sorts of things that they would diagnose now, but they didn’t do that in those days. I was just thick. (Anna Chancellor, T 2015-10-24)

I really believe that segregating children in single sex schools risks stunting their emotional and social development. (Richard Cairns, head of Brighton College, Times 2015)

A boy killed himself aged 21, after being bullied by a master at prep school. “[The master] became infatuated with some young boys while subjecting others to the misery of emotional bullying and humiliation.” Mother: “I had no idea that the place where we wouldn’t be able to keep him safe was an incredibly expensive private school. Parents and teachers need to be taught how fragile a child’s psyche can be.” The child kept telling his parents, and was obviously distressed. “Initially, we thought he was bringing this dislike upon himself by his silly behaviour.” The child was in a scholarship class “where academic success was paramount, but they sensed that poor pastoral care was viewed by some parents as a price worth paying. [His mother] remembers being told by one mother that you put up with [the school] in order to secure a place at St Paul’s.” The parents complained, and the school responded by nitpicking about procedure, and saying an investigation would be too much of an ordeal for the boy. (Times magazine 2015-10-11)

Readers under the age of 60 may not be fully aware that back in the 1960s, ‘being at boarding school’ didn’t necessarily mean that your parents were well-heeled as it does now. The world map was still coloured pink, and boarding school was a sort of gentle fostering service for the children of the army of sometimes quite lowly civil servants and military that were stationed in the outposts of the British empire. (

Self harm and depression are on the rise in private schools. Social media, exams, and the pressure to be beautiful are blamed (Times 2015 Oct 5 Not “sending children to live away from their family, friends, and community in a loveless institution”.)

More here, and links to the rest.

Tuesday 22 November 2016

Beat the Cold (and Heat) 4

Matinee jacket

Turning up the heat in most English houses, or to be more precise, turning it on, simply isn’t done.
(Florence King, Wasp, Where Is Thy Sting?)

You don’t open your window on a January night until you are ready to dive into bed and pull the clothes about you.
(Anna Where Are You, Patricia Wentworth When did Upwards stop sleeping in a room with an open window in January????)

Other people’s houses are so cold. (Barbara Pym, Jane and Prudence)

British homes are kept far warmer than they were 30 years ago, says somebody who suggests shivering keeps you slim (Jan 2014). You try it.

Brits really are supposed to keep a stiff upper lip and pretend that they don’t feel heat or cold or pain or tiredness or hunger or thirst or calls of nature, and they mustn’t do anything to make themselves more comfortable, even if the solution is easy, simply and obvious – like fanning yourself, or sitting on the grass, or moving nearer to a fire. (According to 19th century novels, entitled middle-aged middle-class men stood in front of an open fire warming themselves and blocking the heat from everybody else.)

In the 30s, you couldn’t wear a fur coat, or any coat, indoors, but you were allowed to wear a fur stole over your sleeveless, backless evening dress which you wore (over an “opera-top” woollen vest and knickers) in frigid English drawing rooms. That was when “everybody” dressed for dinner, but didn’t have the blazing fires that made the thin evening dresses possible. (You were also allowed to wear something called a “coatee” or a “matinee jacket”.)

I remember going to a cocktail party in a vicarage in the 60s and standing around chatting in a room that felt like an industrial fridge. Why were Upward houses so cold in the 50s, 60s, 70s? They hadn’t installed central heating because it was “American” (ie too expensive). If they did install it, it was always off because it was too expensive to run.

Victorian houses were heated only by open fires, but the Victorians managed to be quite cosy because they wore so many clothes. In the 30s Upwards cast off restricting Victorian spencers and combinations – and shivered. They wore nylon stockings and thin shoes in the winter. It would have been sensible to wear huge ski jerseys, thick stockings, hats and fingerless gloves indoors, but as always, they were afraid of looking different. (While thinking they were wacky individualists and exhorting everyone to “Be yourself!”)

During WWII Upwards were forced to become more practical, and were encouraged to knit woollen vests and knickers. (Was baby wool unrationed?) Strangely, lace-trimmed long knickers in jazzy colours trended in the short-skirted 60s and were seized on with joy by chilly Upwards. That was just before tights took over from nylons.

In the 50s and 60s, if you said “I’m cold”, someone would say loudly: “Well, put on a thick jersey!” Because they couldn’t possibly say “I’m not turning on any form of heating because it costs money”.

French writer Agnès Poirier is appalled that the English set their central heating to go off for several hours a day. At one lunch party I went to, it got very cold at about 3pm and we all asked if we could have some heat. The host said “The central heating will come on again at 4pm.” We said “Well, can you turn it on now?” And he said rather crossly “It will come on again at 4!” Of course, he didn’t know how to override the timer, but couldn’t admit it. And didn’t have any other form of heating.

When do you turn on your heating? How long do you “hold out” and “resist the temptation” before you finally “succumb”? Oil is expensive! October 1 seems to be the official date. Upwards with oil-fired central heating and a wood-burning stove in the sitting room are like people who had an open fire in one room and no heating anywhere else (back in the Good Old Days).

The trouble with central heating – it’s either OFF or ON. In the slightly more recent days you could turn on individual radiators. Perhaps Upwards should reinvent this useful feature. Or uncover the fireplace, sweep the chimney, and build a fire. They might find themselves sitting round it and, who knows, they might even talk to each other. Humans have lived around fires since Prometheus gave us the secret – a room without even a fake fireplace seems disorganised and unfocused.

