Friday 8 December 2017

Modern Manners

Caro Stow-Crat here. People are always saying that there's no such thing as etiquette these days, but we need modern manners for the modern world. I couldn't agree more. Personally, I won’t have people looking at their phones during meals. If you have to take an urgent call, excuse yourself and leave the room. And correcting your family’s Facebook posts is hardly good manners. It’s like interrupting them mid-anecdote to say: “It was 1985 – and we were in Boulogne.” Both are off-limits.
Oh, and never, ever tell a writer what to write about.

According to the owner of Ragley Hall, the height of rudeness is to send a postcard written in pencil. These days the equivalent is breaking off a relationship via fax. Or is that terribly old-fashioned? It would be text these days, or WhatsApp. You could even Instagram a picture of yourself and your new partner. Unless your wife does it first. Now there's an idea...

Rattling jewellery and squeaking shoes have been condemned since the days of Queen Victoria, but what about the clip-clop of high heels? Is it my imagination, or do cheap shoes make more of a noise?

When you eat, try not to make clanking sounds with your cutlery on your plate. To some people, a knife squeaking on a plate is as bad as fingernails down a blackboard.

I loved Howard's End, didn't you? But did Tracey Ullman really commit a gaffe by spooning jam directly onto her toast? I'm afraid so. She should have used the jam spoon to transfer some confiture to her plate. She should then apply the jam to her toast with her knife. And she should not have applied jam to toast in mid-air – butter and jam are spread while the toast is on your plate. The fact that the plate is small, and not flat, makes this awkward, but that’s middle-class manners for you. Everything is more difficult than it needs to be. (My friends the Teales would say “than it need be”. They love the subjunctive.)

Napkins may all be paper these days ("serviette" if you must), but the rules haven't changed. Unfold it and put it on your knee immediately you sit down. Arrange it carelessly rather than folding it neatly.

Puddings should be eaten with a fork if possible.

If you still smoke (we send guests out on the terrace), put the cigarette in the corner of your mouth, not the centre, and hold it between two fingers, not your finger and thumb. But do take it out of your mouth when you're talking. I still don't know quite what to do when somebody smokes one of those "vape" things. And they smell like boiled sweets.

British people sometimes say, “You must drop by if you’re passing,” or “We must meet for coffee”, or “We must have lunch some time”. Ignore them. British people never just “drop in”. They like to be prepared for guests by tidying the rooms they will welcome you into and hiding all the clutter. And they have to be mentally prepared. They need time to put on their clean clothes and their social persona. Unfortunately Britain lacks places where people can meet spontaneously. Of course, they may be giving you a hint that they want you to do all the hard work and make the social arrangements. It can all degenerate into a game of "After you, Claude".

If your date takes you to his favourite restaurant and flirts with his favourite waitress in front of you, break it off. Actually, just get up and walk out.

It is extremely rude and pedantic, when engaged in general conversation, to make quotations in a foreign language. (Gent's Etiquette, 1860)

Well-bred people never intrude where they are not wanted. (Marie Corelli)

Once upon a time it was considered the height of indelicacy and low breeding to mention the ‘liver’ or any other portion of one’s internal machinery. (Marie Corelli)

An ambassador explains: “There is really only one downside to having been an ambassador. Every person who comes to my house for dinner or a party brings me Ferrero Rocher chocolates. Each one thinks they have been incredibly funny and original.” He added that he doesn’t even like Ferrero Rocher. (Times, 2017)

You can't go far wrong with Miss Manners' Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behaviour.

More here, and links to the rest.

Monday 27 November 2017

You Are What You Eat 12

Thirty or forty years ago, holidaying Upwards loved French pavement cafés and Italian piazzas, but back at home they led their lives behind closed doors. They didn’t eat out often, because they could only go to expensive French restaurants, or Italian restaurants in Soho. They couldn’t go to cafés (all working class), or chains like Wimpy and the Golden Egg (lower middle class, full of tourists). They didn’t go to pubs much (noisy, smoky, full of the wrong people). They spent as little time as possible in public places (crowded with the “hoi polloi”). They hated to see and be seen. We went to endless “bring a bottle” parties in each other’s homes. But then we began to go to community festivals and fringe theatre and comedy gigs and salsa classes and gyms... Some American research concludes that people meet in public places more now than they did 30 years ago.

According to the broadsheets, burger chains have “transformed the British dining experience” in the last ten years. They mean upmarket burger chains in central London (Byron, Five Guys), not Wimpy, Wendy, McDonalds, Burger King and Star which have been with us for decades. You’ll find a McDonalds everywhere, but the others are more often seen in working-class areas, are much cheaper, have no gourmet touches and don’t qualify as a “dining experience”. You can get a decent burger in some pubs, too, with proper chips.

Oh, no, it’s not burgers, it’s the sandwich: The world-beating British sandwich industry is worth £8bn a year. It transformed the way we eat lunch, then did the same for breakfast – and now it’s coming for dinner. Guardian Nov 2017 (Food can only “transform British lunching” if someone is making billions out of it.)

The papers also say the young are discovering low-alcohol wine (and Tesco has a new range). Not like the old paint-stripper versions of the past! (We had perfectly decent low-alc wine and beer in the 80s, thanks. Always wondered where it went.)

Old St pop-up breakfast snack: Brazilian cheese bread with cassava flour. (@HamishMThompson)

Have been underfed stupid arty food: going for pizza now. (Friend writes from biz conf in Milan)

Now that all hipster cafés are tricked out in recycled wood and distressed school chairs and Edison lightbulbs, caffs are catching on to the trend. They provide decent coffee (and distressed wood), but menus can be slightly strange. There's one in Broadway market that offers English breakfast, chips and gozleme, but can’t get its head round the sandwich. You get very thick bread (two slices) with far too much filling, and a lot of shredded iceberg lettuce that falls out when you try and bite it. Which you can’t, because it’s about the size of the complete works of Shakespeare in one volume. And you don’t get a knife and fork.

But to Upwards, the thinner the sandwich, the more common it is. Like a fish-paste sandwich on white bread with the crusts cut off. Damp, bland and easy to eat (cut in triangles with a sprinkling of cress, please). Sandwiches like this come with a handful of potato crisps, in a half-timbered café somewhere like Marlborough. It’s decorated with oak beams, copper pans and Victorian china, and it's called the Polly Tea-Rooms. (It is, really.)

Central London is now full of noodle bars, sushi bars and burrito bars – for the visitors. An American ex-colleague once told me: "It’s OK to go to Dublin now – there are Thai restaurants!"

Apparently Wetherspoons are “cheap and tacky” and “chav central”. (Thankyou, internet. Update: the boss of Wetherpoons is printing pro-Brexit messages on beer mats.)

Wine-tasting and wine snobbery were popular with the middle classes in the 70s, epecially among young couples who had just bought their first house. It was like announcing that you were now an adult and had bought into the bourgeoisie. See also weddings in picturesque country churches.

Mary Berry has announced the death of the dining room. In her new house, she’s repurposed the room and is extending her kitchen so that she can eat in it. 

At Prince George’s school, “the canteen serves such dishes as lamb ragout with garlic and herbs, pork stroganoff with red peppers and smoked mackerel on a bed of puy lentils”. When the news got out, there was a run on Puy lentils. Upwards like these because they are a tasteful shade of dark brown and don’t go mushy when cooked, unlike the bright orange lentils you can get in the corner shop. I’m so glad I’m not going to Prince George’s school aged four. Someone should airlift his class some chicken nuggets and chips.

More here, and links to the rest.

Saturday 25 November 2017

World of Interiors 11

We’re buying wallpaper again, apparently.

This ladder will make a perfect towel rail in a big farmhouse kitchen.
(Philip Serrell) Perhaps this is what they mean by “Modern Victorian”.

Only the Nouveau-Richards have the courage to set the TV IN the fireplace.

Even-more-bohemian Rowena Upward has moved again – she’s found a big Victorian house that was turned into government offices in the 50s. She’s keeping all the original features: cream paint, frosted glass partitions, steel filing cabinets and green baize noticeboards.

It’s said that when people got colour TVs, they drew their net curtains back to display them to the street. In North London, the absence of net curtains shows off your front room with its piano, bookcases, antique globe and restored rocking horse. The last two serve no function apart from expressing your status. (There’s a company somewhere re-distressing over-restored rocking horses.)

"Get the industrial loft look!" says Vinterior. With “rustic club chairs”, ie very distressed leather armchairs. What are they doing in an “industrial” loft? Worry not, you can also get vintage industrial stools that look like the real thing.

