Monday, 5 December 2016

What to Wear 5

A woman flaneuse in Paris in the 50s is wearing an authentic orange Mexican “rebozo” as a scarf. Her handbag is a horse’s feed bag. Is she “playing with codes” (Radio 4)? This is a certain kind of one-upmanship, also an “ain’t broke don’t fix it” attitude. According to Cheap Chic, you wear the actual prep school boy’s grey jersey from the school catalogue, not a copy. You carry a Woolworth’s satchel. You go to Mexico to get the scarf. It may cost a few pesos, but it also costs the price of the trip. It has to be a real horse's feed bag and you have to have the secret knowledge of where to get one. Asking the person with the bag where she got it like it would be lame, and she wouldn’t tell you. (I once admired a friend's scarf: she’d got it in Guatemala. So I went to South America to get one like it. Almost.)

In the 70s and 80s it was also a case of grab the generic thing that preserves a 70-year-old design before they stop making it or disastrously update it (Anello and Davide tap shoes). Black patent Mary Janes with a white or cream trim were popular with Teales in the 70s. Mrs Definitely had a wardrobe of plastic shoes (orange square toes with buckles were her favourites).

Upwards were too snobbish to be glamorous. We worked at entry-level media jobs and could only afford home-made and charity shop. And besides, fashion was a capitalist plot, high heels were patriarchal de da de da. We wore grandad vests from army surplus shops as jerseys.

The Teale version of “looks don’t matter” is “don’t pass personal remarks” (old-fashioned), or “don’t be uncharitable”. The Weybridge version is “avoid making comments”. Hippy Upwards would draw in their chins and stare unblinkingly if you commented amusingly on anyone’s clothes, hairstyle or behaviour, especially if you seemed to be “putting them in a box”, or implying that humans could be typed at all (because we’re all utterly original individuals, you see). Nobody could be as conformist or judgemental as a hippy, but it was always about falling short of the ideal in some way – like eating tinned tuna because it’s a) polluted with mercury and b) cruel to dolphins.

30s fashion crimesIn Georgette Heyer's Envious Casca, 1938, Mrs Dean is the vulgar mother of the common Valerie. She appears wearing “a Persian lamb coat and skittish hat, perched over elaborately curled golden hair”. She holds out a “tightly gloved hand” with an “arch smile”. Under her coat she is wearing “a tightly fitting lace blouse” and a “large paste brooch”. Her skirt is too short and tight. She smoothes out her gloves after taking them off. She has an enamelled cigarette case and smokes “fat” gold-tipped Egyptian cigarettes.

40s and 50s fashion crimes
In the late 40s and early 50s, teenage girls were dressed like bigger children, with little sailor hats on the back of the head, short hair, a jersey and skirt. In the late 50s and early 60s, girls dressed like their mothers, with tailored suits, hats and gloves.

In children’s books, the middle-class teenaged characters have nothing much to wear but school uniform or sports gear. Boys have a jacket, trousers and a few jerseys and shirts; girls a few skirts, shirts and jerseys. They mix and match these dull, drab clothes. (The girls have one party dress, the boys one best suit. The girls have one or two brooches they pin onto their tweed jackets.) Only working class teenagers wear red pedal-pusher jeans, ponytails, makeup and stripy T shirts.

60s fashion crimesNylon knickers were naff, and we just didn't see those nylon negligée sets (nightie and negligee, both with two layers and frills, in ice blue or peach).

Jo Grant in Dr Who (70s) is dressed as a Top Shop hippy. Homemade chokers and leather waistcoats quickly became assembly-line versions of themselves. Purple and brown, originally signifying magic and the earth, were just this season’s colours. How annoyed the hippies must have been.

80s fashion crimesGreen furry monster slippers.
Mullet haircuts.
Ties with piano keyboards running down them.
Stonewashed denim.
Giant headphones with a union jack design.
The sort of thing that’s been uncool and untrendy and slightly embarrassing for 30 years. (Victoria Coren Mitchell)

Fashion crimes
high-street jewellery
(cheap, ugly, badly made, jumping on latest trend, e.g. big necklace of flat wooden rings)
filigree jewellery (not seen since about 1965)
glitter ball beads in different colours
It is not done to wear rings on the first and second fingers.
bottomless glasses (common in 50s, 60s and 70s, they made wearers look like librarians) They’re back 2014.