Lady Dedlock’s fireplace was “closed in by night with broad screens, and illumined only in that part”. (Dickens, Bleak House) Lady D managed to turn her huge, formal drawing room back into a cave.

Jen Teale has a wall-mounted electric fire with Optiflame log effect. Or a free-standing fire with a slate effect hearth pad and chrome effect surround. Or else she stuffs an antique-style electric fire into a Victorian fireplace. Bohemian Arkana keeps warm by a bonfire in the back garden.

When it pours, Jen and Eileen wear packaway plastic capes with hoods. Jen stores her “tote” collapsible umbrella in the fabric cover it came in. (Everybody else throws them away.) Very Bohemian Rowena wears an umbrella hat. Her husband wears giant glasses with windscreen wipers.

The heat, the flies...
English people still look askance if you fan yourself in public. Fanning yourself with a programme or magazine is just about OK – but an actual fan, made for the purpose? You can collect fans, you can display them on your walls, but you can’t fan yourself with one. And if you fan yourself with a programme, others may tolerate it for a while, but eventually they will tell you it’s distracting or  noisy. Really, of course, you are doing something that isn’t “done” by middle-class English people, and hence you are drawing attention to yourself. And your companions are going to be damned by association.

When the sun shines, Rowena wears a pink coolie hat from a seaside pound shop. Arkana wears a coolie hat from Kalimantan made of natural materials – she bought it on the spot. But these days you can get almost anything on the internet – it has put those old Stoke Newington travellers out of business. And next year Rowena goes to Kalimantan and buys a native hat made of instant coffee packaging. They’re more rainproof! She also has a lot of colourful baskets woven by Africans out of telephone cables.

More here, and links to the rest.

Classy Collectibles 3

The next big thing

Art that depicts cannabis leaves... or includes “faux ethnic” carvings is a sign of terrible taste, according to a checklist produced by Grayson Perry. [Also] photorealistic paintings, sculptures that enlarge everyday objects, and anything made of neon tubes. “Then there are collages with dolls’ arms in them,” he told an audience at Cheltenham Ladies’ College. “African airport carvings – you know, faux ethnic. Statues outside football grounds – things that are a little too earnest. ... I passed this shop recently in Leytonstone that had a sign, ‘Neon for art pieces.’ I thought, avant garde is dead.”
(Times Oct 2014-10-16)

Modern art appreciation is mainly a form of virtue signalling. You're so sophisticated you don't need beauty like the proles do. (P. D. Mangan ‏@Mangan150)

The days of the copper warming-pan are long since gone.
(Philip Serrell)

A recent TV programme, The Extraordinary Collector, showed the rich and those who want to sell them things fawning on each other. Everything is "fantastic" and "lovely" and "marvellous", and when someone shows you the tattiest piece of overpriced rubbish you have to react as if you’ve seen a vision of the Virgin Mary. (The millionaires rarely bought the things.)

Upper-middle-class Samantha Upward is rather surprised that we’re allowed to “see” Victorian stained glass now. She never displays “wall art” that runs across several canvases, and thinks the word “Fayre” should be banned. She is re-distressing her lovingly restored rocking horse and plans to pretend she found it in an old barn.

Very Bohemian Rowena is stockpiling 50s Greek chic (woven shoulder bags, black and gold imitation Greek vases, lots of gold on black, key-patterned dresses). She’s going to call it Griki Culture. She's also collecting very cheap tourist tat from around Europe – Alpine fridge magnets, Pope Francis biros, flamenco dancer coasters, costume dolls from the 50s. And rather lovely pictures, statuettes and china sneeringly dismissed by the experts as “made for the tourist market” circa 1900.

Some middle-middle Weybridges like to collect paraphernalia from the country house lifestyle, such as the Gothic wooden letterbox that stood in the hall. (You posted your letters here, and a footman took them to the postbox.) They try to shoehorn a butler’s pantry into a modern house. (Their equivalents of 100 years ago were nostalgic for medieval castles, old coaching inns and 18th century elegance.)

A rather Teale friend was furious that posh people collected plastic toys – with their money they could collect antiques and art, or at least somethng valuable like miniature silver chairs.

Definitelies who live in caravans collect cut glass and imitation Sevres. They are the last outpost of Louis Quinze, apart from Donald Trump. Young Dave D makes a pile gold-plating stuff for dictators.

More here, and links to the rest.

Monday 21 November 2016

Café Society

We're expecting a party of six!

About 20 years ago, newspapers and magazines were fond of sending a woman journalist to find out whether it was OK for single women to eat out in restaurants in the evening – now that women have got the vote, and everything. In every place she tried, she would be put in a corner, next to the kitchen, or next to the gents, and eventually the publications gave up.

I wouldn’t try to eat in a restaurant on my own in the evening, but I often eat lunch solo in cafés of all kinds – from posh to midrange to greasy spoon. This is what I’ve learned. Looking at your mobile is allowed, reading a newspaper is tolerated, reading a book is looked on more dubiously. In cafés with wifi, sitting and tapping on a laptop is OK. But nobody seems to like it if you take out a pencil and start doing the crossword, or correcting proofs.

I should add that I am disabled, and once I have sat down, taken off my coat and put down my bags, it takes me some time to reverse the process.

