Saturday 6 October 2018

In an English Country Garden

Those aren’t plastic flowers, those are “faux botanicals”.

Weybridges know the Latin names of house plants. Fiona Stow Crat gives hers nicknames. 

An Escape to the Country participant says his ambition is to have enough grass for a sit-on lawnmower.

No good house should have to suffer the indignity of being covered with climbing plants. It is architectural bad manners almost on a par with plastic doors and windows. (Letter to Times, May 2017)

I was once sternly told not to plant Russian vine in my garden – so I did, and it flourished. I couldn’t understand why my mother wouldn’t plant any beautiful, romantic Virginia creeper, found all around us in Surrey climbing up half-timbered Arts and Crafts villas. She also vetoed pampas grass (suburban) and my father outlawed nasturtiums (too orange), but she grew them anyway.

In the 70s a clump of pampas grass in the centre of your front lawn was supposed to signal the home of wife-swappers. (What did other wife-swappers do? Just come and ring your doorbell?) The pampas grass would be in the middle of a perfectly kept lawn in front of the house, with no fence or wall. This was thought to be American and hence utterly naff. If you didn't have pampas grass, you probably had a laburnum. (What happened to them? Health and Safety? The seeds are poisonous.) Laburnums were naff, as were any "weeping" trees including willows and silver birches. In fact silver birches were verboten whether they wept or not. According to Nicky Haslam, hydrangeas were posh in Edwardian times.

Garden no-nos from the Times 
Times writer Anne Treneman has inherited a garden – she bought it from someone called “Malcolm”. Unfortunately it contains:

pampas grass
poisonous plants
orange flowers

She also frowns on:
tiny Zen gardens
invasive bamboo
anything that grows too big (Don’t plant a Scots pine in a  suburban front garden)
climbers (that strangle your TV aerial)

To the Brits, horticulture is about the gardens of stately homes, not breeding disease-resistant bananas. Cecil Beaton (The Glass of Fashion) makes the point that flowers were part of your interior décor, and you renewed them every week, or every few days. If you had “grounds”, your flower garden was designed to produce flowers to decorate the house. Per Nicky Haslam (Redeeming Features), this is called the “cutting garden”.

Until the mid-60s, women still “did the flowers”. In a large country house, either the wife or one of her daughters had the task of picking the flowers and taking them (in a wooden trug basket) to the “flower room”, where there was a big sink, and vases on a slate shelf. Here she arranged bouquets for the drawing room, dining room and hall, and possibly guest bedrooms and her own.

In the 50s and 60s women went to flower-arranging classes (a relative was very witty about being told to put “blooms” in a “container”). They dabbled in ikebana, and read Constance Spry. Post-war domestic writer Ethelind Fearon (The Reluctant Gardener) advises on which plants to grow and how to turn them into “arrangements”. This sometimes involved clipping leaves into more aesthetic shapes. And then women got jobs, and we did without flower arrangements, or substituted trailing variegated ivy (60s) or spider plants (70s).

When Upwards, forced out of inner London, move to Stratford or Walthamstow, all they can find are houses with “state of the art” kitchens and gardens that have been “cleared”. They immediately start making the garden look wild and untidy again. If they can afford it, they “rip out” the gleaming cabinets and replace them with dangerously rocky 50s “kitchenette” larders and a pine table. If they’re really well-heeled, they pull down the extension and turn it back into a patio.

Monty Don in the Times on John Seymour’s self-sufficiency books: Nobody apart from “a few bedraggled hippies on wet Welsh hillsides” really wanted to fend for themselves. (Self-sufficiency also required you to use your children as slave labour. Though didn't the Downton Abbey inhabitants live off their estates? They were self-sufficient in venison, peaches and everything else – easy if you have enough land and can pay gardeners and farm-hands.)

‘Well, well,’ said Colin. ‘Some front garden!’ 

It was indeed a model of surburban perfection in a small way. There were beds of geraniums with lobelia edging. There were large fleshy-looking begonias, and there was a fine display of garden ornaments — frogs, toadstools, comic gnomes and pixies. 

‘I’m sure Mr Bland must be a nice worthy man,’ said Colin, with a shudder. ‘He couldn’t have these terrible ideas if he wasn’t.’
(Agatha Christie, The Clocks)

More here, and links to the rest.

Thursday 4 October 2018

What to Wear 8

Caro Stow-Crat says: “Please, no fancy dress after 40. Though Harry did once go to a fancy dress ball as a bishop...”