Samantha Cameron, wife of the ex-prime minister, who has a clothes line to promote, invites us into her lovely home in the Cotswolds. (Lucy Halfhead in Harpers Bazaar, Aug 2017, paraphrase)

She has an antique red lacquer cabinet – but it's shoved in a corner with a row of straw hats arranged jokily on the top. There's a lot of stripped, reclaimed wood (mirror, table, boxes). Walls, ceiling and floor are shades of beige. In the living room there are beige sofas and, as someone cattily pointed out, a “faux-fur throw”. Fairy lights are draped above the mantelpiece, but she should move that nice painting of roses before it gets smoke-damaged. Anyone who thinks they have a touch of class themselves is mortified that Sam Cam could splash her interiors over the pages of an American magazine that calls the place where she lives a “home”. And didn’t she get that wicker log basket and throw from her mother’s tat shop? Mrs Cameron has a poster in the kitchen reading “Calm down dear, it’s only a recession”. As somebody said recently, words should never be used as décor. Unless it’s a neon by Tracey Emin reading Every Part of Me Is Bleeding.

More here, and links to the rest.

Friday 24 November 2017

Decor Crimes Again

Giant sculptures of human body parts in public places.
Dangling replica antique light bulbs.
Garish carpets in public spaces.
“Restoring” Victorian ghost signs.
Frosted glass partitions.
Restored floorboards that are too orange and shiny.
Wood-panelled interiors in a modern office block.
Sticking recycled planks to the walls.
A large black-and-white photograph of pebbles.
Buildings in the shape of a giant human head.
Sentimental garden sculptures, “sculpture park” sculpture, memorial sculpture...
Driftwood sculpture.
Chainsaw sculpture.

Everything too new, apart from one ye olde artefact in the wrong place (the potato weighing scales in the living room).

Knocking through and extending until there are meaningless bits of wall sticking into spaces (holding the roof up). The same dull fitted carpet “flows” through the entire ground floor. Adding a “glass box” extension to a standard semi. Removing all downstairs dividing walls and building a huge glass-roofed extension into the garden. Stripping all character from the interior of a period house because you really want to live in an airport lounge. And you need all that space to... do what exactly?

In a Victorian house
A fireplace with a copper hood.
Stripped wood throughout. (The Victorians would have painted it dark brown, or later in the century, cream.)
Exposed brick in your living room. (The Victorians would have had a fit. It's hardly "rustic", either.)
A stable door – to your bedroom.

The “abandoned houses of the Hebrides” aesthetic.
The "servants’ quarters of derelict Irish country house” look.
Fake shuttered concrete internal cladding.

The bamboo table in the hall upstairs was only a small side shoot of the original bamboo forest that sprouted in the basement. Everything down here was of mottled, banana-coloured bamboo. There was a bamboo wardrobe… washstand… easy chair. And there was a bamboo-and-shell overmantel. (London Belongs to Me, Norman Collins)

From Elle Decoration
Don’t be afraid of colour “Some of my favourite rooms have been oxblood or grass green since before I was born.”
“Trends are not your friend. Decorating should be personal.” (I think they mean “Replace those 80s curtains.”)
Hang your art at eye level, where we can see it.
Avoid tiny “floating” rugs. (Also, have some rugs, like the Victorians and Georgians who installed those lovely floors you’ve just restored.)
Avoid open shelves in the kitchen – do you want everyone to see your naff mugs? Actually, why not throw them out?
Avoid stainless steel. “Don’t build a diner in your kitchen.”
Declutter, but keep out a few personal items. Avoid the hotel suite look.
Avoid matching everything, and furnishing a room from a single source.
Curtains should reach the floor.
An upmarket room needs classy light-switches. And how about brass finger-plates for the doors?

From The Times
Carpet in bathrooms.
Armchairs ditto.
TV in every room.
Roman blind in kitchen.
Pedestal mats in the loo.
Cat litter in kitchen (and cat food).
Utensil rack above hob.
Victorian pulley clothes drier (maiden).
Aga in the city "They’re used mainly for heating country houses.”

The entrance hall, which was big enough to contain a large fireplace, had probably been designed to be used as a breakfast-room. The first thing seen on coming in was... a wood carving of a helmeted guardsman with a shield and spear standing on a pediment carved with animal heads. (The Great Indoors by Ben Highmore on a Jacobethan castle – from the 30s.)

More here, and links to the rest.

Friday 20 October 2017

Gentrification 7

Trying to rename New York neighbourhoods in order to gentrify them has a long history.

Wake up Nimbys, the option is either Tory housebuilding or Marxist social engineering (Daily Telegraph 7 June 2017) Can they possibly mean “Look out, they’re going to plonk poor people next door to YOU?” Of course they can. “Planning would soon be completely centralised, with bureaucrats in Whitehall dictating everything to the smallest detail… Mass council-house building, including in leafy areas, run by Marxist ideologues, a giant social engineering programme directly aimed at growing the Labour base and killing off the home-ownership dream?” The Tory alternative is new garden cities and suburbs, where poor people can be segregated and “home-ownership culture” preserved. Because of course, apart from the annoyance of having poor people living next door, it would bring down the price of your house. Oh I see – the whole point of Tory “garden cities”, ie new towns, is to keep house prices up, and keep people who need to be housed away from Tory voters. (And note the weasel “leafy areas” for “rich areas”.)

I grew up in the Yorkshire equivalent of what posh people who live in Essex claim is Hertfordshire. (John Avocado ‏@SuperCroup)

Increasingly clear my mum has been slyly upgrading my London location to Greenwich for the benefit of the neighbours. (via Twitter)

The British obsession with class has left writers inventing their own, fictional settings, in order to escape judgments about their characters' background and social standing... Sophie Hannah, the bestselling crime author, said she had created a new county for her novels after finding homegrown readers could not avoid thinking about the stereotypes of the British regions. Saying people are now "obsessed with attaching ideas about what kind of people live in a certain place", she claimed she had struggled to escape judgments about storylines. (Guardian. “Now”? They always did it!)

“Islington dinner-party”
is now code for “dangerously left-wing, not nearly racist enough”. (Islington may have a few million-pound houses, but it also has a lot of social housing and deprivation.)

Complaining about the "easy condemnation" of gentrification is the most tiresome form of fake contrarianism there is. (@davidjmadden)

A vandal in Fresno explained his actions: “If you truly love downtown try embracing the folks who’ve been here for decades instead of just running them out and replacing them with snobby little hipsters looking down their noses at everyone else.” He complained that rich white people from North Fresno didn't want to mix with the more diverse people of South Fresno.

Let's rip down anonymous big blocks & spend millions replacing them with anonymous big blocks. (@createstreets on 21st century architecture and planning)

Upwards like to say of a place “It’s very atmospheric”, meaning that it's close to the stereotype they have of a (Polish restaurant, Greek island, Russian housing estate). East London is so atmospheric - like something out of Dickens!

Gentrification used to be called “tarting up”. Workers’ cottages got brightly painted front doors flanked by little trees in pots. Now, when your area is rechristened “something quarter” you can consider yourself gentrified. But it usually includes knocking down something decent and building tin-can flats.

In the 80s, Upwards used to say hopefully that their area was “coming up”, meaning that middle-class people were moving in, so the pavements would surely become cleaner, the street lights brighter and the shops less grimy. And you might even be able to buy lemons, rocket and tarragon vinegar. They waited years while everything stayed the same apart from one Marxist bookshop. What they really wanted to “come up” was of course the value of their house.

It happened in Hackney – the street lights are brighter, enabling “night life” for young people, but we’re too old for that now. We were thinking more of reclaiming beautiful old Georgian houses which were too good for the garment factories and working-class families that inhabited them.

The South Bank... entirely full of pop-up fish restaurants and jugglers on unicycles. (‏@IanMartin Juggling unicyclists haven't been seen since the 80s, but there are too many street food stalls, and over-amplified singer-songwriters given busking licences by a tin-eared committee.)

Central London used to be quite seedy and downmarket and there were few tourists. It was full of chorus girls and motor salesmen, according to a friend – also market traders, tarts and film companies. The area around Centre Point was all guitar, sheet music and drumstick shops. Now it's getting more and more crowded with restaurants, especially noodle bars and burrito bars for the Japanese and American visitors. And everywhere is rather expensive. When I was young and a student we couldn’t afford to eat out all the time! I suppose now young people get decent salaries, and affluent middle-class people send their children to university in greater numbers.

Someone makes the point that hipsters can’t afford a flat or get a regular job – but they can have locally sourced sausages and 50 different types of coffee. (Perhaps because they only job they can get is to open a café.) Surely the market can’t sustain ALL those coffee shops? Except they don’t just sell coffee, they are shared offices as more and more people “work from home”. And middle-class people live in public more than they used to, and they have laptops, and it’s easier to work surrounded by other people, and they don’t have tables at home because there isn’t room.