Winter, 2016 The current uniform is a padded jacket with a fur-trimmed hood or collar; navy, khaki, black, grey; skinny jeans and boots; plaid scarf. Sharon D wears her jacket fitted, and it stops at the waist. She wears knee-high black boots and walks with a wiggle. Thalia Upward wears a baggy jacket to the knee, and ankle boots. Christine Teale wears olive suede ankle boots with long fringes.

Scraped-back hair and a very tiny pompadour secured with hair grips is very Definitely, especially when the hair is dyed black or dark brown. Eternal hipster Rowena has adopted a look from early 70s knitting patterns, and is even dyeing her hair grey. But whatever the trend, female Stow-Crats are inclined to wear flowery fabric and quilting, sometimes combined.

I spotted some young European dudes in Hackney wearing correct and very stylish hipster gear – but it was all expensive, good quality, clean, and quite new. Designer work clothes. Accessorised with very expensive, unmarked, new leather mini-rucksacks. No beards, but model looks.

Jilly Cooper described Mrs Thatcher as looking “trim”, and unable to achieve Shirley Williams’ bag lady look that identified her to some as an upper-middle-class intellectual. But when you reach a certain age, you need to look “trim”, and also your clothes need to look “good”, ie expensive, or people will think you really are a homeless person. They also call you dear and assume you are losing your marbles. You can’t carry off the vintage shabby chic look any more. I plan to wear a lot of jewellery, a fur hat, dark glasses, and lipstick at all times. Scent probably helps. And a knock-off designer bag.

You know as well as I do that spike heels are out as far as daytime dress is concerned. The look should be casual. No one goes in for heavy make-up or exaggerated hair styles... It is most easily explained as the absence of bad taste, the elimination of the tawdry, the tinselly, the tacky.... When skirts are short, her knees freeze in the breeze. (Betty Cornell Teen-Age Popularity Guide, Betty Cornell)

The unchanging sub-Sloane look that satisfied Nice Girls for about five decades faded away in the Nineties... (Middle Class Handbook)

The upper and middle classes, who had previously despised the ‘servile’ costume [the kilt], now picked up with enthusiasm the garb which its traditional wearers had finally discarded. (The Invention of Tradition)

Her flowing dress and shawl combined with a tangle of hanging beads to make her look like a bentwood hat stand. (Star Trap, Simon Brett)

The knee-high boot was a hot look until two or three years ago, when it fell out of fashion favour because the norms got hold of it. They wore it with skinny jeans, which was OK, but then they added fluffy gilets and – heaven help us – waterfall cardigans. The high-heeled knee boot went from Carine Roitfeld to Carole Middleton. (Jess Cartner-Morley in the Times Oct 2014-10-11)

All my life I’ve wanted to wear fishnet stockings and hang around dog-tracks eating peppermint creams and using frightful language. (West End People, Peter Wildeblood)

More here, and links to the rest.

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

More Classy Holidays

It’s getting so hard to find anywhere “unspoilt” – completely lacking in tourists, especially the wrong kind of Brits. Next year why not try Transdniestria (empty cities with uniformed girl traffic cops at every intersection), or a trip to Kazakhstan to see Norman Foster's follies?

Middle-class Upwards go on foreign holidays or "wild camping" – This year they're staying in a reconditioned shepherd’s hut. Lower-middle-class Teales spend the time and money decorating their house. Jen Teale and Sharon Definitely take a trip to the locations of TV series (Antrim for the Game of Thrones etc). Samantha Upward would never stay anywhere that called itself a “resort”.

Now David Cameron has resigned the Camerons won't have to go to fish markets on holiday any more and be snapped pointing at fish. (Carol Midgley, paraphrase)

I want to go to Cuba before it's not high status. (@BDSixsmith)

Caro Stow-Crat complains that “Milan was impossible!”. She means “crowded with the wrong sort of people”. Sometimes “simply impossible”.

Nothing kills the romance of an ancient castle more than several coachloads of people in pastel leisurewear. (blog)

Despite her love of pesto, peppers, fettucine, polenta and the rest, Sam is still quite shocked that people go on holiday for the food. I was slightly surprised – 20 years ago – to hear about people’s holidays snorkelling in Sharm El Sheikh. They swam, sunbathed, ate, drank, went out at night. Where were the visits to art galleries and cathedrals? The quaint little (cheap) pensioni? The real life of the people? The avoidance of coasts (and costs)?