A welcome erosion of class structures has seen top hats relegated first to the top shelves of cupboards and wardrobes, and then donated to become a staple of Amateur Dramatic Club costume collections. (Lucy Adlington,
Stitches in Time) Thomas the Tank Engine’s Fat Controller (Sir Topham Hatt) was originally the “Fat Director” – a 20s caricature capitalist in a morning coat and top hat, grown fat on the profits of a private railway company. When the railways were reprivatised, why didn’t he revert to being a director? He's still an outdated stereotype.

Caro wonders when a bowtie became a “dicky bow”? A dicky is a fake blouse consisting of a Mao collar and enough material to show under a V-necked jumper. It's a useful way of using up remnants, and will delude your friends that you own more blouses than you actually do. A “dicky bird” is what vulgar people call a bird.

Samantha says “I refuse to buy my grandchildren clothes covered in writing and logos”. She buys them clothes at Muji and Uniqlo. Sharon Definitely buys her daughter (Madison) pink T shirts that read “Little Lady” but also “Girls Can Do Anything”. Her son Jayden dresses in scaled-down army uniform.

Lower middle-class Jen Teale uses shoe deodorisers, Caro chucks smelly trainers, but Samantha insists on wearing them out. She may Google for an old-fashioned (cheap) home remedy (baking soda) that doesn’t work. 

“Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.” This advice made sense in the days (80s and earlier) when a secretary wore a blouse and skirt, while the lady boss wore a suit.

I’m old enough to remember when we called face veils “yashmaks” and made jokes about them. Perhaps those old white men who moan about “political correctness” could cast their minds back. Nobody forced us to stop joking about yashmaks, we just stopped. We don’t give small children replica guns any more, either. Or sweet cigarettes.

Young people holiday in the far East and come back with batik sarongs. (In my day they went to India and came back with kurtas and kaftans – but not saris.) But no Upward goes to Whitechapel or Ridley Road market to buy a long flowery dress as worn by Muslim ladies, or a glittery shalwar kameez – or even a cotton shalwar kameez. They’re very cool in hot weather and are perfect for the office. Likewise, Boris is appalled by niqabs but not by a Carmelite nun’s outfit. The Times (August 2018) shows “manxi” dresses that are very like a Muslim woman’s dress, but no connection is made. Is this crossover? Cultural appropriation? Caro wears a genuine pashmina to the opera, over an oxblood taffeta evening dress with a wide skirt. Her great-grandmother wore a genuine Indian paisley shawl.

When I arrived at university in the 70s my sunglasses with pale pink frames puzzled other students. I seemed to be middle class – didn’t I know that the colour pink was common? And pink plastic! I also wore a pink mohair jumper – I was going through a 50s phase. I was ahead of the trend – lurid mohair jumpers were a punk fashion in the later 70s. And this was in a decade when we were supposed to be breaking down barriers of all kinds and creating an egalitarian society, free of all prejudice. They dressed entirely in blue denim or brown corduroy. (Can you still get brown denim? They never seemed to grasp what “prejudice” meant, either.)

In 2018 Teales wear 7/8 jeans, white T shirts and cardigans or jackets in a subdued, plain colour. Usually blue, navy, and grey. They look almost Boden. They achieve this look by buying cheap clothes and discarding them as soon as the material goes sad and shabby. They ruthlessly “edit” their wardrobes, and wash everything after one wearing. They iron their T shirts. Upwards, on the other hand, have “favourite” pieces they are sentimentally attached to and persist in wearing them however grey, bobbly and sagging. They fail to notice that modern fabrics don’t last like the old-fashioned kind. Teale clothes, being featureless, have no associations and are just replaced by more of the same.

More here, and links to the rest.

Canny Upwards in the 70s used Catherine Milinaire's Cheap Chic as a style bible.

Wednesday 1 August 2018

You Are What You Eat 13

Dog friendly vegan doughnut café opens in Hackney (headline)

About 30 years ago, Upwards were very scornful about the proliferation of coffee shops in places like Victoria Station. Suddenly you could get a real cup of coffee and take it away in a paper cup for your journey, instead of sitting there for an hour without even a glass of water. They swore they would never patronize these establishments because, well, bang would go sixpence!

Takeaway lunches are for one, takeaway dinners are for two. Eileen Weybridge moans that everybody gets takeaways “these days” and what will happen to home-cooked meals and kitchens? She forgets that the home-cooked food took all day to prepare, which was fine if you were a woman married to a “breadwinner”.

Upwards used to claim they’d had “ham and salad” for lunch. This meant a small portion of ham and salad, accompanied by thick slices of bread and butter, and followed by semolina pudding with jam. They’d really eaten the makings of a ham sandwich, but couldn’t admit it.