Thursday 14 September 2017

Choose Your Words Carefully 7

Angela Rayner, the shadow education secretary, was interviewed on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show this week. She said afterwards that online trolls watching the programme had been “attacking my accent again saying I am thick etc. I will reiterate I am proud of my accent and will not change!” Ms Rayner comes from Stockport in Greater Manchester.
 (Oliver Kamm Times July 2017)

I've had that sort of nonsense all my life. Regional = thick. Try dialect on top of accent & watch them do the Python Northerners sketch. (Maggie Atkinson‏ @matkinson956)

I was ushered over to some lecturers with the handful of fellow scholarship kids to meet some senior members of faculty. One asked me a few questions about my background, then said “A word of advice – lose the accent, it’ll only hold you back.” (

Binky Felstead is too posh to be able to say words like “most” and “going” (“meeohst”, “gaying”). Her husband answers the phone with “Bon soir!” because he doesn’t know what it means. Posh voices are amazing, aren’t they? I mean the proper ones, where every noise sounds a bit like “waah” or “falafel”. (Hugo Rifkind on the TV programme Binky and JP’s Baby, Times July 2017)

Caroline Stow-Crat is donating to the relief effort, but she can't help flinching slightly when newscasters talk about "hurry-canes": "It's like calling porcelain 'porcellayne'. 'Hurricane' rhymes with 'Milligan'. Almost."

Samantha Upward has been trying for years to shorten the A in Glastonbury. Should she apply this theory to plasticene as well? And Elastoplast? And does sloth rhyme with cloth or growth? But she can’t bring herself to call a biro a “ball-point”, or simply a “pen”. Pens are fountain pens.

Whichever way you pronounce "scone", the other way sounds posh. (GH)

She had the slightly common vowel sounds of the truly upper class. (Falling, Elizabeth Jane Howard)

More here, and links to the rest.

Tuesday 5 September 2017

You Are What You Eat 11

In the 50s, Upwards despised those who put paper doilies under cakes. Sugar tongs and butter curls showed your status – a distinction swept away with the demise of the tea party. They took place in drawing rooms, and you pushed in a trolley tinkling with cups, plates, teapot, hot water jug, cakes, biscuits, and little sandwiches with the crusts cut off, which you then laid on a tea table. Conversation was polite, and guests might get a tour of the garden (“It’s not looking its best!”).

In British noirs of the 50s and 60s, there are scenes in posh restaurants. Diners click their fingers for the waiter, who is repellently obsequious. “What a pleasure to see you again, sir! The trout is very good tonight.” Thank goodness all that has passed.

In the 60s and 70s, it was very difficult to say you didn’t like melons, peppers or hot curry. People used to force you try them, and tell you it was an “acquired taste” (which you obviously hadn’t tried hard enough to obtain). Why did they care so much? Was it because these foods were class markers, and they couldn’t be associated with someone who wouldn’t try anything new or foreign, and preferred the bland and familiar? You had to try the new foods, and brag that you had eaten them.

Nicky Haslam remembers “someone coming from London cradling two avocado pears as if they were the Holy Grail.” (Redeeming Features)

The dining room becomes a place for dragooning young ones, policing their behaviour, instilling adequate cutlery skills. (The Great Indoors, Ben Highmore)

In the 50s, our parents tried to do gracious living on too small a budget: bread and butter were provided at lunch and dinner even though nobody ate it. Side plates were put out, but never used. And then they had to be washed up. (When did that stop?)

In the 80s, a friend sneered a flatmate who "cooks with tuna!"

Street food is fashionable, but it means that there are people in the street and on the bus eating whole meals with meat, veg and spices, out of a little box. Hamburgers were bad enough. What happened to “one does not eat in the street”? (Somehow hot dogs off a cart are not "street food".)

The Times rules on barbecues: You don’t want “your garden party to be a case of burnt chicken breasts and tubs of shop-bought hummus... Yet they seem to think that they are still coming to a party in 1987 and turn up with a pack of Wall’s sausages and a bottle of lurid pink rosé.”

Brioches are fashionable, but Sam can’t eat them. In fact she has to sneer about them because they are too sweet.

Recently I took a friend with only a high school degree to lunch. Insensitively, I led her into a gourmet sandwich shop. Suddenly I saw her face freeze up as she was confronted with sandwiches named ‘Padrino’ and ‘Pomodor’ and ingredients like soppressata, capicollo and a striata baguette. I quickly asked her if she wanted to go somewhere else and she anxiously nodded yes and we ate Mexican. (David Brooks, How We Are Ruining America, New York Times, 7/11/17)

Sandwiches have gone upmarket. If they're not full of shredded lettuce that falls out when you take a bite, they're made with bread so thick you have to take the sandwich apart and eat it with a knife and fork.

Definitelies slosh Bird’s custard on their puddings (tinned steamed sponge). Teales pour Devon custard from a carton. Samantha Upward makes “crème anglaise”, stirring an egg yolk into a pint of milk over a very low heat and adding a smidgeon of sugar. “No flour, please!”, she shudders. But it’s such hard work that she doesn’t do it very often. Rowena wonders where you can get crème patissière.

Upwards won't eat tinned carrots, baked beans and sausages, potatoes, mushy peas, stewed steak or chicken in white sauce, but red kidney beans, chickpeas and Baxter’s consommé are OK.

Italian waiters don’t understand “fizzy water” – you have to ask for “sparkling”. This is excruciating for Upwards, who think “sparkling” is a marketing term, like “packaging”. If the waiter looks blank, Sam switches to “frizzante”.

You can get black ice cream. End of days.

Shopping involves technology these days, and other people are using it wrong:

In a supermarket, whose responsibility is it at the checkout to put the ‘divider’ in place between their own and the next customer’s shopping?
(Yougov survey question)

“Women take for ever finding their money” has become “I was stuck at the checkout behind someone with a wallet full of credit cards. I had to stand there while they tried them all until they found one that wasn’t rejected.” And now people are using contactless cards for amounts less than £10!

More here, and links to the rest.

Tuesday 8 August 2017

Innovations 3

The middle classes have conniption fits over every new gadget and every new fad, as if they’d never seen anything new before. Which is odd, because capitalism depends on endless novelty. But the Upwards are appalled every time.

They make predictions about the terrible harm the innovation will do. And then they identify a special innovation disease

They usually get over it in 10 years, though some still say they “don’t do Facebook because I don’t know how it works”. It’s not done to notice that the Smartphone flap is the same flap we had about the Internet, television, radio and the telephone.

Upwards can’t just join things, or buy things – they have to “succumb” or “give in”. I finally succumbed and: bought myself an iPad, Blackberry Curve, Moleskine notebook; joined Twitter, created a Tumblr, turned on CNN, got SKY, bought Emily a mini balloon. (I’ll never understand Protestant guilt.)

Secretly, they think they ought to be carving all their own tools out of wood with a home-made flint knife. They have food processors and Mac books and tablets and Smartphones – but they can always project their tech disapproval onto the new phenomenon. Is this “virtue signalling”?

Prediction: TV will rot our childrens’ brains and turn them into zombies.
Since the 50s and 60s, TV has been accepted seamlessly into middle-class lives. It never rotted anyone’s brain, or ruined anyone’s eyesight.
Policing: You must watch TV with the lights out or it’ll damage your eyes. Sit at least 15 feet away, you’ll see better from there. (Probably true for middle-aged people.)

SMARTPHONESUpwards are now policing their children's Smartphone use, and writing about it in the broadsheets. "All screen activities are linked to less happiness", declares an article saying no good will come of these things. And they turn children into zombies. Kate Winslet bans “devices” from her home, like our French teacher who wouldn’t let her children read comics, back in the 60s.

The Great Tellytubby Flap is now forgotten, and there is no sign of a blighted Tellytubby generation speaking in baby talk.

Jet travel was presumed to be evil in a uniquely modern way. Vicars preached sermons about the “jet age” and the irresponsible “jet set” who can always “jet off” somewhere else.

PAPER TISSUES Vicars were even upset about Kleenex, and preached sermons about the "throwaway, disposable society".

They can cook your innards if you leave the door open, it’s not real heat, the food isn’t really cooked, it gets as hot as a nuclear reactor, it cooks from the inside out (thanks to Giles Coren).

We can’t have a channel tunnel because rabid continental foxes will invade Britain. (We’ve moved on to “Driverless cars may be hit by leaping deer”, and “Driverless cars can’t recognise kangaroos”.)

In 1674 the Women's Petition Against Coffee was filed on the grounds that coffee made men impotent, gossipy & “'Frenchified”.

Charles II not only banned coffeehouses, but also forbade people from selling coffee, chocolate, sherbet, and tea from any shop or house.

A 1706 pamphlet warned of the dangers of coffee, chocolate and tea.

In 1822 William Cobbett wrote that tea leads women into prostitution and has boys "lurking in bed".

A 19th century cookbook for the poor advised parents that sweetened white sauce was better for your children than “a sloppy mess of tea”.