In an Enjoy Café on Stamford Hill I was encouraged to leave by a literal hand under the elbow from the gentle, polite waitress. A lot of bowing and apologising and deference, but she was still throwing me out. (Correcting proofs.)

In a Kings Cross café the waiter started moving tables around me as soon as I sat down. He initially asked me if I would mind moving, or taking my bags off the next-door chair. I was willing, but he changed his mind. However, he moved my second table away to form a pair with another. Eventually he came back and asked me to move into a table for two in a corner. (I never went back, and the place is now SHUT.)

In Newington Green I was asked to move to a table for two in a dark corner – too dark to read the paper. Trendy dangling filament bulbs are not great to read by. ("Expecting a party of six.")

In Green Lanes I was asked to move into a cold, empty back room designed for smoking shisha pipes. (There was plenty of room in the café proper. I stayed where I was.)

In Newington Common I was told – with a bow, a smile and a praying gesture – that they were about to close (in the middle of the afternoon). In Albion Road the proprietor stood in the doorway with a hangdog expression until I noticed him. “About to close” again. (In both venues I had been taking photographs out of the window.)

In Gray’s Inn Road I was asked to move, but then they relented. I stayed on the end of a table for six. I was joined several times by parties of three or four, but they all moved to tables for four as soon as they could. Perhaps they didn’t want me to overhear their conversation.

I’ve read that restaurants put young, attractive or even slightly famous customers in the window. As a single elderly woman I obviously have to be kept out of sight.

Of course there are many establishments which treat everybody well. I return to these, and recommend them, and give them good write-ups on Tripadvisor. But in future I shall know my place: I’ll head straight for the table for two in the corner, and avoid writing with a pencil or taking photographs.

And if you say anything about the music a café is playing, they’ll say: “We’re going to have live music! Jazz! And open in the evenings!” This never happens, fortunately. In fact it usually means that the café shuts or changes hands in a few weeks. I tried a (lovely) Turkish restaurant in Dalston recently and I’m sure they switched the music from Turkish to dull jazz standards as soon as I sat down. I just wish I could find a café like the long-gone Aroma chain that plays music from South America... However, the Café Deux Amis in Judd Street plays Classic FM.

Friday 4 November 2016

You Are What You Eat 8

From oven to table

In August 2016, falafel and avocado are being used as markers for "utterly middle class". Like “latte sipping”. Latte has been around for about 15 years, we ate falafel at the Israeli café in Charing Cross Road (Gaby’s) in the early 70s, and my parents were trying to force me to eat avocadoes in the 60s,  because middle-class children must eat foreign and unfamiliar food. The haterz just need to bring their references up to date.

Jeremy Paxman made middle class friends at his prep school. When he visited a friend’s home, he was amazed to find “yoghourt” being delivered with the milk – whatever that was. His own father brought home an avocado one day. “We were all rather baffled by it.”

Now, apparently, we’re “obsessed with aubergines” and some chefs are using them instead of pasta sheets in lasagna. The young journalists who write this guff are too young to remember the 70s and Something Bake, particularly mozzarella, tomato and aubergine. It was a trendy version of Seven-Layer Pie.

Does anybody really like the kind of salad that comes in a cardboard box? And how do you eat them without chopping everything up small? And it’s hard to eat anything with plastic cutlery out of a cardboard box. They consist of rocket, grated carrot, grated beetroot, chunks of squash, chunks of pumpkin, all covered with chilli-flavoured dressing and a scattering of nuts and seeds. DIScomfort food.

Very upmarket food comes “plated” - ie it’s turned into a mini work of art with whole leaves of this and that lying on a bed of puree in a pool of coloured liquid. As soon as you start to eat it (and you have to cut up the leaves and the central thing to get them into your mouth), the picture is spoiled and the coloured liquid goes everywhere.

Upwards used to go on (and ON)
about how maaahvellous medlars and mulberries were, far superior to strawberries and raspberries (which you can get at any corner shop – or, in the olden days, at any roadside). Whereas with medlars and mulberries you have to own a tree, or know someone who does (and they’re bound to be posh). Ancient mulberries are probably left over from attempts to establish an indigenous silk industry.

The more middle class you are, the less you chop things. Lower-middle-class Teales chop food very small, so it’s easy to eat (thank you, Teales).

“Poshcorn” and “Proper Corn”
on sale in a corner shop? They’re not going to make many middle-class sales. And wasn’t gourmet popcorn a few food fads ago?

Prosecco peach jam has been spotted.

Rice pudding is the must-have dessert for 2016.  (BBC Breakfast)

You really can get a chicken tikka Yorkshire pudding in Iceland. (The shop, not the country.)

In many modern eateries the seats are too low.

Nobody eats vegetables in white sauce any more (very Mrs Beeton), which is a pity – the sauce stuck everything together and stopped it falling off your fork. I'm waiting for vegan comfort food. How about cauliflower with tofu, cocoanut and mushroom dressing?

I like to think that posh Stow Crats eat superbly cooked traditional roast and two veg.

From the 1894 White House CookbookDon't, when you drink, elevate your glass as if you were going to stand it inverted on your nose. Bring the glass perpendicularly to the lips, and then lift it to a slight angle. Do this easily.

Drink sparingly while eating. It is far better for the digestion not to drink tea or coffee until the meal is finished. Drink gently, and not pour it down your throat like water turned out of a pitcher.

