Saturday 31 July 2021

You Are What You Eat 15 (In Quotes)

“Imaginative food, beautifully presented” is a compliment. But what’s wrong with classic food, plainly presented? The American phrase “gussied up” is useful. Or “gourmet up the pot roast”, as Carrie Snodgress was urged to do in Diary of a Mad Housewife. (She probably added sherry, cream and a sprinkling of chives.)

Consider yourself too good for normal meals because you read the recipes in The Guardian? Then you’ll love these needlessly complicated versions of basic food. (Daily Mash)

The term “elevated” is bandied about a lot. It's used repeatedly on cooking reality shows. On those series, a contestant prepares a popular, common dish, and is told that it needs to be “elevated.” The term means that a hamburger or a taco might be “elevated” by using a more expensive and tricky to prepare cut of meat, or a rarer cheese, a specially made sauce, and perhaps the design and look of the meal may be different and fancier than all of the standard versions of the foodstuff. Chris Chan

My husband and I are planning a lovely weeklong staycation with his relatives—eight adults in total. My mother-in-law loves having meals together and usually makes the food, but she’s a terrible cook, bless her. She tries, and we get by with basic staples like tacos and prepackaged lasagna. But I really love good food, so it’s a real shame to do that for a week. ... To add to the issue, if I offer even light advice like, “I bet that some fresh basil would be amazing in this delicious tomato soup,” even when my mother-in-law welcomes the change, the rest of the dinner guests make comments like, “Oh, there Wendy goes again, wanting to make things fancy! She can’t just leave it alone,” which really dampens the mood. My husband loves my food and is very supportive of me, but if I let him, he would unleash. Am I destined to eat boring basics in exciting food cities? (Writer-in to Dear Prudie,

My daughter Bella has a great playgroup that meets once a week after school. We were really lucky to get into this group. The girls come from some of the wealthiest families at the school, and since our family is more working class, we love that Bella is able to see how the other side lives and maybe even look for something to aspire to one day. So far Bella has had so much fun with all the girls. But last week I got a nasty email from one of the mothers. I sent some homemade cookies and store-bought veggies and dip for the snack last week, and apparently this was not up to snuff! The mothers said that my vegetables were clearly not homegrown and organic and that they could taste the pesticides and preservatives on them. They asked if I knew that ranch dip is high in cholesterol and saturated fat which leads to heart disease. I was in tears reading this email. Their assumption that I had no idea how to feed my daughter was so insulting. I emailed them back saying that I was unsure what particular brands of veggies, dip and baking items to buy, and received another email suggesting I start a garden. Prudie, we live in an apartment complex. I am unsure how to respond. I really, really want my daughter to be happy and have friends with the right values and aspirations. But I have no idea how to make these women happy. I went to the farmers’ market an hour away last weekend to look for some appropriate items to send for next week, but the market was so expensive. I don’t want my daughter to get kicked out of this playgroup, especially now that she’s so happy. How can I handle these clean-food moms? (Writer-in to Dear Prudie at

When I was studying quinoa in early 2000s rural Ecuador, it was often considered a peasant food. 'Inferior', 'backward', even 'unhealthy'. Today in the West the exact same food is considered aspirational, fancy and thus innately healthy. (James Wong @Botanygeek)

David Brent’s spiritual home is a Harvester restaurant west of the M25. (Will Hodgkinson)

In the most deprived parts of London the kids rush to the local takeaway shop (normally chicken shop due to price) after school to get their dinner. They’ve been given £1-2 a day to get something as they know they are not getting anything at home. Their parents both work two jobs and don’t have time to shop or cook. (@cjbearcpfc)

More here, and links to the rest.

Wednesday 12 May 2021

And It Was All Done in the Best Possible Taste

The Nouveau-Richards used to be famous for their Hawaiian cocktail bar in the living room, and the ride-on mower for the "grounds".

In 2021 the trend is "high gloss". Everything is shiny and monochrome – white, cream, grey, black. These are "clean" colours, says the N-R's interior decorator. Window-sills are black glass, Venetian blinds are shiny off-white. There are pale tiles on the floor – and walls. On the glass table is a black glass vase holding one arum lily. The science-lab kitchen style has spread over the entire house and every surface is hygienically wipe-clean.

