Wednesday 23 March 2016

Classy Quotes 21

Elizabeth Jane Howard's autobiography, Slipstream, is illuminating on the misery of "privilege".

I remember little of the rest of the house; in those days middle-class children lived in their nursery quarters unless sent for at teatime... I saw comparatively little of [my parents].

At her grandmother's, “food was always seriously plain. Boiled mutton and semolina 'shape' were usual, and she wouldn’t allow me to have both butter and marmalade on breakfast toast”. One of their cooks “produced grey meat, potatoes boiled until they had a battered, furry appearance, and cabbage until it was almost colourless”. The family considered food simply as good plain fuel... the less said about it the better... Talking about food was considered to be what Aunt Ruth called “unnecessary”. In one of the family’s houses there was a billiard room and “a fiendishly cold little room called the gun room where the only telephone was kept”.

There was no one to whom I could talk about things that touched me most nearly.

News was nothing like so ubiquitous then: we were, perhaps, unusual in that we didn’t possess a wireless. I’m sure my parents took a newspaper, but it was strictly for them. So news was confined to the occasional guarded remark made at the dinner table.
(This was just before the war.)

Her mother told her “People of our sort never make any fuss or noise when they are having a baby.” (Her account of giving birth in a posh nursing home is gruelling. Her baby was taken away immediately and then looked after by nannies.)

Alison Light reviews A Notable Woman: the Romantic Journals of Jean Lucey Pratt in the London Review of Books. (She laments that the diaries have been severely cut, and their grammar “tidied up”. Jean was a young woman in the 20s.)

In her stuffy home, crying in public is seen as vulgar; affection is rarely expressed. Jean is both pampered and neglected... Jean’s home life between the wars initially seems to belong to someone in a Betjeman poem ... [she attends] Conservative Club dinners in “pale blue georgette”.

[Jean learns] a finely tuned language of discrimination. What matters are the differences between the middle classes... Fitzrovia, where she rents a flat, takes a dim view of Wembley ... “I am still stamped with the stamp of suburbia.”

In Home Counties parlance, [workmen] are always diminutive, as in “a little plumber came today”.
[She longs to be rich enough to be free of the] “petty irksome little details” of life. [Later she ponders that life is made up of] “washing up, typewriters and shoulder straps”.

At college, she dismisses sex as of “minor importance” but worries that she is “oversexed”. (Oddly, the unimportance of sex was assumed in the liberated 70s and 80s.) Later, she opines that “promiscuity is morally dangerous”. (In the 80s, the line was “It won’t make you happy”.)

Later in life, she’s embarrassed by her early “facetious” style, goes to a psychotherapist who has been affected by Eastern philosophy and advises patients to accept their lot (I bet he was a big help), and transcribes quotes from Marcus Aurelius about “renouncing the ego”.

Living alone in the country, she takes in paying guests, and then opens a bookshop, although the “snob in me” shrieks “Oh you can’t! You couldn’t!”. She refuses to sell tobacco, sweets and stationery (“Oh God! I will not descend to that level!”), but gets by thanks to her expertise in cat books.

Her affairs come to nothing, her novels aren’t accepted, she publishes one biography, and hopes to be known for her diary. I’ve got a feeling this is one dream that will come true.

Pratt's family are an echelon or two below what George Orwell called the “lower-upper-middle-class”, his family’s shabby-genteel world peopled by clerics, servicemen and Anglo-Indian officials who were reduced to living on “virtually working-class incomes”. As he wrote: "Practically the whole family income goes in keeping up appearances."

My own parents tried gracious living on a too-small budget. They couldn’t afford to heat the house, which was too big anyway, so it was always freezing in the winter. Bedrooms were unheated, and the hard, lumpy pillows were never replaced. Why didn’t we heat one room, put the telly in it, and live there? We were always being hived off into separate rooms. They were still trying to follow the “put the children in a nursery with a nanny and hardly ever see them” model. We really did hardly ever see them, apart from meal-times.

We ate off Georgian silver (inherited) but they were stingy about butter, sugar, jam and gravy. We only got water to drink, not milk or lemonade (that was for birthday parties). Of course they had to pretend that it was common to eat lots of butter or put sugar in your tea or be warm enough! Why didn’t we sell the silver and buy butter? Or eat marge?

Every meal had to be served up with proper china and tablecloths and a lot of stuff that was never used but just put on the table and taken away again (like side plates and small knives). It was supposed to, one imagines, make us happy – but instead it made us miserable. It took up our time and was too much hard work. We were trying to live as if we had fleets of servants when we had a daily and an au pair. Did they fear that if they stopped serving little curls of butter with a silver knife we'd end up pouring milk out of the bottle, using newspaper as a tablecloth? Oh yes, milk was always decanted into a jug, and vegetables were served in their own dishes – more washing up. We even dimmed the lights and lit candles when we were eating in the kitchen.

We couldn’t have tea without carrying the entire equipment of teapot, hot water, milk, tea cups and saucers, food and plates, silver teaspoons, on one tray from the kitchen to the sitting room. (Which is what a servant would have done.) We also couldn’t have a picnic at the bottom of the garden without pushing a bent trolley all the way there (squeak, jingle) piled with the whole above caboodle.

It doesn’t take three hours to prepare dinner. And it doesn’t take two hours to eat it and clear it away, either. That was five hours of every day wasted. And there was nobody around to impress, it was just us. I tried to protest, but got the answer "You have to learn how to behave in formal situations".

As we became more prosperous, the nonsense faded somewhat. We got a set of melamine picnic plates and bought shop cakes and had a new kitchen with a formica table top, and “Nightstor” heating, except we weren’t allowed to turn it up, or on very often.