"After that dreadfully cold place, what I really want is gallons of hot tea, if you, as a nerve specialist, can bear the thought of it.'' (Whose Body?, Dorothy Sayers)

Now we complain about coffee-shop chains: ubiquitous, tax-avoiding, worker-exploiting, and the coffee is sweet and milky.

The potato was denounced from the pulpit because it’s not mentioned in the Bible, and besides, they might give you leprosy.

Tomatoes (“love apples”) were thought to be poisonous.

(The middle classes have lost their fear of exotic vegetables, but now they need a new one every few months to stay ahead of the game.)

Trains shouldn’t exceed 30 miles an hour because the human body can’t stand such speeds. You might end up with "railway spine".

We can’t employ women in business – they’ll grow beards!

In the 20s, a pundit opined that if women got any thinner they'd all become lesbians.

In 1921, the Ladies Home Journal wrote that jazz music "stimulated the half crazed barbarian to the vilest deeds. It is harmful & dangerous". (They said much the same about rock'n'roll.)

Biros will ruin children’s handwriting.

Biological washing powder digests dirt – it might digest you! (60s)

Premarital sex will cause the breakdown of society! (60s. Now even fundamentalist Christians think it’s OK if you’re engaged.)

Speech-to-text will make typists redundant. (It’s hardly used. Secretaries were made redundant by bosses typing their own letters and memos into a computer. And still schoolchildren don’t get taught to touchtype properly.)

Technology will make journalists redundant, citizen journalists will take their place. Reality: BBC uses pix by "weather watchers", and a lot of “amateur video”.

Computers cause computer addiction. The Internet causes sex addiction. Or just Internet addiction.

When mobile phones first came in, when – about 20 years ago? We were told not to leave them plugged in overnight, and not to leave the charger connected to the power because it wastes energy. James Thurber had an aunt who thought electricity leaked out of empty sockets…

Other people use their phones to Instagram pictures of their food. I only use mine to check my blood pressure.

Upwards are still asking languidly: “What is the point of Tumblr? Or LinkedIn? Or Pinterest?” or something else that has been around for years despite lacking their approval.

When videos were new and expensive, only a few people had them. A friend gave a party to watch the Agatha Christie episodes she’d recorded. People thought they should turn on something for guests, as they used to turn on “light music”. But you don’t really want the York Mysteries over breakfast or Wallace and Gromit over dinner.

Whenever a vast, destroyed work of art is 3D printed, an Upward writes an article saying that this is wrong because the money would be better spent on young, contemporary artists, etc. Their real problem is that 3D printing is done by a machine and therefore vulgar. And these things are so big, and so popular, and they're in a public place where crowds of people can come and admire them.

Did doctors ever see a flood of patients with railway spine, hula hoop back, platform shoe ankle or texter’s thumb?

Miniskirts cause cystitis, frostbite, chapped thighs and fat thighs.
Mobile phones/bras/deodorants give you cancer.
The Twist causes slipped discs. (It was a popular dance of the 60s.)

Previous modern health worries dissipated when the predicted health mayhem never emerged and the feared exotic agents became thoroughly familiar. (New Scientist Oct 6 2012)

More here, and links to the rest.

Sunday 25 June 2017

World of Interiors 10

I admired a friend's house: she had a dish full of blue and white sherds which she had collected from the beach, and chandelier crystals hanging in the windows. I tried to copy, but the results always looked lame.

A childhood friend had a bedside light in the shape of a toadstool house with figures of elves. She also had a collection of glass swans and Wade china animals displayed on a shelf. I couldn’t understand why my mother wouldn’t let me have any of these beautiful things.

It was a shock when contemporaries moved from grubby student houses to grown-up flats with fitted carpets and proper furniture, and hoovered the carpets and kept the place tidy. I was also surprised that it had been their plan all along.

In Crouch End you are judged by the neatness of your log pile.

It was one of those little mid-Victorian corner tables — I believe they call them "what-nots" — which you will find in any boarding-house, littered up with photographs and coral and "Presents from Brighton." (The Power-House, John Buchan)

A new building is opened with great fanfare. Within a week, it is plastered with hand-written signs reading “EXIT”, “NO WAY OUT”, “DRAW BOLT AND TURN HANDLE”, “USE OTHER DOOR” and “FOR SOAP, PRESS BUTTON UNDER COUNTER”. Twenty years later, the notices are still there – tattered, torn and mended with yellowing sellotape.

Bournemouth's ignoble coast cowers to the right, heralding the pine-trees that mean, for all their beauty, red houses, and the Stock Exchange, and extend to the gates of London itself. So tremendous is the City's trail! (EM Forster, Howard’s End)

New buildings must be “in keeping” – but with what? Apparently it’s “the local”: a style that sprang straight from the earth, like Georgian and Victorian buildings in London stock brick.

The bar’s done up in a style called “Sheboygan rec room”: dark carpet; wood-panelled walls; plush, aging armchairs; smallish TVs. (

Someone has labelled Theresa May’s picture (with her husband, to show that she’s normal): “blousy curtains, floral footstool, showroom sofa, patterned cushions, spotless carpet”. The beige fitted carpet is clean, because she doesn’t have children, a fact she had to explain away in early July 2016. She also has a coolie-hat lampshade and some neat, pointed exposed bricks round the fireplace, a brass-mounted fire screen and a bunch of flowers in the grate.

Upgrade your home! 
Add recessed lighting
Reface your kitchen cabinets and add new handles
Buy a rug
Paint the walls
Install crown molding (a cornice), but remember it “looks best in traditional homes and can look out of place if you have an ultra-modern minimalistic home”.

COUNTRY COTTAGESWhen Jilly Cooper wrote Class in the 70s, she noted that Upwards were struggling to afford second homes in the country. They were forced to buy “bolt-holes” so far out that they drove most of Friday evening to get there, and most of Sunday evening to get back to “town”. Poor loves! For most of us, country cottages are a thing of the past, but maybe Cooper moved in different circles.

I remember some friends at the time telling me about country cottages they had viewed – most of them were impossible due to improvements that weren’t, like woodchip wallpaper and carriage lamps outside. Easily removable, but what about the filled-in fireplaces? Another friend exposed the fireplace of his Cornish cottage: it had a massive stone lintel, and filled the room with smoke.

Tropicana Regency, Versailles Provençale (Great Interior Design Challenge)
Metallic, exotically printed fabrics scream Great Gatsby!
"My style is simple but very ornate..." (GIDC)

“Fits in with the whole country feel.” Money for Nothing on a sideboard made of a rusty feeding trough and some teak table-legs. “They have a lovely big rustic interior,” says Sarah Moores. Does “rustic” mean “living in a pigsty”, though?

“Aztec” is now applied to kilims and ikat – anything with blocks of colour with a jagged edge. I don’t know how the Aztecs would react to that, but it might involve sharp knives.

In Babbacombe’s by “Susan Scarlett” (Noel Streatfeild), mother figure Mrs Carson is always doing up rooms on a shoestring with some “gay” or “dainty” cretonne curtains and bedcovers. Cretonne is stout cotton printed with a pattern, usually flowers, and Mrs C bought the fabric in a sale. Clearly readers were meant to follow her example. But what was Streatfeild warning against? Reusing old, dark curtains?

In a 70s Archers episode, Peggy talked of redecorating in earth colours (terracotta and peach). Would Peggy really do anything so hippy? (In the 70s everything suddenly became brown, cream or terracotta because we were worried about the environment.)

IT'S DECADENT TO...Decorate your pizzeria like a shipping warehouse.

Clad your tower block in brick panels. (I’ve even seen brick panels put on the wrong way up, with the bricks vertical.)

Paper your walls in a simulated concrete design.

Antic has taken over 45 venues and turned them into “granny chic” pubs. (Guardian June 2016) Clients may not realise that the “delightfully twee establishment... is owned by an aggressively expanding business”. They combine exposed brick walls with skip and boot sale furniture. Their designer says her job is about “taking risks. You might think, is that horrible or is that lovely? I’m not sure.” (So not “taking risks” as in kayaking up the Amazon?) They turned an old job centre in Deptford into a pub and called it The Job Centre. Local people were narked, and it closed. They’ve bought a concrete pub in Elephant. The designer says: “Yes, it’s carpark chic. Maybe that’s where I should be going with it.” (The Guardian writes as if “granny chic” was new, but it has been around in East London for about ten years like a blight.)

Ultra-cool Rowena Upward is building a new house modelled on ad hoc temporary dwellings, and filling it with orange plastic stacking chairs picked up from pavements. As she says, “It's no more patronising than doing up a thatched cottage that used to be a rural slum, or my ranch-style bungalow, modelled on the cabin of a settler in the Wild West”. Samantha is still wondering if Moroccan chic has gone out.