Looking round expensive houses on Rightmove is such fun. In a Chiswick “beautiful family home”, everything is grey or reflective – including ceilings. Instead of pictures they've hung rectilinear or mirrored wall art. No clutter, no plants, and the bookcases stand in for the drinks cabinet. Everything is knocked through – I mean “the space flows” – so that the piano is in the kitchen. The entire bathroom interior is tiled.

Another house tour: shiny plus baroque. Everything that can be clad in pale grey veined marble is so clad. The floor in the sitting room, the stairs – banisters and all. Furniture is “tous les Louis” and newly gilded, with blue velvet upholstery. A blue fur rug will keep your feet warm but watch you don't slip on the marble. Even the kitchen is baroque: the marble-topped island has a breakfast bar supported by black Salomonic columns (truncated) and gilded baroque decoration on the cupboard doors. Grey marble clads the walls. The extractor hood is black, with gilded rococo add-ons – it looks like Napoleon's hat. Lighting is by chandelier. The vast hall has black and gold entrance gates, black and gold furniture and a central black marble fountain.

Has gloss taken over from panelling? Another lovely home shows us the beige hall. The walls are panelled, as is the shallow barrelled ceiling, but the scheme is meaningless – oblongs in “trim” with no rhyme or reason. Anything that isn’t  panelled is “button-backed”. The headboard and foot of the bed, the Ottoman, sofas and armchairs. It's all very tight, neat and shiny.

The button-backed look is borrowed from the padded interiors of coaches, and then cars. The Upward version, equally in bad faith or worse, is the new leather sofa distressed within an inch of its life to look 50 years old. In the States, there are firms which will "trim" your entire house.

Your McMansion will need six garages – along the front of one wing, with a matching tarmac apron. (Tip: build an “old stable block” round the back.)

What do you wear in a house like this? An entirely taupe wardrobe, plus expensive white trainers, white jumpers and a fur-trimmed pale suede gilet?

More here, and links to the rest.

Monday 1 February 2021

Choose Your Words Carefully: 9 (in Quotes)

People like to say that class is no more, and regional dialects have disappeared.

My husband and I have raised our kids to be pretty precise about grammar, because both of us grew up in poverty, and our studies helped us become much more financially stable as adults than we ever were as children. We especially stress the difference between good and well, number and amount, I and me, etc. ( Presumably they don’t like: “How’s X?” “Oh, he’s doing good.” These are clearly class markers.)

We weren’t allowed to say “shut up”, “what?” or “yeah” (always “pardon” and “yes”), or to shout to each other from another room. (Via Twitter)

We used to house-sit in the 70s for a classical pianist, and my mother’s voice went up several levels of gentility whenever she answered their phone.
(Via Twitter)

My mum and grandma used to put on a sort of Hyacinth Bucket telephone voice.

My first wife's mother – at home, Looe variety Cornish accepted. Speaking to anyone she considered 'posh', she tried to speak posh herself – still Cornish but a bit higher pitch.

My wife speaks with great circumspection—'proper pride,' she calls it—to our neighbour the tradesman's lady.
(WM Thackeray, The Book of Snobs)

I watched and listened to Jacob Rees-Mogg yesterday. He may be an arrogant anachronism, but you have to admire his eloquence and command of the English language. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to him. It is a pity that more do not talk like him. (Via Facebook)

The expression 'y'all' is among the most revolting, cursed things I've ever heard. Why are Americans so relentlessly, unwaveringly vulgar? (@CapelLofft)

'Y'all' is horrible, but I feel just as irritated when British people say "We were sat..." instead of "We were sitting." (@Lord_Steerforth)

When I lived in England, my mother used to tell me that I needed to put my Tennessee accent back on when I was coming home for a visit... When I left Oak Ridge, I started developing a distinctly Southern accent. My dear mother equated Southern regional accents with lack of class and education. She really was quite the social climber. She was raised in poverty, in rural Texas, and wanted better for her children. (MKI)

I was hoping changing your accent had been dumped. When I was a very young woman I was turned down for a job because I 'didn't speak well enough'. I think it was one of the first times I'd encountered snobbery. Never forgotten it – never lost my accent! (@Kibalchich1)

The requirement for ‘a pleasant speaking voice’ ensured that only higher-class girls with flawless Received Pronunciation would apply. (Sarah Shaw, Short Skirts and Shorthand. It was sometimes called “a good telephone manner”.)