Even though the Spectator points out that the statistics are unreliable, Upwards and Weybridges are very worried about working-class children being obese. It  must be those fast-food outlets in poor areas, and the “processed” food poor people eat.

Food banks ask for tinned food because most of their clients have few cooking facilities and nowhere to store fresh food. When people are starving because their benefits have been cut, worrying about obesity is a luxury. But it’s such fun sneering at people who “shove something in the oven because they can’t be arsed and they’d rather watch Eastenders”, isn’t it? (Via Facebook)

@Louisathelast on Twitter led a definitive exchange on why poor people eat cheeseburgers. Here are the highlights:

When I was at my poorest, I ate a lot of McDonald’s. But isn’t eating out more expensive? Well... More expensive than the absolute cost of a cheeseburger and fries you make from scratch at home, with bulk ingredients? Yeah. But more expensive than the cost of all those ingredients put together? No. And that’s the *real* cost, when you are poor. When you have $5, you do not have the money to buy ground beef, cheese, buns, seasoning, condiments, potatoes, and oil for frying the potatoes. That’s more like...$15-20, assuming you don’t have some staples to start with. And that you’re buying the absolute cheapest options. So, you have $5. But wait, you could save it up! No, you can’t, because you’re hungry now.

She adds that you don't have the eight hours needed to process and cook (cheap) dry beans, because you're working. Good-for-you veg like baby carrots are not filling enough. And it's hard work cooking three meals a day. And there are only so many times you can face pasta and sauce.

@raznochintsy adds: At my poorest, I lived off potatoes. I could get a 10lb bag for 99 cents. I’d get leftover packets of sauces from people at work to “dress” them. George Orwell reported that when you live on bread and marge you can’t do anything but sleep or read old Sherlock Holmes stories. He was also quite brusque with people who say the poor can live on brown bread and carrots.

I recommend rice with Ainsley Harriot soups...

In north Norfolk I found myself being served Nescafé, like it was 1991 or something.
(Sathnam Sanghera)

What’s the difference between a café and a caff? A museum member's room is definitely, a café, but who really wants to eat rocket and chickpea salad? It costs very little to make, and is sold at a huge mark-up because it’s “upmarket” food. What makes it upmarket? The non-native ingredients. The bread is “special” – sourdough, or baguette, or ciabatta (German, French, Italian). It has to be “crusty”, and too thick, and is usually rather stale. And any fillings (cheese, ham, falafel) come with rocket, peppers or sun-dried tomato. As well as being over-priced, it’s old-fashioned and dull.

Rowena Upward is opening a caff.
She may diversify into a street food stall – none of them sell British food. On the menu:

Black leaf tea brewed in an urn
Mellow Birds coffee, made with hot milk
Leeks in cheese sauce
Crusty bread and paté
Coronation chicken
Quiche Lorraine
Shrimp wiggle
Cheese potato pie
Bacon roll
Toad in the hole
Steak and chips
Mashed potatoes
Gravy with lots of Bisto
Liver-sausage sandwiches on white sliced bread
Heavy cheesecake with raisins
Crustless andwiches served with cress and a few crisps

“Traditional home-cooked British food!” chirrups Rowena.

“But that’s supposed to mean fresh, free-range and locally sourced!” wails Samantha. “And given a modern twist with rocket, coriander and chillies!”

“You can keep those chillies out of my dinner!” says Mr Definitely. “Steak and kidney pud – that’s proper British food!” He's outraged that the Co-op now put chillies in beetroot. "They're supposed to taste of vinegar!"

His daughter Sharon adds: "Heinz have added chilli and cumin to tinned ravioli. Well, really, I mean."

If there’s a new kind of exotic cuisine that I simply must try, that comes with its own unpronounceable spices, it will turn out to be HOT. Upwards have to pretend to like very very hot food even if they don’t, and I really ought to stop letting the side down.

Though we are supposed to like “delicate flavours” (and weak tea). We pretend that we only eat food because we like the taste. As somebody said, where are the chips? (And the answer is “in a miniature shopping trolley”.) When not exclaiming over fugitive tastes, we are supposed to like chillies that burn off the roof of your mouth. What we are not allowed to like is anything that tastes salty, sweet and vinegary (all once, please). If you put tomato ketchup on everything, your palate will become “vitiated” and you won’t be able to taste the refined flavours that are the real point of eating. There is obviously a rhetoric here of superior people with “finer” sensibilities.

Upwards write endless articles in the broadsheets about canny ways to make your children try new foods. Sharon Definitely says “If Madison wants cheese chips, she gets cheese chips.”

The Guardian tells us that white supermarket bread is not as good for you as “artisanal” bread. Rubbish, says botanist James Wong (pictured), same nutrition, same calories. This is just snobbery.