He had... a very large flat overlooking Marble Arch, impersonal and full of antiques which he paid a friend to choose for him. 'This is one of the biggest flats in London, and I can prove that', he said. 'It has ten rooms, three bathrooms and the furnishings are worth a fortune.' (Nik Cohn on the late Irvine Sellars of Mates boutique, a feature of Carnaby St in the 60s)

In the 50s, it was terribly grand to own a house which still had a powder closet – it showed that the house dated from the 18th century when the gentry needed a small room for powdering their hair or wig. But have we stopped trying to pretend we live at Chatsworth or Versailles at last?

Dining room tables and chairs, end tables and armoires (“brown” pieces) have become furniture non grata.

Could hipsters save the antique furniture trade? (Apollo Magazine)

While the modern style has stayed the same forever - people still have Eames chairs and Bauhaus chairs or whatever - because it's all about functionality and use and iconicism, the 'traditional' goes through huge fads almost in cycles. (

See the 30s Tudoresque vision of Merrie England, with a lot of brass and oak. It was a debased form of the late 19th century Arts and Crafts, and the fad for vast refectory tables and carved wooden chests. Late 19th century Louis IV revival (baroque, rococo) ended up as flimsy reproduction furniture and would-be Aubusson carpets: pensioner chic.

More here, and links to the rest.

Tuesday 20 June 2017

Modern Manners

There are no social rules any more – but what about queueing and correct use of the checkout divider? Yesterday a young man let me go in front of him in the checkout queue – what a gent!

Never comment
on what other people are eating, even if they’re on the “clean, paleo, detox” diet and longing to tell you all about it.

I'm sure none of you would do this: You bring a bottle of the kind of wine you like (very dry, ready chilled) to a party. The host/hostess puts it to one side and never opens it, and gives you a glass of warm chardonnay.

And don’t forget Miss Manners’ good advice: If you know your IQ score, don’t tell anybody.

Some people imagine etiquette is all about this kind of thing: "As at dinner, it is the duty of a hostess to give the signal for leaving the room, which she does by attracting the attention of the lady of highest rank present by means of a smile and a bow, rising at the same time from her seat." The same site gives rituals for arranging your train over one arm correctly when attending a vice-regal drawing-room.

Anyone harking back to the “simpler” days of the 1950s has got it all wrong… Amy Vanderbilt’s Everyday Etiquette… offers advice of enormous complexity on issues such as, should a gentleman always remove his hat in an elevator? (Alexandra Frean in The Times) Miss Manners (Judith Martin) was asked the same question by a polite fellow who said he would like to remove his hat, but then what do you do with it? Miss Manners suggested he clutch it lightly to his chest. She also hoped that a few remarks about the weather to a lady lift-sharer might lead to a cup of coffee and – who knows?

“The unreal set of manners and bizarre systems of etiquette that they force themselves to follow, like our own upper classes.” (New Humanist) OK the poshos have some odd codes, like tilting your soup bowl away from you and not wearing black stockings in the country, or any jewellery but pearls before dusk, but they’re not really as bizarre as people imagine.

Middle-class unwritten rules are far weirder. Writer John Mortimer had a schoolfriend to stay, who at the end of the holiday remarked: "I'll tell you something about your father. He can't see. He's blind, isn't he?" Mortimer comments: "It was a question our family never asked. Naturally, I didn't answer."

You didn’t raise your voice in public, because you didn’t want to attract attention to yourself, and you didn’t want everybody to “know your business”. Some older people are still a bit shocked at others talking loudly in public. Upwards and Weybridges even kept the radio or gramophone turned down low.

Women used to be warned against “clanking” jewellery and “squeaking” shoes – circa 1880. Were you supposed to glide silently? Rustling taffeta petticoats were probably out, too. (It was fashionable to wear several very long chains, and multiple brooches. How did you stop them “clanking”?) Your voice was supposed to be soft, gentle and low as well. This got transferred to jangling charm bracelets when these became fashionable in the 1940s and 50s.

More etiquette here.

Tuesday 6 June 2017

The Upwards: Update

What comes across... is the charmed, lazy life of overpaid Oxford academics – the short hours, endless long vacations and sabbaticals, the high-table boozing, international conferences, holidays to sponge off the Cecils, the Spenders... the general unaccountability. (The Times on Iris Murdoch’s letters.)

The upper-middle-class Upwards think it’s OK to make cracks about people who breathe through their mouths, can’t do joined up writing, and eat at Harvesters. They are far the most snobbish of the classes: I knew a woman who judged boyfriends by their mothers' curtains.

Upwards hate “celebrities” because they are celebrated for success in common fields like football, pop music, reality TV and Hollywood movies. Also they make a lot of money. Upwards resent popular culture, because it’s evidence that they aren't the only people in these islands – or the world. They like to say that “vacuous celebrities” are celebrated for doing things that don’t take talent or hard work. But then they manage not to “see” stage schools, or footballers in training. Unfortunately writing literary novels or even acting in Shakespeare will never get Upwards anything like the media exposure. And they aren’t allowed to go on X Factor.

They like to think that they have chosen their friends, and that they aren’t a “type”. They're very touchy about being classified or given a label (hipster, chatterati). Some of them like to say that if everyone stopped talking about class it would disappear. They’re not aware that databases like Mosaic ("consumer classification for consistent cross-channel marketing) are dividing us into finer and finer categories so that people can sell things to us (they’d be outraged).

Upward grandparents are the ones who worry about the whole family sliding down the social scale.
Fifty years ago, Upwards and Stow-Crats told their children that certain things were Done and others were Not Done. No further explanation needed. If you drank wine out of a tumbler or ate peas with your knife, in no time at all you'd find yourself living in the kitchen, using an old newspaper as a tablecloth, and pouring milk into your tea straight from the bottle. And you'd probably be dropped from polite society.

Upwards don't become aldermen, they sneer at them, also at Freemasons, Rotarians and Roundtablers, who have worked out a way of having a social life while doing something useful. The Upward equivalent is the book group, the poetry workshop, the writing circle, the music weekend - and that’s about it. They aren’t very organised about meeting people and making new friends – perhaps because they are terrified of mixing with the Wrong People. They shudder at “public speaking”, but if required to do a book tour they may take lessons in "presentation skills" from an out-of-work actor.

Middle-middle-class Weybridges celebrate English culture – change-ringing, topiary, battle re-enactments, Morris dancing, narrowboats. Upwards are keen on preserving working-class culture once it’s safely in the past – see the current fad for plaid shirts and distressed wood.

The Middle-Class Handbook has all the dope.

More here.

The Teales: Update

Miles and Juliet lived in a neat circumscribed executive estate in Pangbourne and did everything right. They bought every possession (including the right opinions) that the young executive should have and their lives were organised with a degree of foresight that made the average Soviet Five-Year-Plan look impetuous. (Star Trap
, Simon Brett)

The lower-middle class Teales, Jen and Bryan, and their children Christine and Wayne, are admirable. They join Rotary, raise money for charity, and become aldermen. They are hard-working, sensible and organised. They are also conscientious, kind and polite, though they can be scrupulous and judgemental. Teale respectability may be a relic of the Low Protestant sects their grandparents grew up in. The attitudes lived on while the chapels were converted into flats.

There used to be some Teales who would never discuss other people in any way. It made talking to them quite difficult. Was it  Protestantism forbidding “all uncharitableness”? Jen always knows when to stop talking for the two minutes silence, and when the clocks go back/forward. Poor Samantha Upward is always being caught out, and frowned on.

Jen retrained as an aromatherapist when the children became "adults". Christine is a wedding planner, Wayne a cosmetic surgeon. (Downmarket Sharon Definitely runs a nail bar.) Aromatherapy fell out of fashion, and Jen now helps Christine with her wedding business, thinking up elaborate, “unique” and expensive additions for your “special day”.

The early 60s were so Teale! They smelled of face powder, Yardley lipstick and lavender. Then it all went wrong and we were forced to whiff of patchouli and avoid ironing our clothes. Thank goodness the 70s brought the Teales back: American tan tights, A-line mini skirts, man-made fibres. Long hair parted in the middle became a symbol of conformity rather than rebellion as long as it was “healthy and shining” and went with over-plucked eyebrows, highlighter on the brow bone and a vapid smile.

Jen folds letters very neatly, lining up the edges and pressing down the folds. When her colleague Sam makes a mess of something she says: “I got carried away!” Teales, especially co-workers, take the Upward “scatty act” at face value, and are very disapproving.

But even Teales have their dark side. When not holidaying at nudist camps, they join suburban covens. And Geoffrey Crossick has written a book all about them.

Picture by Versluys and Uittenbroek.

More here.

The Stow-Crats: Update

The Stow-Crats, Harry and Caroline, are very self-deprecating — they can afford to be.