Dear Dr Katie Edwards
Subject: Yorkshire dialect
I’ve just listened to your programme on Radio 4. My feedback is that I was sure the BBC wouldn’t impose their diversity agenda on the listener. You’ve been chosen because of the way you speak and you’ve obviously done well for yourself despite your evidently difficult background. Good for you! While you have my admiration for making something of yourself, I want to hear a presenter who speaks correctly. From time to time we are treated to a broadcaster with a ridiculous sounding regional accent and if the rest of the listeners are anything like me, then it’s an unwelcome addition to the programming. I’m astonished that you continue to speak with such a strong accent and use dialect, after Genesis 11, 1-9. Congratulations on your (I’m sure very many) achievements but you do not belong on Radio 4. (The Biblical reference is to the Tower of Babel.)

Kimberley Chambers appeared on BBC Breakfast in 2019 to plug her new thriller, The Sting. Twitter responded: Who on earth was that Cockney women on BBC Breakfast this morning. Couldn't bear to listen to her, had to turn the TV off! Poor Charlie and Naga. (@darryljb75) This book will be interesting reading if written the same as she speaks. (@mazarati33) Oh look, a plastic Cockney. (@marti6118) Can we please have subtitles from the BBC with regard to this Cockney? It’s like hearing the entire cast of Eastenders on steroids! (@IanBrownuk)

(And then the BBC broadcasts a radio programme claiming that the Cockney accent has disappeared. I'm sure the two incidents are not related.)

I really like Jess Phillips but I genuinely think (and I say this as a proud West Midlander) that her Brummie accent will put people off. The prejudice against certain accents is horrendous. (Via FB.)

In 2020, The Guardian ran a piece on students having their accents mocked at university:

It sounds ridiculous, but I only realised I had what people regarded as a strong regional accent when I first began my undergraduate studies. Mocking of my accent was immediate.

A constant barrage of abuse from students and staff who were verbally disapproving of my mild but noticeable Black Country accent... Staff on more than one occasion said ‘we don’t normally get your type here’ or ‘perhaps you could try and fit in’... “I am gay and if anyone makes homophobic remarks towards me it is considered illegal, but if someone is classist I can’t say anything because it is not a protected characteristic – yet it is still abuse.”

“‘You’ll never get anywhere talking like that, it makes you sound stupid. You need to try and flatten your Yorkshire accent.’ That was a member of staff in my third year of university.
[She was told:] When you use “like” in sentences, you sound like a teenager. My accent completely changed during my four years at university, flattening back immediately when I was welcomed home.

One girl from Tyneside went to Durham – but was the only student there with a northern accent.

Since moving down south a month ago I can think of at least 10 occasions when my accent, being a relatively strong one from Birmingham, has been brought up and mocked in conversation.”
(She was told she ought speak more “eloquently”.)

I’ve had people make assumptions about my intelligence, family background and financial situation based on nothing but the way I speak.

Horticultural snobs frequently correct other people’s Latin pronunciation as a weird power move.
(James Wong) He says he was turned down by a newspaper for not being “British” enough. They wanted someone “less international”. Someone responded: You have THE most British of accents and talk more posh (sorry that sounds snobby) than most people I know.

I don’t sound the same as the rest of my family and it often makes me feel sad. But also makes me feel like a bit of a fraud. Like, over time I’ve subconsciously lost the ‘heavy’ parts of my Chester accent. (@RebeccaRideal)

I'm Scouse. How do you think I'm treated? 1. We are only 'acceptable' if we are famous. Otherwise, the only way I'm welcome at a table is if I'm holding a tray. 2. People think its OK to do our accent back to us, repeating what we have just said. 3. People think it's OK to do stereotypical jokes. 4. The look of surprise when someone with a Liverpudlian accent and a boxer's nose can talk about Byzantine icons and Constructivism. (@ChrisFarrelly)

My mum was always telling me off for sounding ‘Too Cardiff’. She was Cardiff born and bred. (@villi63)