Affluent consumers are almost twice as likely to think they know more about nutrition than lower earners. But this doesn’t correlate with better-informed choices. In fact, higher earners are more likely to be influenced by misinformation and pseudoscience. (James Wong)

Humankind’s tendency to randomly attach moral labels to foods (with the inference that immorality is at the root of ill-health) goes back far longer than today’s food fads re gluten, dairy and “processed foods”. (James Wong, paraphrase)

Upwards dislike anything with “mass” in the title. Surely only exclusive food is good for you?

Mass-produced food = Unhealthy? The nutritional value of food is determined by chemical make-up, not its location or scale of production. Essentially all fruit and veg (inc organic) are mass-produced.(James Wong)

In Hong Kong, Ferrero Rocher are known as “gold sand” and they quickly became a marker of social class. (

James Wong's latest book is How to Eat Better.

More here, and links to the rest.

Monday 18 June 2018

Class Is Dead, Long Live Class 4

Stand-up comedian @SamWhyte asked Twitter: "When you were a kid, how did you know someone was a bit posh when you went round their house? So far we've got more than one type of cheese in the fridge..."

I've divided the answers into social strata.

Served food without a pile of bread and marge for if you were still hungry. (In our Upward home, all our meals came with bread and butter on the side, but nobody ever ate it. It was just make-work. And we continued with the pantomime for years.)

Soda stream. (I could never understand why my Upward parents wouldn’t get one. They didn’t want to spend the money, and they rationed sugary drinks. Even Kia-ora orange squash was only allowed at birthday parties. They thought that if we didn’t get much sugary food, we wouldn’t “acquire a taste” for it, and we’d “acquire a taste” for grown-up middle-class food like tough mutton and over-boiled cabbage. Liking sweet food is common – but it meant there was something they could withhold. Also they despised electric gadgets, though they did get a “waste disposal unit” for the sink, which made a horrible noise and ate a lot of Georgian silver teaspoons. I’m sure my mother used to push potato peelings down it with her fingers while it was on.)

Bidet, two sinks to wash up in, salad spinner.
Fitted carpets. Soft toilet paper. Colour TV.
Not sure if it was the master bedroom ensuite or the stone lion on a plinth in the garden.
One word - Lladró.
My friend's Dad had a study and always asked me what career I’d chosen - I was 10.
A serving hatch.
Fish knives and cake forks.
Fancy biscuits for every day.
Pot pourri, mahogany TV cabinet, VHS spinning shelves.
My friend was called Chris, until you were in his house and he was called Christopher.
Guest soaps in the shape of shells and a phone in the parent’s bedroom.
Phone table, guest room, ottoman, front garden, utility room, breakfast room.
A front room called the "morning room".
Taking your shoes off in the house.
Home-made puddings every day.
Keeping the Radio Times in a faux leather folder with ‘Radio Times’ on the front in gold letters.
Coca Cola when it wasn't a birthday party.
Choc ices in the fridge, a whole box of crisp packets, being allowed to take food between meals.

Soap on a magnetic arm. I often think I dreamt this, but the bar of soap had a little disk of metal pressed into it, and it hung off a magnetic thing.

In the 70s our back yard (with outside toilet and coal shed) was converted into an extension. My mum still calls it her 'East Wing'.

When I was a kid, the posh ones wore 100% shop-bought clothes. It might seem amazing now but things like shorts, sweaters, socks, scarves and dresses in the 1950s were just about all home-made among most of my class-mates.

Supper is a bowl of Frosties. (I once stayed with an aristocratic family who lived in a stately home. But they had cereal for supper, in the kitchen, and then watched TV. I tried to persuade my parents to do the same, but they wheeled out the line about “learning how to behave in formal situations”, and “setting a good example” for my eight-year-old brother.)

I was born in the 1940s and lived in privately rented housing (with an outside toilet). But when I suggested to my mother that she put her name down for one of the council houses with all mod cons the snobbery kicked in, and she said "only common people lived there"... It was more to do with the infinite gradations of class, and whether people sounded their H's or not. My mother's mother was from the upper servant sphere, and I think she saw council-house tenancies as for the labouring classes. It was quite intricate.

White pepper in its original container from the shop.
Dairylea was considered posh in our street.
We had Walls Viennetta for pudding! Mint flavour. (Lucky things.)
Variety cereal boxes “were considered profligate in our household". (And ours.)

A hardwood stereogram with a glorified giant toast rack next to it full of classical albums.  A very small black and white TV for those rare occasions when there was a good documentary on BBC2.