Poor Lady Lucan! The TV audience found her “cold”, and thought it incomprehensible that she’d had no contact with her children for 35 years. She said: “I bumped into George once in a park. We didn’t say much.” George is her son. Her abusive husband provoked her into emotional outbursts and filmed them as evidence that she was “unstable”, so that he could get a divorce and custody of the chidren. She made it clear that people of her class weren’t allowed to experience or show emotion of any kind. It was redefined as madness. (This was clearly a shock to people who are used to reality TV, and interviewees breaking down in tears on cue.)

From a Times obituary, 2014: After a rackety youth on the continent gambling and having affairs, she settled down. Her husband had to teach her how to make a cup of tea. When she moved into a flat, she wondered why it was so cold – she didn’t realise you have to turn radiators on.

It used to be the thing for Stow-Crats and Weybridges to despise all foreigners, while Bohemian Upwards fawned on them.

More here.

And more on the aristocratic lifestyle in David Cannadine's The Country House.

Thursday 4 May 2017

You Are What You Eat 10

Coffee shops, ranked by poshness:

Percy Ingle 
"Oh we've got this little independent place we go to."

Although, oddly, Upwards don't go to independent bakers...

Well, my 8am has been all about kicking a deflated football around a playground & trying to fight off a herring gull from my brioches. (@_katherine_may_ She can even name the species of gull.)
I'm not saying this campsite is middle class but some girls cycled by extolling the virtues of the 'duck vegan wrap' they had for lunch, the man in the next tent has a coffee grinder and one of the children, when asked during the Bushcraft session what food they are allergic to, replied 'Sushi'! (ABS)

The surgeon told me that there were three types of knife/finger accidents: the oyster-opening one, the avocado one, and the separating-two-frozen-burgers one. A paradigm of the British class system perhaps? (Letter to Guardian, April 2017)

Middle-class problems. You are at a friend’s and they grill some halloumi and offer you some. Do you accept politely and spoil your dinner? Are they going to produce more food later? Do they think a few pieces of grilled halloumi is an adequate dinner?

Middle-class problems. A friend invites you round, and says she’ll cook. (This is not “being invited to dinner”.) There are several other people there, and you drink wine and chat for hours, and then she cooks some noodles mixed with ONE cut-up fried courgette for the six of you. You get home at midnight and make cheese on toast.

Middle-class problems. You go to some evening “do”, like a talk or the opening of a picture show. There is wine, and trays of very superior nibbles, tasty but tiny and you only get a handful. Do you suggest to a friend that you go and get a pizza somewhere, or is this supposed to be dinner? If it is, can you grab a whole plate of chicken goujons?

Middle-class problems. The same thing happens at weddings: how do you make an adequate lunch out of tiny sandwiches and mini-quiches? Plus, you lose count of how many you’ve eaten. Is there or isn’t there going to be a sit-down meal at 3pm? On the way home, you eat walnut cake at a garden centre because you are starving.

Middle class problems. You go to a café with a lovely menu full of fashionable food and vegetarian options. But the shredded red cabbage comes in tiny chips, in a ramekin, without dressing, so there is nothing to stick it together. You try to eat it out of the ramekin, but it falls off the fork and you only get a few tiny fragments at a time. Do you tip out the ramekin onto your plate and ask for a spoon, or give up? There is some baby spinach and rocket as well – a few leaves to make the plate look covered, splashed with a very hot mustard dressing that you want to avoid. The pastry on the vegetarian dumplings is so hard you can’t cut it with the very blunt knife provided. It slips and the rocket goes everywhere. You try to eat a rocket leaf but it is too big and sticks out of your mouth, making you look like a manatee browsing on seaweed. You yearn for the days of risotto or chicken supreme, where you got a bowlful of small bits of stuff in mush. You didn’t have to cut anything up, it all stuck together, and every mouthful was the same. And it was pale beige. And FILLING.

Middle class problems. You go out to a posh restaurant where every course is “plated” – a tiny stack of stuff amid smears and blobs of sauce. As soon as you try to eat any of it, it falls apart. It amounts to about three mouthfuls and there’s no way of scooping up any of the sauce. The other diners don’t mind because they eat biscuits and cake all day and are never hungry. Dining at expensive restaurants is just a performance.

When I went to university I was surprised to find that the canteen served “tea”, ie supper, from 5, and shut at 7. I went a few times on my own (I like stodge followed by trifle), but girls didn’t go – it was all groups of boys. When – and what – did the girls eat? We had kitchens, but I never saw anybody cooking in one. I moved in the second term to some converted US airforce barracks and had the communal kitchen to myself. The canteen was working class (though I met friends for lunch there), and there were a couple of middle-class coffee shops – literally on a higher level. I think people sold sandwiches in the student union, and there was a supermarket. And when the very classy Sainsbury Centre opened we Art History students ate lunch there in the lovely restaurant nearly every day. You could get a cheap cheese roll at the Chaplaincy, and there was a burger bar on an even lower level than the canteen. We got a free (fried) breakfast at our converted airfield but again – girls didn’t go, and eventually I got the message. There was a bar at the airfield too, but I never went there either.

From Facebook: Whenever I use the automatic checkout machines and walk away I feel guilty as if I haven't actually paid... (Combines Upward love of needless guilt with Upward obsession about purchasing behaviour. See the Upward who feels guilty saying “Nothing to declare” when he has nothing to declare.)

More here, and links to the rest.

What to Wear 6

Airport chic
Class is dead, long live class.

The Times (March 16 2017) says that being thrown off a plane for wearing leggings all depends on the class of the wearer. The piece unveils a world of brand names, over-priced athleisure and being “upgraded to business class”. “We dressed for the seats we wanted – smart, unfaded jeans, with a plain but reasonably expensive T shirt, blazer and pair of Gucci loafers. I was convinced the loafers would swing it.”
It’s clear that "cattle class" exists to make business class seem more desirable. “Airport chic – there is no dress code less clear... Context is everything – and that context is usually the class of the person wearing the clothes.”

Apparently Claridges forbids ripped jeans in its restaurant – unless you’re a fashion editor. And you can dress like an Essex boy on a flight as long as you’re a “millionaire model”. WAGs and models wear athleisure to travel but every item is a brand and their yoga pants cost £300. They are “all too easily confused with the underclass” but thanks to their height and slimness “this rarely happens”.
Those who normally fly business class for work wear “skinny jeans, blazer or leather jacket and big scarf”. Who knew travel was so complicated and exhausting?

Of course hipster fashion is “American blue-collar chic”, in the same way that hippies dressed up as pioneers and Native Americans. (American blue-collar chic really is chic, though, in that US “if it ain’t broke” way.) My smart designer denim jeans are based on the work clothes of an American miner in the Gold Rush, and are worn with a striped T shirt that references sailors’ garb of the same period. My woollen “cardigan jacket” was designed for sporty lady golfers of the 1900s. A very expensive dress in fake patchwork is even more decadent.

In the 70s, lower middle-class Teales did not wear pink, they wore brown and blue. They were very shocked when I turned up at university with short black punk hair, and pink-framed sunglasses.

It was quite a milestone when people of my generation started wearing suits. But it seemed like selling out. We thought we’d be wearing purple velvet loons for ever.

Posh Caro and Samantha are secretly rather pleased that the UKIP spokeswoman is wearing a purple acetate blouse. It just shows, doesn’t it?

The conservative clothes of those papist families who seem to conflate Catholicism with corduroy trousers. (Catherine Nixey, Times Feb 2017)

Most parents had to make do with generic kids clothing from the high street until... (The Times being staggeringly snobbish in July 2016.)

Friday 14 April 2017

Yet More Decor Crimes

From the Times, April 2017

If you want to sell your house, avoid:

Off-white kitchens
Unusual layouts
An extension that’s bigger than the garden. (Don’t overextend.)

Pebbledash, Artex and the usual avocado bathroom suites (Though pebbledash may be right for your 30s villa.)

Purple, pelmets and patterns. (Avoid that 80s “window treatment”, this is “the age of plantation blinds”. And “chintz-patterned wallpaper... divides tastes.”)

Fountains, dark paint, garish carpets. (Says an architect.)

“Stark modern interiors... have a short shelf life and will look outdated in a couple of years.” (Says an estate agent.)
“Overly vibrant décor and sitting rooms that contain a supersized bed (an arrangement considered weird for all sorts of reasons.)” (The Times’s Anne Ashworth)

Also per the Times, these have had their day:
Venetian mirrors (with an ornate surround also made of mirror)
Cowhides or sheepskins draped on furniture (Leave them on the floor. Or out by the bins.)
Fake Eames (the plywood furniture designed by Ray and Charles Eames in the 50s)
Flos (Furniture and lighting with a retro look. Attractive but costly.)

Black and white tiles (“We all went mad for them when there was a bit of a buzz around the Standard Hotel in New York.” Oh, didn’t we? But now apparently they make you feel you’re living in your bathroom.)