I remember a type of woman from the 60s and 70s: smiley, brisk, in her forties or fifties, rather well off, with a second home. She had short grey hair and a tan from sailing, and dressed in big cotton jerseys, sailcloth trousers and deck shoes. She made vast batches of pies and casseroles and put them into giant chest freezers (one in each house) so that when her children and friends or guests came to stay she didn’t have to cook, but could just whisk something out and defrost it.

She had a modern kitchen with a lot of pale blue flowery curtains, trays and biscuit jars. (And "oven to table" casserole dishes.) She liked to sit at her (pale blue, wipe-clean) kitchen table drinking instant coffee out of a mug and chatting. She didn’t make a big fuss about laying tables, either. Food was served buffet style, napkins were paper. After the meal, everything was shoved in the dishwasher. It was the modern way, rational and practical when servants had departed.

It was much too practical for Upwards who were still trying to maintain their class position with Georgian silver, cut glass and linen tablecloths and huge amounts of fuss and bullying – but she tended to be a bit of a Stow Crat. They are much more practical and hard-headed, and also don’t have to worry about keeping up with the Joneses. They are also used to adapting what they’ve got (huge inherited houses) to changing times. Also you can’t fit chandeliers and Georgian silver into a sailing boat. And Upwards of the time didn’t want to sit around and chat – unpleasant home truths might have come out. And it was too enjoyable – bound to be bad for you.

When will we reach peak café? There always were cafés, but respectable people couldn’t go to them – they were full of working class people! (Respectable people flocked to tea shops – but could a MAN really drink tea in a tea shop?) No wonder the respectable people were so shocked by the teenage café culture of the 50s and early 60s, when “coffee bars” were trendy. As were outré sandwich fillings like bacon and banana, cream cheese and date...

More here, and links to the rest.

Thursday 3 November 2016

Classy Schools and Careers

Grayson Perry: networking

“The clearly glaring gap in the English system is that of social class. The relationship between parental wealth and background and children’s educational outcomes is particularly strong.”
(Becky Francis, Professir of Education and Social Justice)

I hated school. I hated Stockport. The school I went to had perhaps ideas above its station, in terms of the type of school it should be: a grammar school that thought that kind of emotionally illiterate, highly didactic method of teaching was righteous, because it somehow separated the wheat from the chaff. In other words, kids who could learn that way were clever and worthy, and kids that couldn’t were stupid and unworthy. (John Amaechi)

For decades the belief among many educated by the state was that the arrogance and sense of entitlement that is instilled at public school secured the best jobs and highest pay. That has been debunked, however, with a study concluding that those with the best education get the most pay, and that bluster counts for little... Character traits that may impress employers were, in many cases, already held by the children at the age of ten, before they went through the independent school system... Money spent on schemes that built the confidence and aspirations of state-school pupils would be better off focused solely on improving the education they received. (Nicola Woolcock, Nov 2015)

Recent articles complain that a two-tier system at university is expanding the class divide. The richer students live in more luxurious accommodation and never mix with the less well-off in more basic halls. When I was at university in the 70s, there was a small enclave of upper-middle-class students. They thought I might be one of them, but weren’t quite sure. They tried me out, and decided I wouldn’t do – I wore a pink nylon scarf and made friends with whoever wanted to be friends with me. One of my best friends was even American.

Per Toby Young, in the 80s working-class undergraduates at Oxford were known as “stains”. His contemporaries disagree: they were known as “northern chemists”.

And what about when you graduate? Social mobility can only succeed if it fails. What would happen if the entire working class became middle class and wanted graduate jobs? Of course it’s never going to happen, there aren’t enough university places and white-collar jobs for a start. What the middle classes really mean by “increased social mobility” is “We’ll cream off a few more of the really intelligent, useful ones and get them on our side.”

But of course the college tells you that a degree will help you get an interesting, highly paid job. They want your fees. Make sure you aren't being qualified for a field that doesn't exist, doesn't exist any more, or is now over-crowded.

When I was at university, “entrepreneur” wasn’t a career choice. Now it is. It’s passed the parent test. Which is a big zeitgeist change. In other words, if you tell your parents you want to be an entrepreneur, they think, “Great”. Whereas previously, they thought you were nuts. (Public schoolboy and businessman Brent Hoberman)

One of the changes that happened in my adult life was the vanishing of the idea of safe careers. Nowadays, if you say, 'My son is in television,' people no longer grip the chair with white knuckles. (Julian Fellowes in the NYT)

Somerset Maugham’s uncle rejected the Civil Service, not because of the young man's feelings or interests, but because his uncle concluded that it was no longer a career for gentlemen, since a recent law had required all applicants to pass an entrance examination. (Wikipedia)

In my day going into business after graduating – for yourself or anybody else – was just not on the cards. It was never mentioned. At university there was something called the “milk round” (visits from firms which needed graduates), but it was never suggested we should put our names down or even find out what jobs they were offering. It was trade.

Publishing and writing were “gentlemen’s careers”, ie you needed private means to pursue them. Most of the French Impressionists and avant-gardists had private means – and sneered at Douanier Rousseau for having a job. They called him a “petit bourgeois” and elaborated a “funny anecdote” about a dinner given in his honour where he was ridiculed and humiliated. And they ripped off his art.

A hipster is someone who can charge middle class prices for a working class job. (Karl Sharro ‏@KarlreMarks)

Hippies were supposed to live by going with the flow, letting it all hang out, opening their minds, sharing everything, so if they were selling you sandwiches they couldn’t just be selling you sandwiches - it must be a happening, or an experience, or something….