Playing classical music while eating homemade lasagne with a side salad at a dining table in a room with no TV on. Followed by homemade tiramisu for dessert. Oh, and it was called dinner, not tea or supper.

Using a cup and saucer, dads went to work in a suit to an office not down the pit, wine with evening meal, went abroad for holidays not to Hornsea or Ireland, rugs on polished wood floors. (Guilty as charged – though we did holiday in Ireland.)

Parents that engaged you in conversation. (Others say: “They talked at meals, instead of sitting in silence.”)

A spice rack. We only ever had salt in the cupboard. (The herbs were all dried, and these days Upwards grow their own.)

A separate immaculate living room that you weren't allowed to enter, let alone play in. (My parents tried this one, without much success.)

Engraved napkin rings. “Visitors were assigned a napkin ring from the guest set, kept in a special velvet-lined box in the sideboard.”

Dinner didn’t arrive on your plate, there were serving dishes on the table or a hostess trolley, with serving spoons and napkins. At home I just got given a plate of food. Served dinner at the table – owned tureens and stuff. (A lot of extra work, and assumes someone else will do the washing-up.)

I remember being completely bemused by the concept of a milk jug. 
Nobody left the table before everyone had finished. (Someone comments “I had to suffer that too.”)
Dishwasher, and they put whole peppercorns in the dinner.
Kids who referred to mum and dad as their ‘parents’ and their nan as ‘gran’ or ‘grandma’.

No visible religious iconography.
Imperial Leather soap.
Gold-top milk.
Brown bread.
Original art on the wall. (Sometimes by relatives or friends.)
An old upright piano.
Large, well maintained back gardens.
Melon as a starter.
Grapes on the sideboard.
A landing half-way up the stairs.
Garden furniture made of wicker.
Gravy boat on the table.
Salad in a bowl, without a sliced boiled egg but with vinaigrette.
Mayonnaise (home-made, not Hellman’s).
Telly in another room.
Not opening Christmas presents until after lunch. (Probably to teach children “deferred gratification”.)
Multiple kids who don’t share a room.
Downstairs and upstairs toilets.

Air fresheners plugged into the wall. A knitted lady hiding the toilet roll in the bathroom. Not being allowed ketchup at dinner because it’s too ‘common’ and finally not being allowed food upstairs.

A "formal dining room" they never normally went into. (One family only used it for Christmas.)
Decorative plates hung on the wall.
Dream topping and angel delight for pudding. 
A transparent plastic mat over the carpet the length of the hall.
Quiche and laminate flooring.
A 32-piece shiny cutlery set complete with fish knives in a purple velvet box.
Pampas grass... and it didn't smell like people lived there.
Video cassettes kept in cases that looked like hardback books.
Good outdoor garden toys.
Double glazing and radiators.
Doilies, antimacassars.
Mid-week fizzy drinks, a plastic wipeable table cloth.
A non-standard bathroom colour.
An immaculately tidy house

My mate lived in a house that had a name. His dad had a bar with a full-sized snooker table in it, and a woman who just did stuff around the house but didn’t live there. 

Colour telly in more than one bedroom.
Shag pile carpets that got hoovered every day.
Globe drinks cabinet.
A silver carriage for the After Eights box.
One whole room of house devoted to an electric organ – or a complete orchestra of instruments.
Two staircases and a housekeeper.
A room called a "den".
Onyx table lighter.
Leather sofa. Stairs you could see through. Shop cake.
A marble chess set on a wooden board always set ready to go but nobody ever dared play it.

More here, and links to the rest.

Saturday 16 June 2018

Class is Dead, Long Live Class 3

Class is dead? Only if you redefine class as something that happens to be dead.

Writer Sophie Hannah says that when people learn she comes from Manchester they assume she comes from a “deprived” background. She has had to tell people: "My parents went to Oxford University, actually, and we all drink Earl Grey tea."
Those people were well read and well travelled; they loved meeting people from other cultures and countries. They prided themselves on their curiosity about the world around them.
 (Kerry Hudson,, on nice, educated people who recycle – but sneer at chavs.)