I had a fairly standard Cheshire accent when I started uni darn sarf, and somehow managed to collect an entire circle of friends who were from the Midlands or North. And we did get mocked for our accents by the posh southerners! (@ThorhallaBjorg)

Several people from Dublin have pointed out that Moriarty does have a Dublin accent but it is an exaggerated middle-class south Dublin accent. It is locally known as the “D4 accent” after a postcode in south Dublin... Where I grew up anyone who didn’t have a regional accent was “posh”. After coming to University in the South, I have realised that BBC pronunciation is not considered “posh” but “standard”. Posh was defined as the rather over-exaggerated accent people often use to pantomime the rich. (Blogger welllingtongoose,

I've taught in Essex, Norfolk, Yorkshire and Cornwall. Children are dead proud of their accents and their dialect words. But they also know they have to "posh" themselves up if they want to get on. So sad. (@owen_jermy)

My family always said I spoke posher than them but going to university I realised I really didn’t speak posh. (Via Twitter)

I thought I’d poshed up my accent when I went to Cambridge. But then I joined the FT, and I realised that I really hadn’t. (Beth Rigby, political editor at Sky News)

I grew up poor with a very distinctive working-class accent. In England in the 1980s and 1990s, this would have impeded my professional advancement. (Former National Security Council official Fiona Hill)

I'm lucky enough to have a pretty soft Yorkshire accent and still get some judgement. My wife, whose accent is much stronger, is more readily written off at times and it's annoying. (@DrRichFG)

I was born and raised on benefits and from a housing estate. I was told by my PhD supervisor to "speak properly" just before presenting at my first international conference. Years later I'm so glad I've never lost my thick Derry accent! (@KitanaValentine)

One of those strange 1960s pop English voices that you don’t hear any more, like the guy out of the Monkees, or Cliff Richard in Summer Holiday. (Hugo Rifkind, Times 2020. Davy Jones of the Monkees came from Manchester, but when he moved to the States he was given an American’s idea of Cockney. Judy Carne from Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In, and Geraldine Chaplin in Nashville also adopted the accent.)

“The industry is still hugely dominated by class,” says actor James McArdle. He said he heard complaints in the industry about difficulty in understanding Scottish accents “all the time”. ( A reviewer recently talked about “whining Scottish accents”.)

Scots face insidious racism in the West End. (Alan Cumming)

Class is profitably marketed online by creepy coaching companies offering “diction, charm and social grace”. (Libby Purves in the Times)

But is it really such an advantage to talk like Jacob Rees-Mogg?

Radio 4 – I hate that poetry-reading middle-class voice they put on.

People assuming I grew up rich with upper-class parents because I know some long words and occasionally sound close to articulate in videos is a form of classism. That’s my TED talk. (@shaun_vids)

I feel for you, Shaun. And someone else adds that RP "just simpers".

More here, and links to the rest.

Thursday 14 January 2021

Beat the Cold 5


Caro Stow-Crat here with some more tips on beating the cold now so many of us are working at home, energy prices are rising and some people are forced to choose between "heat or eat".

Replace the Tudoresque wood wall-panelling an earlier generation ripped out – good insulation!

Build on a porch. If this isn’t possible, build a glassed-in porch inside your front door. If you can't do this, a folding screen might protect you from draughts. That's what screens were for – not dressing modestly behind.

Hang a thick curtain inside the front door, like the Victorians. It should reach the floor – you can buy purpose-made lead weights for the hem.

Position a high-backed settle on either side of an open fire or heat source.

Crochet yourself a woollen shawl from a Victorian pattern. (For Civil War style, search for "sontag".)

Or get a plug-in heated cape to wear while working.

Make sure your “core” is warm – why do you think toffs wear body warmers? Don a vest and a waistcoat, or one of those ageing sleeveless jerseys.

Twitter recommends padded gilets, thermal leggings, thick socks and sheepskin slippers
Also padded housecoats.

Put down some rugs on your painstakingly restored bare boards. Again, like the Victorians.

Protect your feet indoors with sheepskin slippers.

Drink a nice cup of hot tea. For real builders’ tea, use two teabags.

Wrap yourself in a blanket or duvet. Put a blanket over your knees.

Affectionate dogs, cats and children make great hotwater bottles. Or get some of those wheat bags you heat up in the microwave. (Mind you don't heat them too hot and burn yourself.)