It was about maintaining our class position – but was it worth putting ourselves through such misery? When my parents retired, they put the Georgian silver salt cellars and mustard pots and butter knives into a safe, and never opened it again.

More here, and links to the rest.

Monday 21 March 2016

You Are What You Eat 7

Posh snack sellers are distraught to find that the UK government’s Sugar Smart app, designed to help people monitor their sugar intake, is laying bare the calorific content of their artisanal snack bars and sodas. According to the Telegraph, the app “fails to distinguish between natural and refined sugars” – a nutritional distinction that Feedback suspects may exist largely in the minds of upmarket shoppers. Helenor Rogers, whose company makes toasted grain breakfast snacks, complained to the newspaper that the Sugar Smart app “puts granola in the same box as Coco Pops”. Perish the thought. New Scientist March 2016

There's something majestic about the Guardian expressing quantities of sugar to its readers in quinoa- and mung-bean-based units. (Damian Counsell ‏@DamCou)

"Did chicken Kiev ever go out of fashion at home? I don’t think it did. But it never stayed on the menu," says Jesse Dunford Wood, chef at Parlour in Kensal Green, north London. "Everyone knows what it is, everyone secretly eats it at home, it sells really well in supermarkets, but you can’t buy it in a restaurant. And that’s weird. Why not?"
Telegraph September 2015

Upwards eat exotic food not because they like it, but to show that they are better than other people. (We had shi’itake mushrooms – delicious! You mean you’ve never eaten one? You’ve never heard of them...?) They are falling over themselves trying to stay ahead of the superfoods game. Freekeh! Chia seeds! There’s a new one every few weeks!

Middle-class food continues its tradition of being unpleasant, tasteless and difficult to eat. Quinoa, rocket, salmon fillet, no dressing... There’s nothing to stick the quinoa together with and it goes everywhere. Doesn’t taste exactly exciting. Nobody cuts up rocket so you end up with bits sticking out of your mouth like a manatee browsing on seaweed. And it’s not very satisfying if you’re really hungry.

In the 70s, we had to pretend to like food that was utterly nauseous (steak Tartare), unbearably hot (chicken Madras), or unbelievably dull (polenta). I wonder why steak Tartare and escargots went out of fashion?

Now 30-year-old Upwards are obsessed with coffee oneupmanship. (In the 18th century it was snuff.)

Fussy food is aspirational, rustic food is middle class. The Upwards are secure enough to be able to eat dull peasant food without losing caste. “Aspirational” is of course code for “lower down the scale than us and trying to be something they are not”.

Upwards can eat Battenberg cake – in fact they’re fond of it. But they never eat Angel Cake – layers of the same white, yellow and pink cake with icing, and syrup on top. Too sweet? Battenberg cake is at least swathed in marzipan and held together with apricot jam, which are both slightly bitter.

The new Spar in Brockley is so posh! It's full of food I've never even seen before. (@MarkOneinFour)

Stow Crats can only eat thick cut marmalade (Cooper’s Oxford).
Upwards make their own (delicious – but it must be thick cut, and not too sweet).
Definitelies eat Silver Shred.

“I’ve watched Stella do the simplest things – like eating an apple. She'd peel it in one piece, round and round till the whole peel fell off. Then she'd cut the apple and dice the quarters, getting it all ready before she ate it… She must have seen how people do things here, but it never occurred to her that she ought to copy them.” (John Le CarrĂ©, A Murder of Quality)

You were supposed to break, not cut, a piece off your roll, butter just that little bit, and eat it. You couldn’t cut your roll in half and butter both halves. Was it too like preparing food, which was what servants did? Maybe that was Stella's faux pas. (This is all very old-fashioned.)

About 30 years ago, about the same time they bought crumbling Victorian mansions in unfashionable Crouch Hill, Upwards suddenly all became wine buffs. They went on about years and terroir and “nose”. They bought wine racks. Now they just neck the stuff, and are furious about the latest alcoholism figures.

Those in middle age are more likely than young adults to exceed alcohol limits and develop serious health problems, finds charity Drinkaware Guardian hed May 2015

In Weybridge Waitrose: Last Saturday they were offering samples of biscuits and booze. A woman reached for a beaker. "But darling, it's cava!" said her husband, in a very pained tone of voice. (She took it, nonetheless.) (JP)

On nature documentaries, animals never have breakfast, dinner, lunch or tea, because if they’re having tea at six pm the middle classes will be offended. (The watching middle classes wince at every use of the word “meal”.)

When I was small, eating or drinking on the street was really, really bad form. (Professor Susan Jebb, Obs April 2015)

Food crimes: supermarket or corner shop fusion food. Ramen burrito. Frozen French bread pizza. Sloppy Giuseppe (basically a mince pizza).

Kettle chips used to be the posh ones, and now they come in pumpkin pie flavour.

As Morrison’s open a chain called My Corner Shop, the BBC is helpfully explaining what corner shops are, and how you visit them three times a week, possibly even on foot, and buy only a few things.

Meanwhile, Liz Kendall’s final campaign rally is a few friends round her place for prosecco and gnocchi. (JeSuisREDTORY @twildun)
Nope, Malbec and steak. (Liz Kendall)

George Orwell suggested centralised cooking, with meals delivered and dirty plates taken away. It never happened, but became supermarket microwaveable ready meals, and takeaways. And thanks to dishwashers, constant hot water and fairy liquid, washing up isn’t the chore it used to be. (He once worked as a washer-up using liquid soap, cold water, and bunches of chain.)

More here, and links to the rest.