The rich accumulate wealth not just in the form of money but in enjoyment of the suffering of others. (@theseantcollins)

It was a curious social pattern, looking back. It was snobbish, I suppose; on the other hand, a certain type of snobbishness was much looked down upon. People who introduced the aristocracy into their conversation too frequently were disapproved of and laughed at. Three phases have succeeded each other during the span of my life. In the first the questions would be: ‘But who is she, dear? Who are her people? Is she one of the Yorkshire Twiddledos? Of course, they are badly off, very badly off, but she was a Wilmot.’ This was to be succeeded in due course by: ‘Oh yes, of course they are pretty dreadful, but then they are terribly rich.’ ‘Have the people who have taken The Larches got money?’ ‘Oh well, then we’d better call.’ The third phase was different again: ‘Well, dear, but are they amusing?’ ‘Yes, well of course they are not well off, and nobody knows where they came from, but they are very very amusing.’ (Agatha Christie, An Autobiography)

Our behaviour is also still a giveaway: lab studies show that working-class people are more likely to employ eye-contact, laughter and head nods when interacting with others, compared to a more disengaged non-verbal style from the middle/upper classes. And class can be read at greater than chance levels even from stimuli as basic as Facebook photographs or seven words of speech. So we feel a certain class, and others can detect that class fairly easily... Working-class people are more likely to consider the world as a mass of forces and risks to contend with and accommodate... Meanwhile, middle/upper-class people are more motivated by internal states and personal goals... The issue is how they should shape the world, not how it pushes back on them. This is indicated by a higher sense of perceived control, and more confidence that good things happen to people due to their choices... University deans and administrators asked to list qualities of their culture tended to endorse words more about independence – the natural state of the solipsistic upper-class person, charting their course into the future – than interdependence, which tends to be a particular priority for first-generation university goers, looking to give back to their community. (BPS Digest)

You could tell what class a person was by the way they smoked their cigarettes. Lower classes kept the ciggy stuck on their lips while they were talking. (imdb)

Taxpayers Alliance/IEA Tory fringe meeting on helping the young: Biggest clap for 29-yr-old in audience saying young folk can’t buy houses cos they are too “entitled” and waste £ on “fake tans”, football “season tickets” and out twice/week drinking “10 pints”. (Solomon Hughes‏ @SolHughesWriter)

Samantha Upward is vainly looking for “reality” in the cracks between Youtube and McDonalds. “Why do I have to know what a McDonald’s is?” wails a London Review of Books contributor.

Both Upwards and Weybridges feel that correcting facts is bad manners. This enables them to believe any old rubbish.

A friend of a friend moved to Marlow. A rather grand chum wailed: "Marlow? But there'll be nobody there you could be friends with!"

An obituary of writer Sue Margolis describes her parents: “Donald Wener, a dapper, moustachioed RAF man turned civil servant, and Audrey (nee Dixon), a nurse turned bank clerk”, and ascribes her success despite being bottom of the class as a child to the “aspirational ethos of the lower-middle-class culture of Gants Hill.” 

150 years ago, the landed gentry were the ruling class. They lost their power, but we still somehow feel that they are the best people who lead perfect lives that we should imitate. They may not run the country – to such an extent – any more, but we think they are superior to us.

Writer Jilly Cooper nailed the class system in the 70s – but she didn't get everything right. She claimed that Social Class D are inarticulate. Perhaps she’d never met any Cockneys or Irish people or Welshmen or Liverpudlians or…

More here, and links to the rest.

Friday 15 June 2018

World of Interiors 13


The venue currently called Harry Cockers had been through many identities in the previous decade, as various kinds of bars and restaurants became fashionable. Its latest manifestation was very thirties, with bright jagged lines along every surface, and wall-panels showing geometrically stylized silhouettes of dancing figures in evening dress.
(Simon Brett, Dead Giveaway)

Alex Polizzi: Depersonalise! It’s not your house! 
Also Alex Polizzi: It’s so beige, darling. Add some personality! (@sleuthstress)

a) Remove the naff knicknacks.
b) Add some more upmarket knicknacks.

Perhaps the attraction is “I am staying in an upmarket hotel therefore I am an upmarket person.” And then they can put the price up. By “beige”, Alex doesn’t mean “everything is the colour of straw, sand or digestive biscuits”, she means it’s “dull”.

Bed runners have reached Travelodge, reports an informant.

An article points out that property programmes always recommend “knocking through”, and that the “void” has become bigger and bigger.

A recent (2018) study showed that American houses are getting bigger and bigger, but American families live in about a third of the space. Diagram shows an unused dining room, a barely used “reception room” and a lived-in “family room”.

The Nouveau-Richards have built a lovely new house with a light-filled atrium. It has all the usual rooms, but they’re quadruple the usual size, and the furniture looks a bit lost. Mrs NR has enough space for yoga exercises in her enormous bedroom, but she wonders what to do with the huge field that surrounds the house. She can’t even put a swimming pool out there – it’s in the basement. Caro suggests a croquet lawn and herbaceous borders, and Samantha offers to create a shrubbery with winding paths, and a pergola with vines.