Hipsters have pulled off the same trick: they’ve persuaded punters that their businesses aren’t really businesses but art projects, spiritual experiences, distillations of the zeitgeist, a totally new way of relating, a meeting place of rare spirits – or somesuch garbage. Hipster cafes are cafés, their shops are shops, their businesses exist to make money. The “hipness” is just set dressing, and there’s even a chain furnished from a warehouse full of old school desks etc.

Gentlemen are not supposed to want to make lots of money – you’re supposed to have it already. Nobody ever talks about the advantages of having money and contacts (social capital) when you start out in any business or profession. Or marrying money. Apart from Grayson Perry – he advises going to all art show openings and being incredibly charming to everybody. Add “social skills” and “good looks” to the list.

Here’s some advice from a friend (ML):

I've had a few clients over the years who have started a retail adventure. The thing is it is dead hard to make a living out of a single shop.

a. gift shop near Huntingdon selling all sorts of very nice things, like bits of arty decoration, furniture, rugs. She struggled on until the lease ran out but essentially the shop made a contribution towards the rent and her husband had to find the rest.

b. gift shop near Baldock or one of those hell holes up the A1 in Hertfordshire. Sold nice wicker furniture and other nice decorationy things. Struggled on for a while. One partner left and the other carried on until, apparently, a tear in the space-time continuum caused the whole thing to disappear one day. At least that's how it seemed because it just disappeared.

c. mobile phone shop... They had to pay for the phones up front and wait months to get the sign up commissions.

d. off license somewhere in Hertfordshire, just not enough volume and while she was closed evening/weekend Tesco were still flogging it.

e. video shop in Cambridge. This was in VHS days. They couldn't compete with Blockbuster (who moved in two doors down) but survived for a while by developing a speciality (Kung Fu movies).

They all end in tears. The problem is:
1. If you are selling something mainstream like baked beans or bog roll then you can't match Tesco/Aldi prices because you can't get the discounts from the wholesalers.
2. If you are selling something nice but not really necessary then people don't need to buy it and so you are the first expense to be cut when times is 'ard.
3. Before you get any profit there is the rent/rates/gas/ electric/staff/stock to pay for and they are all hideously expensive.

Was he the one who said that people come in and look at handmade things and go "Ooooh, lovely!" and then go and buy something mass-produced?

I'll say it again: if I had children I'd send them to butler school.

The expanding ranks of billionaires worldwide are creating a new market for more esoteric services: publicists, pilots, nutritionists, super-tutors, floral architects... (And social-media contractors to monitor and curate your children’s online lives. One family advertised for a butler who could drive a horse and carriage to transport his guests.)
(Times March 28, 15)

The arrival of so much wealth provides opportunities to the quick-witted. Careers that might not have appeared  financially rewarding 30 years ago have begun to wear a different face. (Clive Aslet, Times Jan 2015 on the arrival in London of “ultra high net worth individuals”.

Step forward art dealers, estate agents and tutors, says Aslet. But apparently the most popular careers are writer, academic, librarian – is this because middle class young people want to impress others they meet at parties? Working with books gives you a sackful of middle-class Brownie points. If you work in the City, or as an industrial chemist, you’ll never be invited to the right dinner parties, and won’t meet the kind of partner who’ll impress other people at parties.

When I worked as a temp, I wondered why some people kept asking me to come back when I was clearly useless – they wanted someone with a posh voice to answer the phone.

More here, and links to the rest.

Tuesday 4 October 2016

Classy Quotes 23

As a family we did not number doctors, dentists, bank managers or similar worthies in our circle.
No one in the immediate family had been to university. But my father was a naval officer, and while Mum’s father had started out as a travelling salesman, he ended up with his own canning factory and a small country estate in North Yorkshire. (Jeremy Paxman)

Middle class values include loving privacy and self determination then criticising working class communities for not being communal enough. (Matthew Whitfield ‏@mwhitfield80)

Residents of Kensington Palace Gardens feared being swamped by “the masses” if their street joined a cycling network, newly released letters reveal. Transport for London’s plans for a “Quietway” through one of the capital’s most expensive roads were shelved last month after residents complained that it would ruin their “tranquillity” and pose security risks. (Evening Standard)

If the requirement was [for schools] to take 80% disadvantaged, middle-class parents would avoid because what is most desired is social selection. (Ros McMullen ‏@RosMcM)

Doesn't 'toff' translate as 'someone who sounds posher than me'? (And the unmentionable 'p' word as 'someone who sounds more common than me'?) (AG)

She learned about being nice in her two years at college... Her fellow students were “the nicest and most reasonable individuals I had ever met... That’s what being middle-class-in-the-world is about. Darkness is managed or hidden.” “It's about being sensible... You can’t let yourself go... except when you do.” (Carolyn Steedman reviews Respectable by Lynsey Hanley in the LRB 2016)

A parlourmaid giving evidence to the government inquiry (into the “servant crisis” in the 20s) explained that she had suffered ‘untold misery’ because invitations to parties warned her not to admit what she did for a living. Her friends didn’t want their friends to ‘mix with servants’. (She left Belvoir Castle and went to work for Agatha Christie, who was very fond of her. LRB July 2016. Christie herself sometimes joked that if the writing didn't pan out she could always get a job as a parlourmaid.)

