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.