Tin (and copper) pendant lamps
Zinc worktops
Roll-top bath
Painted tongue-and-groove walls
Sisal carpeting (stick to rugs)
Velvet mustard sofa
Giant clock in the kitchen (“Just too gastropub to be safe any more.”)


Yarn bombing. (
Sorry, but it’s twee.)

Annie Sloan chalk paint for that “distressed” look – created 26 years ago.

Transform your old chest of drawers with colourful ceramic knobs!

Pampas grass is 70s naff. (Carol Midgley)

Nesting tables (but they might be useful).
Paintings of roistering cardinals
Suspended ceilings

Doing up a genuine a Tudor house/restaurant/pub with artex, fake beams, fake candle wall sconces, Flintstones fireplaces and Jacobethan furniture.

Beaten copper hood over a gas fire (relic of arts and crafts copper hood over open fire)

Standard off-the-shelf Regency fire surround in a Victorian or modernist house.

Victorian décor crime: vast black and purple marble fire surround like a baroque altar in a room much too small for it. These survive, while elaborate Edwardian overmantels don’t.

Cutting the legs off a kitchen table to make a coffee table (and manufacturing coffee tables that look like kitchen tables with the legs cut off)

Getting that expensive hotel look in your home is easier than you think. (@sainsburys)

Bedrooms where seduction is catered for with swagged curtains and dry-clean-only sheets, bathrooms with shelves weighed down by vanilla tea lights. (Eva Wiseman)

Revamped Victorian warehouses given mirrored plate-glass windows in blue or brown (70s, 80s)

Buildings with exoskeletons

It’s kind of decorative in a ghastly kind of way. (David Dickinson on a brass clock and barometer moulded with baroque curlicues and flowers, painted and sprayed gold)

living statues dressed as Yoda

over your front garden (sheet of plastic), covered with gravel that never stays put. Attempt at a Derek Jarman Dungeness desert garden in a tiny front plot in Chiswick.

Giant tree sculptures made with a chainsaw, life-size animals sculpted out of chickenwire

Over-restoration of faded ghost signs.

More here, and links to the rest.

You are What You Eat 9

I went into all the businesses on Green Street High Street to ask whether my mobile had been handed in, e.g. beauty parlours, florists etc.  Everyone v nice and concerned and chatty with exception of a man in the angling shop. Best place was beauty parlour where two glamorous old bats were having hairdos and facials and there was a white poodle reclining on a couch.

Did you push a shopper to the floor this morning to snatch a cut-price TV from their grasp? (Times)

The border between the north and south should be drawn at the point where you ask for a cup of tea and they respond: "What sort of tea?" (@carey_davies)

If Samantha Upward lived in Green Street Green, she would be unable to go into the beauty parlour, florist or angling shop. She prefers to whinge about Black Friday – it’s an American import. It’s “folks beating each other up for a cheap telly”. Upwards used to make the same fuss about post-Christmas sales (folks camping out outside the store the night before, then scrum as the doors open), but somehow this isn't "prejudice", which they are always careful to condemn. Sam suggests a “no-buy Friday”, but explains that it wouldn’t mean not buying anything, just “not buying in a media-induced frenzy”.

According to Eileen Weybridge, Waitrose is preferable because although it’s a supermarket, you are less likely to bump into “single mothers with large numbers of children with different fathers” and there are “fewer people on obviously bad diets”.

Some idiot in the Cotswolds complains that in his local Tescos “two whole aisles are devoted to Polish food!” Pictures or an address never surfaced. He probably takes home baguettes and pasta every week, cooks boeuf Bourgignon and drinks Chablis. Upwards think European peasant food (polenta) is fearfully chic. But Polish food? Tripe soup? Pickled gherkhins? Sauerkraut? And they don’t like the Polish writing on the side. Weybridges can gain points by knowing how to say Soave, tagliatelli etc, but they have no idea how to pronounce Grochówka, and can’t brag about having eaten flaczki in this charming little café on holiday, because people like us don't go on holiday to Poland. And it’s the wrong kind of peasant food: everything in tins, packets and jars and smoked or pickled because it assumes you don’t have a fridge. Rowena Upward gives Polish dinner parties, with rye bread and pork sausages, and her friends are shocked to the core. Next week it’s Swiss/Alsace cookery with rösti and spätzle. This summer she’s going on a tour of Hungarian spas.

A BBC girl just talked about the Queen “participating in the Christmas meal”. Upwards and Stow-Crats shudder.

Upwards women never seem to be hungry at "proper meals" (lunch and dinner), when they eat protein and veg in shades of green, orange and purple, and go on about "anthocyanins", "clean eating" and the "paleo diet". This is because they eat porridge for breakfast, biscuits all morning, biscuits all afternoon, and cake and scones at 4.

In the 70s there was huge snobbery over curry powder. You were supposed to buy all the spices separately, know how to pronounce them, and fry them yourself a la Madhur Jaffrey. How many of us actually did this? Curry powder has been available in England since 1784. Cue anecdote about visiting Indian bishop: “I hope you like the curry, Your Excellency?” “Oh, is it curry?”

Upwards can’t go to a “carvery”, or even a pub, so they moan you can’t get decent English food in restaurants. Some Upward parents think children should be taught to shoot squirrels and pigeons, skin, gut, cook and eat them because “our cotton-wool culture has got out of control”.

More here, and links to the rest.

Sunday 26 March 2017

Stay Classy

Baguettes, not regrets!
Top Tip: Pretend to be incredibly posh by professing a lack of knowledge about the most commonplace items. (Andrew Male ‏@Andr6wMale)

Some incomers slag off us Brits for having a class system, some like to point it out in case we hadn’t noticed it was there, others come here precisely because we still have an aristocracy - because they want to join it. They used to settle near Brompton Oratory and shop at the best emporia (Peter Jones, Harrods, Fortnums, the Tao Clinic).

One thing everybody agrees on – the English class system is different now. It’s based on money, not blue blood, says Professor Mike Savage in Social Class in the 21st Century. He shows – with graphs – that those from a “posh” background earn several thousands more a year. He quotes interviewees verbatim: those who claim not to be snobs are the funniest. If comfortably off, they put it down to their thrifty lifestyles, not their inherited wealth or high-paying jobs. “The point here is that class today stems not only from economic capital but also from social and cultural factors, ” says the Times review. Just like the history of Britain for the past 500 years.

And perhaps when people say “there’s no class system any more”, they mean “It’s not like Downton Abbey, with Lords and servants”. No, it’s about very thin layers of the middle classes despising the people in the next layer for eating the wrong food, or having the wrong kind of curtains, or speaking slang, or picking up Americanisms, or misusing the checkout divider, or being ignorant about apostrophes. And it always was.

The media is mainly staffed by the middle classes because these days the entry point is university/unpaid internships. They know they’re not supposed to be prejudiced, but somehow snobbery isn’t “prejudice”.

Tatler is doing “the new snobbery” again, Dec 2016. It always has to be “new” because we have to pretend the “old snobbery” has gone away. Nancy Mitford’s U and Non-U (1954) is a bit out of date, they say. No more sneering about “piercings, carnations, paper napkins, the words “mirror” and “liquid soap”. But the following are still beyond the pale: visible bra straps, coloured toilet paper, vulgar celebrities, fake Christmas trees, people who don’t have books, red cars, baby showers, talking about money, “lounge” for sitting room, clinking glasses and saying “cheers!”. Telegraph agony aunt Mary Killen says that “anyone who puts a glass down without a coaster gives away that they did not grow up in a house with polished furniture.” Mary, it’s more complicated than that. You can’t put down a glass or mug on a polished table, but coasters are irredeemably naff. Caro Stow Crat leaves magazines around so that guests have something to put their glasses down on. In earlier times, polished tables were protected by cloths, mats and runners – perhaps we should revive these?

The Duchess of Devonshire "understood what artists were trying to say...and had these wonderful people from all backgrounds come to stay [at Chatsworth]." (Historian Maxwell Craven)

Rachel Johnson, sister of Boris and editor of the Lady magazine, wrote about the new snobbery in Times (2016-02-17)

According to her, the new status symbols are:
Five children, to whom you give very plain names like “Johnny” and send to state schools (avoiding “Eton disorder”).
Holidays at your second home in the UK, or the country homes of your family and friends (not crowded, expensive “abroad”).

A dark blue and grey colour scheme for your home (stone is so ovah).

A Land Rover Defender (discontinued so now hard to get and exclusive).
A lab-collie cross (a “working dog” – a Lollie?).
Impromptu suppers with friends (not competitive birthday parties in castles or on Greek islands).

You should always look as if you have just come from a Pilates class in a plain but top-quality T shirt and skinny jeans.

And eat carbs – we’ve reached “peak kale”.