Leadsom deciding to spend more time with her National Trust oven gloves. (FB)

The publication had been a home for people who valued culinary expertise, wrote Kimball—a place with “respect for those who had earned the chops, as it were, who had a lifetime of good breeding and experience in order to stand at the cultural helm.” (Cooks Illustrated on the demise of Gourmet magazine)

It is well known that height is correlated with economic power. (LRB May 2016)

When I joined The Bookseller, I'd be asked 'which college' I went to. Took a while before realised it was Oxbridge college. (Danuta Kean ‏@Danoosha)

British middle-class Hell is a permanent signal failure, with the stalled train's passengers tutting quietly at the futility of it all. (Musa Okwonga ‏@Okwonga)

It never occurred to me to think I wasn’t a gentleman until Lady Burghclere pointed it out. (Evelyn Waugh)

Interview with Viscount Linley, Times June 2016-06-05

I ask what TV he watched growing up.
“There wasn’t any.”
No telly?
“My father put tinfoil over the front of it.”
So it looked like a jacket potato?
“So it mirrored our image. He said, ‘Now you can see how idiotic you look.’”
That’s so wonderfully snobby. Were you allowed tomato ketchup?

More here, and links to the rest.

Sunday 2 October 2016

Classy Childcare

Poor little mites
Upwards think they are excused having children who behave like children.

Middle classes of all stripes despise babies’ dummies.

If children are “resilient” we can be as cruel as we like to them and it won’t matter. And there's always some reason why we should be cruel to them:

Thomas Mann justified spoiling his eldest child over his 5 others with the line, "One should get the children used to injustice early." (AdamNathanielFurman @Furmadamadam)

The Fortean Times ran a piece on the abusive way the Greeks and Romans raised their children. Someone commented: “No wonder the Romans were cold, callous, sexually precocious and impulsive.” (Paraphrase.)

Middle class parents have a strange impulse to teach very very small children “how to grow their own crops” (and try unfamiliar foods, know where food comes from, eat with a knife and fork, manage risk, say please and thank you, understand money, and generally behave like a middle-aged adult). They really do wring their hands over the fact that “children today don’t know where food comes from”. It comes from the supermarket, you noodle. But they have to reinvent children + food x angst = guilt every few months so that they can keep ahead of the other parents. Turning up at parties with boxes of unsweetened vegan food which are all that poor little Milo is allowed to eat is sooooo five minutes ago.

David Cameron said we need “tiger mothers” to encourage children to study, and “character” modules to teach children “resilience” and “perseverance”.

Letter to Times Jan 2016-01-14
Sir, Whatever happened to having supportive parents? Mine were supportive and encouraging, and I seemed to turn out all right. Tiger parenting does not help children as adults: it usually results in low self-esteem, failure to cope when life doesn’t go right and an inability to be independent. What happens when children fail to meet David Cameron’s “high expectations”? Tiger parenting is a short-term solution to the long-term raising of a child. Bronwyn Molony, Dublin

Even during the holidays I saw very little of them: They would be in another part of the house while I would stay upstairs... My mother hardly ever came to my attic floor, but I could hear her running her bath... my world was the staff. They were my only friends. (Redeeming Features, Nicky Haslam on his “privileged” childhood in a stately home)

As a new biography of Evelyn Waugh is published (Philip Eade, Evelyn Waugh: A Life Revisited), a former Times theatre critic tells the story of the novelist’s first wife, his mother, Evelyn Nightingale (Times June 2016)

Her troubles began with her birth in Charles Street, Mayfair, in 1903, since she was meant to be a boy and heir to a new title in danger of becoming extinct... She was the last of four daughters.

As she always said, it was a different era with different ideas about upbringing, yet seldom can a girl have been so neglected. Evelyn never went to school but was semi-educated by a series of mostly German governesses, one of whom, she recalled, stuck pins in her arms if she rested them on the table. And she seldom saw her father, who died when she was 17, remembering a benignly aloof figure...

But then she was kept away from him by a mother she found terrifying. “One could never explain one’s presumed misdemeanours because the words froze in one’s mouth or didn’t get as far as freezing,” she wrote in an informal memoir many years later, adding that Lady Winifred never came into the nursery or schoolroom. “There were no goodnights, loving or otherwise, or prayers being heard at bedtime.”

Her greatest friends, she wrote, were the servants, who were “kindly and understanding”, though she was forbidden to play with their children. And her greatest love was for her nanny, a tiny, gentle woman who was sacked when Evelyn was seven...

[In her own words:] I felt “as it were in a cage with no knowledge of the world or the real behaviour of others.”

[She became a Bright Young Thing – no wonder they were so aimless and self-destructive and amoral. After her two divorces, her sister cut her off almost entirely.]

The four Johnson children mostly just had each other. They read constantly. Rachel can’t remember any playdates. It sounds as if the parenting regime was one of benign neglect, which is perhaps why all the Johnsons so crave attention now. “Our parents provided us with the essentials, then got on with their own lives,” is how she puts it. (Times on Rachel Johnson, June 2015)

Middle class neglect is always called “benign neglect”. There’s nothing benign about it.

It’s a Tory trope at the moment that children must be taught to “take responsibility”, otherwise they’ll grow up to be “victims”. Apparently there are no perpetrators, only people who think they are victims, when actually their plight is ENTIRELY their own fault. (If this is true, why aren’t assault victims prosecuted and sent to jail, while their attackers go free? And when someone breaks into your house and steals your stuff, why don’t you just turn yourself in?)