If you have some old-fashioned stone hot-water bottles, fill them with sand or salt and heat them in the oven. Again, take care!

Bring back bed jackets, bedsocks – and nightcaps!

More here, and links to the rest.

Monday 4 January 2021

Boarding Schools 7: Yet More about the Convent

Jolly hockeysticks
The convent gave us a list of clothes and equipment which every pupil needed, including a trunk to carry it all in. A sandwich tin for sweets (I still use if for sewing kit). A hockey stick. Hockey boots. Plimsolls. A tennis skirt. A tennis racket. In the summer term of my first year we had one tennis lesson and I discovered that the tennis racket was almost too heavy for me to lift. I suffered through a few games before giving up. There were tennis tournaments every summer, and I and Georgina used to be put down as “reserves”, and tacitly allowed not to join in. But the tennis racket came with me to school every summer term.

We were also obliged to buy an expensive camel-hair coat. These were only worn on outings or when arriving or leaving school. With them went a corded silk scarf in royal blue or mustard – the school colours.

Hockey wasn’t so bad: you don’t have to throw or catch anything, or hit a flying object. We had house matches, and I was once put in goal. I was small and frail – always the smallest in my class because I’d been pushed on a year (or was it two?). Strapped into the goalkeeper’s outfit – shin pads, padded body armour and lead boots – I could not move. So I didn’t. The worst moment came when we had to change ends at half time. I struggled to walk to the other goal, passing the other goalie, a large girl called Nicky. I wish I had fallen over and just lain there.

I was even in one of the teams, but then I heard that we were going to play against Worth, a boys’ school. I was terrified. Boys would be big and rough and probably beat us up with their hockey sticks (I’d already experienced being painfully hacked on the ankle). So I deliberately played very badly and got dropped from the team. The boys came – they were two years younger than the girls and rather sweet.

One day up at the hockey pitches a family of gypsies walked past, carrying pillow-cases full of primroses they’d picked in the woods. There were two children – twins with long curly blonde hair, about our age. We caught each others’ eyes and they looked at us blankly, while we looked at them blankly. How I wished we could change places.

We were aware of the Cuban missile crisis, and feared that the Russians might drop an atom bomb on us. I lay in bed thinking “I’ll never have a future. I’ll never go to art school.” While walking up to the hockey pitches one day, we heard a loud shot in the woods. I walked towards the nun in charge, thinking “This is it. I am going to die in the next minute”, although nobody else seemed concerned. The young nun read my mind and said, “Don’t worry, the crisis is over.” (Nobody had bothered to tell me.)

I arrived back at school one September and everybody else was going on about the Beatles. We watched them on Top of the Pops and suddenly you were supposed to “bop along” to pop music (that’s why it was dangerously subversive). So I did, and somebody said “Look at Lucy!” and everybody laughed.

In winter, we wore blue serge box-pleated skirts, mustard (“gold”) blouses, a tie, and a navy cardigan. We changed our shirts every week, but wore the same cardigan, skirt and shoes all term. The shoes were lace-ups – pinchy, because you don’t want your feet to “spread” like a barefoot peasant. For games we wore box-pleated divided skirts.

Every summer we had a “retreat”. A priest would come and give us talks several times a day. One year it was a smiley black priest who told us we had to believe in Hell, but we didn’t have to believe there was anybody there. The rest of the time, we built altars in the grounds, decorated with holy pictures and wild flowers. But the real point of the retreat was not talking for three days. If you said anything, you had “broken” the retreat and you might as well go on talking. I kept forgetting.

We thought we didn’t miss our parents – because we forgot about them. Life in the holidays was not like living together as a family any more. Most of our lives happened at school, and at home our education was barely discussed. They didn’t even ask us who our friends were, or what we did at weekends at school. We would walk to the village and buy sweets, or sliced salami. There were no activities or clubs.

When you’re in prison (driven to school, driven home), your jailers can tell you anything about the “outside world” and you’ll believe it. It was made out to be a scary place, and we had very little first-hand knowledge of it. What was the point of this brainwashing? What were they trying to achieve? After all, “the outside world” was where we going to live eventually.

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

More here, and links to the rest.