Even more posh: “She liked travel but dreaded sight-seeing.” This was the Upward view of travel in the 50s. You were supposed to sit at a pavement café and people-watch rather than visiting the Parthenon. And feel slightly guilty about having a guidebook and going to see the cathedral and art gallery. The only physical activity undertaken is joining in the nightly passegiata, when people come out after dinner in the cool of the evening and stroll around the streets, shop and chat to their friends.)
Upwards never go to discos or nightclubs abroad. They never go to them at home, either.

Across the road is the town’s old quarter and here, at least, the mood is upbeat. This is a tiny, charming area — little more than a couple of squares with some pretty streets radiating from it. Bright, attractive small businesses have begun opening here — vintage clothes shops, pretty cafés, great galleries and chi-chi home décor shops...  Even more surprising, perhaps, is the football-free pub, The Lifeboat, where you can perch beside a barrel, sample ales and cheeses, and eavesdrop on the locals — a cheerful bunch who are only too happy to make you feel at home.
(The Times on Margate)

I hate to generalise... but something about low-cost air travel seems to bring out the very worst in certain members of the middle-aged English middle class. I reckon it must be the egalitarian nature of the deal, an absence of the usual myriad indicators of status and rank that some people seem to struggle to live without. “We might all be doing this on the cheap,” appears to be the attitude of some passengers who are unable (perfectly understandably) to resist the lure of a bargain, “but don’t think for a minute I am not otherwise infinitely superior to you. I could and should actually be making this journey first-class on a scheduled service, would that one existed. Or on the Orient Express. Or via a sedan chair borne aloft by contemptible proles such as you…” etc. (Robert Crampton, Times July 2015)

Rick Stein using “mass tourism” to mean chav tourism with draught beer and English football. (Saturday Kitchen March 2015)

But here I feel disappointed, rather as I did when I first went to Center Parcs: it wasn’t the future all under a plastic dome – it was chalets, terrible weather and activities. (Suzanne Moore)

By revamping the hotel, Kevin Smith, the general manager of the Craigellachi Hotel, said they wanted to create an unpretentious but high-end venue for “posh house parties”. He said they had already had dukes and duchesses to stay and “have a lot of famous faces booked for next year”.
As for celebrity guests, Mr Adam suggested the A-list had been retreating inconspicuously to Scotland for a while, the world just hadn’t noticed. “Some really prominent people go fishing on the Spey, it’s a mecca for old-money families. Then you’ve got the people who come up for the Johnstons of Elgin cashmere, which is the cashmere Chanel and Hermès use and is made just down the road. The Highlands is attracting some amazing people but the paparazzi aren’t on the banks of the Spey taking photos.” (Times Dec 26 2014)

More here, and links to the rest.

More Quotes about Boarding Schools

The dear old place

Send your child to a single-sex boarding school for a wonderful education and a lifetime of crippling social awkwardness.

Having served time at both Stonyhurst College and HMP Dartmoor, I can confirm that I was treated better at the latter institution. (A friend writes. He recalls cross-country runs in the dark every morning, followed by Mass. Cold showers, a tepid, shallow bath once a week, and daily beatings. This was the 50s – that Golden Age UKIP members want us all to go back to.)

Lol @ old Etonian criticising the left for “only talking to each other” and “not understanding the people.” #bbcqt
(Ellie Mae O’Hagan ‏@MissEllieMae)

Eton “teaches you charm, concealment of your true purpose, the ability to make people believe in you”. (writer Charles Cumming)

I used to write notes, says Giles Coren. That was how I passed exams and got into a good school. But “I did not have a single friend. And I had never met a girl. So I looked around me at the boys with friends and, more importantly, the ones with girlfriends. And when I started in the sixth form I made a few changes. I yanked down my tie and untucked my shirt. I threw away my briefcase... and swore never to take a note again... By the end of the first week, I had mates. By half-term, I had a girlfriend. By Christmas I had a hot girlfriend.” (Times 2015-10-03)

Maybe, if that’s what you’ve grown up with – no play, no chat, no flirting, no female friends, no girlfriends who will and girlfriends who won’t, no trips to the cinema, no gradual understanding of when a coffee is just a coffee, and when you ought to not go for that coffee, because “coffee might mean something more"... Forget Isis. Worry more about that.
(Hugo Rifkind on a programme about Muslims, Times 2015-10-03 But why does normal behaviour have to involve a strange code about coffee?)