More here.

Sunday 14 August 2016

Transports of Delight

On many modes of mass transit, people have long been divided into classes based on how much they can afford to pay.

The 1930s, when trams were looked down on as transport for hoi polloi.
(Roger Nuttall)

People are thinking of driving less. (according to Twitter)

I once shared a flat in East London with some snobs who would only get fish and chips from the Seashell in Lisson Grove (several miles away). They looked down on me for getting local takeaways. They hadn’t worked out – or refused to see – that I hadn’t got a car and couldn't drive across London just to get some chips.

I can’t drive. This bothers some people.

I was also asked to bring a suitcase back to London (that someone had left behind), when I’d arrived by train and would presumably be leaving the same way, carrying my own luggage. One Christmas I was given a huge set of terracotta serving dishes – I never returned to Wiltshire for them.

Other friends were mortified that I travelled by bus, bullied me to learn to drive, and urged me to get a bicycle. The tube (hot, crowded) is somehow OK. Buses on the other hand are full of common people, and you have a lovely view of places middle class people are not allowed to know about.

When you’re underground, you can’t see the places you’re travelling through. So you can get the tube somewhere acceptable and familiar, and get out somewhere acceptable and familiar. And you have somehow not gone through the places in between.

How dared I live somewhere not near a tube station? How else could they place me on the class map?

Also if I had a car I wouldn’t have to live near a bus stop, which would be on a high street full of Costcutters – I could live in a Victorian conversion down a leafy avenue (dark and scary at night).

They were so sure they knew what was best for me – why was that? They also thought I ought to be married to a barrister and living in Fulham. Single women can’t help letting the class side down: we can't afford the lifestyle, the address or the dinner parties.

Actually Mayor Ken Livingstone vastly improved transport to North London – more 73s, and hopper buses that cross East to West. No wonder the middle classes  are moving in… Night buses and the new revived overground have made a difference too.

Beloved of hipsters and people in Stokey (with pod/trailer for the baby). Stokey dads also like baby buggies that look like lawnmowers. And their kids ride wooden tricycles. Or “dandy horses” – like a bike but with no pedals.

Definitelys ride the latest shape and style – they steal them from Weybridges. Upwards ride either a) the latest shape, style, fashion and technology or b) a deliberately old fashioned sit up and beg bike with a basket for your shopping, lecture notes or dog.

I suspect there are different kinds of car, and the one you buy speaks volumes about you to someone who knows the language. I can just about tell apart a people carrier, a Chelsea tractor, a limo and a bubble car. There must be some kind that looks cool but really brands you as a vulgarian…

But of course if you move to the country (the dream of all London-dwelling Upwards) you have to be able to drive. Just don’t forget that one day you might have to give up driving… Upwards think that they ought to live in the country – in a village, not a country town. And definitely not in Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool or Birmingham.

Nouveau Richards drive bespoke Rollses with built-in champagne sets and cigar humidors.
Upwards could never drive something called a “minivan”.

Some men have long discussions about the amount of space you should leave between you and the car in front and how every other driver gets it wrong and why.

Posh people don’t clean their cars – outside or in. Teales and Weybridges have car hoovers.

In the 60s, stout middle-aged ladies rode motor scooters, wearing a grim expression, a tweed skirt and a special very uncool peaked scooter helmet that buttoned under the chin.

I was waiting for hipsters to bring back the horse and cart (I’m sure there are some who commute up and down the Lea by kayak). But horses are terminally unhip, thanks to their popularity with Stow Crats and Weybridges. Nouveau Richards buy a big place in the country with stables, paddock and indoor riding school (manege). Which everybody calls a “menage” now.

Are full of teenagers, old people, families with small children, and tourists with too much luggage who get on at Gatwick and have a loud conversation about what fun it is to ride on a train for a change. Would be great if they weren’t full of people. Used to have first, second and third class. Punch ran jokes about common people getting into first by mistake (I say Bert, we’re all among the toffs!) or featuring a timid middle class traveller abroad finding himself among peasant women with chickens. In wartime morale-raiser movies everybody travels together in crowded carriages where you may be handed a baby or a beer bottle. Quiet carriages and family carriages are the new second and third class.

Saturday 14 May 2016

Choose Your Words Carefully 5

Lindsey Chapman

Today at Hull Journalism Day a student asked if she needed to change her accent to get on. No, no, no, no, no! (

Trainee teachers with northern accents are being pressured to speak "the Queen's English" in southern classrooms. According to a new study, accents most associated with the Home Counties are favoured by the teacher training profession... Experts say teachers with northern accents are discriminated against in a profession that would not tolerate prejudice based on race and religion. They dubbed it the "last form of acceptable prejudice" in our society.
(Sun May 2016)

At Bar school “I felt unwelcome from the get-go because of my accent. I sound northern.... but that was constantly pointed out in conversation, particularly when I was first introduced to someone. Anywhere past Watford Junction is apparently northern... Then people automatically think you are from a working-class background.” (Charlotte Proudman)

Clare Foges reveals in The Times that employers filter applicants on accents. Bring back elocution lessons! If you have a marked regional or Cockney accent it probably makes sense to damp it down a bit, but don’t imagine that the posher, the better. (She warns against copying Brian Sewell.) A strongly marked “posh” accent can also lose you the job. Whatever anyone tells you, it’s best to blend in and be as neutral as possible. “Earlier this year the Social Mobility Commission found that law and accountancy firms were applying a ‘poshness test’ to job applicants, which favoured middle class mannerisms and accents... When recruiters talk about the need for ‘polished’ candidates they mean not just the dry-cleaned M&S suit but the way they speak... It is time to revive the tweedy old concept of elocution.” (2015-10-27. And how can elocution be “tweedy”?)