Per the New Yorker, vast US McMansions have “lawyer foyers” and “garage mahals”. The lawyer, presumably, never gets further than the foyer. “Hall, please – only theatres and hotels have foyers,” says Caro. “And it doesn’t rhyme with lawyer, vous voyez?” “Or is it modelled on the office of a New York law firm?” asks Samantha.

Starting in the 1930s, modernist design brought indoor and outdoor spaces to flow together with greater ease. To seek out even more air and light, interior spaces became less distinguished from one another. A new moralism underwrote the opening of the house plan, too: that a house’s design should facilitate a lofty attitude in its occupants... The hope was that light and openness in the physical environment might elevate the social and creative virtues of the individuals who lived there. (

See the Victorians designing cemeteries as arboreta with winding paths, explicitly hoping that the “chastely designed” monuments would “elevate the taste” of those who strolled there. Betjeman’s “bright canteens” were intended to cheer up the workers. But remember what they were replacing: mid-century cemeteries were grim, and Edwardian workers’ facilities were dimly lit and painted cream, green and brown.

Rowena shocks her friends by rebuilding the knocked-through walls of her Victorian terraced house, and turning the back “space” into a kitchen instead of building a science lab over the garden. She remodels the 60s kitchen as a "scullery" with a sink and washing machine, and she has her eye on the old lavatory at the bottom of the garden. Why not restore it to it original function?

If stuck for ideas, try Kelly Hoppen's Design Masterclass.

More here, and links to the rest.

Friday 12 January 2018

World of Interiors 12

Arranging books on shelves with spines inwards is a ridiculous “trend” much touted in early 2018. (To achieve the same effect, cover your books in neutral-coloured paper, as people used to do.)

"I suppose we’ve always reused things", says Caro Stow-Crat, over lunch with Samantha Upward at a new eaterie accessorised with redundant kitchen equipment. "An old hot water can is splendid for watering the garden. But I get a bit depressed by all these empty cake stands and old fire buckets. It’s OK to reuse things, but as decoration? I suppose it’s the same as hanging up copper warming pans and carpet beaters, like they did in the 50s. Now, what can I do with granny's spill vases…?"

"Put pencils in them," suggests Samantha. "Oh, look, a lovely old wooden Camembert box. And a Horlicks mug... I must confess I stole a Fortnum's chocolate box from a girl at school. I used it as a pencil case and kept it for years. We call it "repurposing" now!"

Country Living Magazine shows a bedroom with a wooden four-poster bed (though the posts are too short to hold up a canopy). The floorboards are exposed but have been sanded and sealed too aggressively (they’re orange and look too new). The door is made of recycled wood and looks like a stable door (in a Georgian house). There are recycled planks stuck to the wall, forming a backdrop to a Victorian picture of some sheep in a gilt frame. The whole effect is of a titled family down on its luck that has been forced to camp in an outbuilding.

Though it's not quite as decadent as the “abandoned houses of the Hebrides” aesthetic, which shades into “servants’ quarters of derelict Irish country house”.

The School of Life’s perfect home is, again, Georgian. The floorboards are exposed, though they at least look antique. The Georgians would have put down drugget, and covered it with Turkish carpets. There’s a chest of drawers floating randomly in a corner, and an open trunk on the floor. A distressed leather pouffe is the crowning touch – or is it a Gladstone bag?

DECOR CRIMESIn a Victorian/Edwardian house, it's naff to expose the fireplace and put a copper hood inside, then add a wood mantelpiece of the wrong period. The fireplace would have had an inner “surround”, with a cast iron grate in the middle. The Edwardians and earlier would have been appalled at exposed brick in your living-room. A Victorian room would have had a wide mantelpiece (with drapery on the mantelshelf), and the Edwardians loved elaborate overmantels. (I've just seen a room in a house for sale painted entirely in peach – including the fireplace, mantelpiece and grate.)

In a Victorian house, don't strip the doors: paint them cream.

And don't knock through and extend so enthusiastically that you end up with odd bits of wall sticking into spaces. In this arrangement, the same dull fitted carpet “flows” through the entire ground floor. Everything is too new, but there’s one ye olde artefact in the wrong place (the potato weighing scales in the living room).

Think twice before adding a “glass box” extension to a standard semi. So you remove all downstairs dividing walls and build a huge glass-roofed extension into the garden, removing all character from because you need lots of space to... do what exactly?

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, Ben Highmore on a Jacobethan castle – from the 30s.)

White walls and a large black-and-white photograph of pebbles .(The Great Indoors, Ben Highmore)

Dangling replica antique light bulbs (Edison bulbs). They give out a dim, cold light that you can’t read by.

Fake shuttered concrete internal cladding.

Garish carpets in public spaces.

Very dim lighting in public spaces and museums.