An Aga – even in “hunting green” like the Duchess of Devonshire. “She had a penchant for kitsch – it is important to have ugly and funny things, otherwise it looks as if you’ve got what John Betjeman called ‘ghastly good taste’.” (You can feel Rachel cringing in the duchess’s kitchen, desperately trying to think up an excuse for the titled lady’s “bad taste” green Aga. According to Jilly Cooper, the aristocracy can do whatever they like – even hang a deodoriser block in the loo that turns the water bright blue. Agas are supposed to be cream, but the Duchess probably got her Aga in the 80s when navy and red were also available. Real aristocrats don’t update their décor, either.)

It’s OK, apparently, to make ill-informed and unfunny jibes at the middle classes. The recent March for Europe was allegedly full of people called Tarquinius and Fiona, and Waitrose was empty. Admittedly, someone was wielding a placard written in Latin. And a man in a white ponytail carried a poster that read METROPOLITAN CROISSANT-EATER. And you can always accuse Upwards of latte-sipping and quinoa-munching, especially if they're socialists. You'd think people would have got over middle-class socialists by now – we've been around since the 19th century at least. But OK, be like that then. We won’t turn up next time.

The Adam Smith Institute has commissioned a report proving that well-off activists are just “virtue signalling”, so there's nothing to worry about. Exec director Sam Bowman says: "New aristocrats prefer to show off their privilege with hard-to-get retro clothes and objects, studying obscure subjects at university or even taking loud, outrage-driven political positions, or making conspicuous donations to sometimes wasteful charities... undertaking costly actions to demonstrate they are not complicit in the globalised, liberalised, capitalist order of the 21st century, even though they are the very elite of that order.” Not that he’s biased at all, you understand. That’s just inconspicuous consumption, though in the 80s I did wonder why all the anti-capitalist lefties had mortgages and pension schemes... But when they said “capitalism”, they may have just meant “you know, nasty stuff”. (And that’s where all the broadsheets and Tweeters got the “virtue signalling” stuff from.)

Michael Gove recommends dropping Art History A Level, and some say that’s OK because “It’s just for posh white girls anyway”. Just insert any other group – it’s OK to drop geology because “It’s just for nerds”, or dance because “It's just for short people”, or...

It's tough being an Upward. There’s always something we’ve got to feel guilty about: eating too much, not recycling enough, not having the right attitude to whatever’s happening today, not having tasteful enough Christmas decorations, not being hip or cool enough, not excluding enough foods from our children’s diet. Why is it never “drinking too much", or "being sarcastic"?

Every year during the traditional Great Poppy Debate, Upwards tie themselves in knots trying to find their own unique reasons for either wearing or not wearing. What if the presence or absence of a poppy signals a reason somebody else has bagged already?

Garrison Keillor sums us up: "We liberal elitists are now completely in the clear. The government is in Republican hands. Let them deal with him. Democrats can spend four years raising heirloom tomatoes, meditating, reading Jane Austen, traveling around the country, tasting artisan beers, and let the Republicans build the wall and carry on the trade war with China and deport the undocumented and deal with opioids, and we Democrats can go for a long, brisk walk and smell the roses."

Don't let the side downI got shouted at by a phlebotomist for putting my stuff on the floor (tidy Teales hang everything up). And I was gently and politely eased out of the Pringle sweater shop (jeans, anorak, school lanyard, Labour sticker – obviously couldn’t afford the clothes they were selling). I hear the same thing happens in car dealerships. And schoolchildren are banned from the Leisure Centre café. But, as a friend points out, Web sites have no choice but to be egalitarian.

We don't want to be "those whom to know is to be unknown", quipped Anne Shirley (of Green Gables), wondering whether to befriend an unpopular girl at college. When I was younger, friends were always giving me recipe books. They wanted me to break my journey home and go to a “good” fishmonger. I had to eat adult food, the kind you would cook for a dinner party, or the kind you would cook for a partner, even though I’m just me and I can live on chips, takeaways and Tesco’s microwaveable meals if I like. But there I go, letting the class side down! I have to eat middle-class food even when I’m on my own and nobody can see me. (I could have lied – perhaps they expected me to!) They also used to bully me to give dinner parties – was this so that they could make sure I knew how to cook proper food, even if it was only spag bol? And they pretended to be worried about my health!

See also “How can you live in London, Oxford Street is so ghastly?” When pushed, they explain that they mean “crowded”. But it’s a shopping street, of course it’s crowded. Of course what they really mean is “crowded with the wrong kind of people”. I ought to know that we have to keep the plebs (literally) at arm’s length, and we mustn’t go to places where they go, where we might even have to touch them in a crowd! How can they know someone who thinks there’s nothing wrong with Oxford Street and even does her shopping there?

Class is dead, long live class.

More here, and links to the rest.

Tuesday 21 March 2017

Choose Your Words Carefully 6

Do pop round for supper!

I was advised to get elocution lessons to erase Scouse accent, by woman examiner from Chorleh (Chorley). (Via Twitter)

English people respond well to Scottish and Irish regional accents because the speaker’s social class is not immediately clear, according to Kirsty Young. “To an Irish or Scottish person, that voice has class and they can place it, but to most English people they can’t place an Irish or Scottish accent in class terms.
(Daily Mail, 2016)

Remember, if you don't 'speak like you're from a council estate', where you're from is instantly negated. (@owenhatherley)

The success of the Mrs Merton show was partly attributed to the "round vowel sounds of the North West accent" which "naturally sound safe and unthreatening". (Wikipedia Accents you don’t like are “flat”, vowel sounds you like are “round”.)

I concede that the 'Cardie' pronunciation is looked down upon by 'proper' Welsh speakers but it's still genuinely the way a large number of Welsh speakers actually speak, and I have great battles with locals to get them to stop apologizing for not speaking 'proper' Welsh. (MT)

What happens if you live and work abroad, pick up the local accent, and then go home again? “People often don’t react well when someone comes back with an accent, like they’re putting on airs or trying to be somebody else,” says Jennifer Nycz, a specialist in sociolinguists and phonetic and phonological variation at Georgetown... US newscasters are trained to change some of the most telling regionalisms in their accents. (Atlas Obscura)

Her accent – the sort of upper-class boom made to carry across a crowded paddock – did Linda Kitson no good at all [at art school]. (“Very unfashionable to have an aristocratic accent.”) Times Mar 2017

Tatler March 2017 lists the 10 poshest words:
“Jolly” for “very”, as in “jolly good”
“Devoted to” for “fond of”.
“Blotto” for “drunk”.

Someone’s behaviour may be “poor form”. (Or “bad form”.)
Nasty things are “beastly”.
Nobody is “ill”, they are “seedy”.
“He was in a terrible bate.” (Translation: He was in a filthy temper.)

“She’s an absolute brick!” (Translation: You can always depend on her, she’s a foul-weather friend.)

“That leaves me in a bit of a bind.” (Translation: Your plan will land me in an awkward predicament, trying to work out complicated transport arrangements, or finding myself incapable of being fair to everybody.)

And finally “sups”, for an informal evening meal. (There was a lot of fuss when the Camerons talked about “kitchen suppers” a few years ago, implying that for them “dinner” is a formal meal eaten in a dining room. “Sups”, like “bate” and “jolly good”, sounds left over from school.)

The Times’s Robert Crampton tries a parody: “I say, Rupert old boy, would you pass the pearl-handled revolver, leave me to do the decent thing, what what, there’s a good chap.” (Pearl-handled firearms are for girls, and nobody has said “what what” since King George III.”)

“It’s posh rather than RP and yet people have to sympathise with her,” said Andrew Marr on the voice actor Claire Foy used for the Queen.

“It’s modulated, we’re halfway. We never wanted it to be a caricature or an impression.” Claire Foy comes out with the usual cliché for actors portraying a well-known public figure, and explains why actually, no, she didn’t do the Queen’s voice. Nobody mentions that everybody spoke differently in the 50s (see old newsreels).

But passing as posh may be more about avoiding certain words. Upwards never use “bulk” to mean “most” or “a lot” (the bulk of). Especially not pronounced “bolk”. And they don’t pronounce the O in Charlotte – it’s Charl’t, not Char-lot to rhyme with hot.

Cllr Lisa Duffy, who came 2nd in UKIP leadership race, says she's "not overly surprised" Diane James quit.  (‏@LOS_Fisher Duffy also says the UKIP elite think “similarly”. )

Lower-middle-class Teales say s’mw’n and s’mthing, while Upwards say sahmwahn and sahmthing.

Posh Caro Stow-Crat has a slight moan: “I love these presenters from Wales, Scotland, Belfast and Durham, but whenever the BBC does programmes about local volunteering, must they be fronted with someone from “Lancasheer” chatting folksily about the “commewniteh”?”

Samantha Upward shudders when commentators say “Breggzit”.