One employer spoke of the importance of “holidays that you’ve been on, places you’ve visited”. Another employer said: “Accents make a difference, the things people talk about.” “Elite firms define ‘talent’ according to a number of factors, such as drive, resilience, strong communication skills and above all confidence and ‘polish’, which participants in the research acknowledged can be mapped on to middle-class status and socialisation.” Times, June 2015

This is great! All I have to do is affect a slightly plummier accent than my own and people will give me free stuff! (in America) (@AlexPaknadel)

This hotel I'm staying at is too posh for me. I just hope I can maintain my cover long enough before they realise I'm not One Of Them. What are the signs? Everyone is pronouncing their Ts. (Twitter exchange)

Howard Weybridge pens his memoirs, which he hopes a publisher will peruse. It will be quite a weighty tome! Bryan Teale puts up a sign in the foyer warning visitors not to consume beverages on the premises. Samantha Upward shudders at lunch when Jen Teale talks about sides, mains and Yorkshires and asks for a toasted sandwich instead of a sani or toastie. Only Weybridges and Teales say “prior to” for “before”. And Howard still uses a “fount pen” and says things are "well-nigh impossible". Jen aks “Is this an opportune moment?”

Modern genteelisms, according to the Lady magazine: cleaner (daily), posh (smart), nana (granny), expecting (pregnant) and passed (dead). (2016)

The fogeys who hang on to kyeneemar for cinema also use “superpose” for “superimpose”.

Someone on the radio just said "dr-arse-tically" without actually being the Queen.
(Mr Clungetrumpet ‏@StiffPigeon)

A teacher on Radio 4 talked about “skaws, cricklum, ashoom” when she meant “schools, curriculum, assume”. Or, as Samantha would say, “skooooools, kew-rick-you-lum, ass-yewm”.

When they quit work, Stow-Crats call it "retahment"; Upwards: retyerment; Teales and Weybridges: retyement.

Upwards eat samwiches or samwidges; Teales and Weybridges munch sand-witches.

Upwards call the nuts “ahmonds”, Teales and Weybridges call them “allmonds”. Spaniards call them “almendros”. Where did “ahmond” come from?

Weybridges have trouble with words like Tata and Lady Gaga (Tar-tar Steel), though they can probably say “mama” without thinking. (Likewise they have no trouble with Loch Ness, but claim there is a composer called “Bark”.)

Caro Stow Crat calls the upmarket jeweller Asprey “Aspry” (and the bird of prey an ospry); Eileen and Jen call it “Ass-pray’s” and would love to spot an “oss-pray” through binoculars.

Caro’s mother still calls the country OR-stria. Caro calls it a “plahstic” tablecloth (so practical), but Jen and manufacturers call them PVC or vinyl tablecloths. “Plastic” sounds so tacky.

Jen and Sharon prefer short vowels (rhyming sloth with cloth etc), and never quite grasped the rule that only a doubled consonant makes a short vowel – they just put them in everywhere. Sam is trying to train herself to do the same. She doesn’t want to drawl like Caro. But it is terribly Teale/Weybridge to talk about “larther” instead of “lather” with a short A. Upwards avoid the word altogether – and even the thing. They don’t like soap that lathers, it makes washing too easy and enjoyable. (Did people ever “garther” in the church hall in real life?) And it’s Jen and Eileen who bake batches of scones to rhyme with “owns” rather than “dons”.

Sam cringes when Jen says “lenth” for “length”, and Eileen wails when people drop the Gs off gerunds (goin’ and comin’).

Matthew Parris thinks we should say Herford for Hertford and Cuventry for Coventry. He says his lower-middle-class grandparents insisted on it, but these pronunciations would have been old-fashioned in his grandparents’ day. I don’t think anyone calls Lamb’s Conduit street “Lamb’s Cundit Street” any more, either. And De Beauvoir Town is usually said the French way, not as “De Beaver”. (I’ve never heard anyone say Cuventry.)

Very posh people are arch – this does not translate, in fact it probably comes across as camp.

“...with nervous whimsicality... She said, smiling coyly, ‘I’m afraid I am the bearer of ill tidings.” (Graham Greene's Ministry of Fear)

In the 30s, a certain kind of Upward girl used to talk in old-fashioned clichés, with great emphasis. She couldn’t say “I cut my finger and it bled really badly” she had to say “I was simply STEEPED in GORE!” Ngaio Marsh sends up this kind of girl in Colour Scheme (she’s always saying things like “WELCOME to the HUMBLE ABODE” or “I was living in a HOLLOW MOCKERY”, until an admirer tells her off), and there’s one in Patrick Hamilton’s Rope (“Oh, are you a Frinton expert?”). If any Upward women still do this (they wrote like this until quite recently), Weybridges and Teales are baffled. Modern readers are also mystified when they come across this style in old books – think it is “twee” or “bright”. The poor girls had probably been told to be original.

More here, and links to the rest.