“Restoring” Victorian ghost signs.

Giant sculptures of human body parts in public places (a half-sunk visage in Cavendish Square, huge nudes outside St Pancras church blocking the view of the beautiful caryatids).

Terrible modern art in medieval cathedrals.
Frosted glass partitions.
Buildings in the shape of a giant human head. (Le Guetteur 2015)

Sentimental garden sculptures, “sculpture park” sculpture, memorial sculpture.

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.”

More here, and links to the rest.

Monday 1 January 2018

What to Wear 7

The Daily Mail has some style rules for women at work, 2016:

Replace your droopy cardigan with a tailored jacket.
Update your scuffed handbag. They recommend something “structured” with panels of patent leather.
No scuffed shoes, trainers or flip-flops.
Avoid flashy, clanking jewellery, but don’t replace it with tiny, timid, conventional pendants and earrings.
Avoid too much animal print.
Keep updating your image, and get your teeth done.
Shoes and bags – invest in quality.
Don’t wear anything too tight (skinny jeans, or a pencil skirt that ends up as a concertina of wrinkles).
No ripped jeans.
Dark denim is classier than bleached.

Caroline Stow-Crat comments: "My 'scuffed' handbag was handmade for my grandmother and is still going strong, thank you very much. And I would ban animal print in offices – or anywhere! How about a nice velvet blazer with an antique brooch on the lapel?" 

In the US, people look down on jeans with rhinestones, writing or flowers on the back pockets – or without back pockets.

Two-buttoned sports jackets were naff, and “never brown in town”. (JP)

A lady would not go to a wedding in her riding clothes, and she would not go shopping in a ball gown. At a basic level, she shows her taste and decorum by dressing quietly. She does not seek to draw attention to herself through her dress. Elegance is found in understatement. A lady’s apparel should be neat and tidy.
(Victorian etiquette manual)

In September 2017, John Lewis removed “boys” and “girls” labels from its children’s clothes. In response, a Catholic priest vowed never to visit the department store again, with or without a cassock. Caro wonders why small children are all dressed in pyjamas these days.

The piece of Burma jewellery worn glitteringly over one breast instead of in the centre where any sensible woman would have worn it. Or the shoes cut away so that the big toe was open to the weather. Or the clip-on ear-rings.
(A character from London Belongs to Me by Norman Collins worries about his daughter’s choice of friend. The Burma company made Art Deco rhinestone brooches.)

"My dear! and got up regardless... one of those little hats with an eye-veil... three-inch diamanté heels... such bad taste with a semi-toilette... fish-net stockings and all...’ (In Murder Must Advertise, by Dorothy L. Sayers, two typists speculate about an unexpected visitor to the office. Another Sayers character, Miss Murchison, wears skirts that are “the regulation four inches below the knee” – in the 20s - and “not too much face powder”.)

"You won't mind Robert not wearing evening dress," she said. "He never will if he can help it. I shall just slip on a semi-toilette myself." (All Roads Lead to Calvary, Jerome K Jerome But what was it? A more restrained kind of evening dress?)

In the 1950s and 60s, there was a type of older lady who wore hot pink lipstick, a fur coat, magnificent faux jewellery, a Chanel-style suit over a corselette, long lacquered nails and lots of rings. She walked about in a cloud of expensive perfume. She had been elegant all her life. She pretended she’d heard what you’d said, and understood what you were talking about, and laughed rather desperately. She may have thought it common to keep saying “What did you say?”, associating deafness with lower-class ailments like adenoids. EM Forster in Howard’s End calls it “degraded deafness”. Poor Jacky is always saying “What?”, but she is “not respectable”.

The Times had a field day when Pippa Middleton married a hedge fund manager. Apparently HFMs are VERY rich. But the couple are new, not old Chelsea: “Pippa is a nouveau-Chelsea girl.” 

“To us Notting Hill dwellers, these ladies seem to live in a fashion time warp. ‘Frankly, Pippa often looks like she’s going to work in an office as a secretary,’ says a neighbour. ‘You have to understand that fundamentally Pippa and Kate’s style is English suburban,’ says a society friend. ‘They’re very plain and safe in their choices.’”

An interior designer speculates about the couple's new home: “There will be white sofas with pink and turquoise touches. Not too modern... Perhaps a Perspex table with some colour... There will be a Plain English kitchen and lots of Farrow & Ball."

The Times adds that “having been raised in a middle-class household”, Pippa probably won’t employ many staff, but for big dinners she may hire a sought-after Italian butler. 
Basically, concludes the Times, “She is a Home Counties girl at heart”. And what could be more damning?

More here, and links to the rest.