Gabriella Wilde, Poldark star, went to boarding school, which she hated... “I went to quite a lot of schools. I was at Heathfield for three years. It’s a fun school but basically it’s a lot of girls who get bored and get up to no good. MY children will have different childhood; I don’t think they’ll go to boarding school. I think it’s a bizarre thing to do. I didn’t enjoy it and my husband hated it. It’s a strange way to grow up.”
Being sent away to board at Eton was as unhappy an experience as his parents’ death, the actor Dominic West has said. “It was the worst feeling I have ever had, very similar to the grief when my parents died. It’s the same thing really; you think you’ve lost your parents. (Times 2016-07-26)

Mike Tindall, former England rugby captain, told The Daily Mail: “I’m certainly not keen on sending Mia away to a boarding school at the other end of the country. I know many people who say boarding was the making of them because they forged great independence from their parents, but I don’t really want her to be distanced from us. My school was a public one and plenty of my mates lived in, but I was just a day student and it definitely didn’t do me any harm. If anything, I enjoyed the best of both worlds. Personally, I’d rather she attend a school that’s nearby, where we’ll always be on hand if she needs us. Anything else goes against my instincts.” ( 5 Jun 2016)    

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. (LRB May 2016)

My years at public school here in England were the unhappiest of my life. I have never taken kindly to discipline; I hate to be forced to occupy myself with things which don’t interest me, and I hate all the cruder kinds of physical discomfort. The only time I was ever warm at school was in bed... and the food was foul. The English school system leaves boys quite incapable of dealing with women in later years. (Leslie Charteris/Bowyer-Yin)

Sending a seven-year-old to boarding school probably isn’t a good idea. People would tell me that schooldays are the best days of your life, and I used to live in horror that it was true. I was probably all sorts of things that they would diagnose now, but they didn’t do that in those days. I was just thick. (Anna Chancellor, T 2015-10-24)

I really believe that segregating children in single sex schools risks stunting their emotional and social development. (Richard Cairns, head of Brighton College, Times 2015)

A boy killed himself aged 21, after being bullied by a master at prep school. “[The master] became infatuated with some young boys while subjecting others to the misery of emotional bullying and humiliation.” Mother: “I had no idea that the place where we wouldn’t be able to keep him safe was an incredibly expensive private school. Parents and teachers need to be taught how fragile a child’s psyche can be.” The child kept telling his parents, and was obviously distressed. “Initially, we thought he was bringing this dislike upon himself by his silly behaviour.” The child was in a scholarship class “where academic success was paramount, but they sensed that poor pastoral care was viewed by some parents as a price worth paying. [His mother] remembers being told by one mother that you put up with [the school] in order to secure a place at St Paul’s.” The parents complained, and the school responded by nitpicking about procedure, and saying an investigation would be too much of an ordeal for the boy. (Times magazine 2015-10-11)

Readers under the age of 60 may not be fully aware that back in the 1960s, ‘being at boarding school’ didn’t necessarily mean that your parents were well-heeled as it does now. The world map was still coloured pink, and boarding school was a sort of gentle fostering service for the children of the army of sometimes quite lowly civil servants and military that were stationed in the outposts of the British empire. (

Self harm and depression are on the rise in private schools. Social media, exams, and the pressure to be beautiful are blamed (Times 2015 Oct 5 Not “sending children to live away from their family, friends, and community in a loveless institution”.)

More here, and links to the rest.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Beat the Cold 4

Matinee jacket

Turning up the heat in most English houses, or to be more precise, turning it on, simply isn’t done.
(Florence King, Wasp, Where Is Thy Sting?)

You don’t open your window on a January night until you are ready to dive into bed and pull the clothes about you.
(Anna Where Are You, Patricia Wentworth When did Upwards stop sleeping in a room with an open window in January????)

Other people’s houses are so cold. (Barbara Pym, Jane and Prudence)

British homes are kept far warmer than they were 30 years ago, says somebody who suggests shivering keeps you slim (Jan 2014). You try it.

Brits really are supposed to keep a stiff upper lip and pretend that they don’t feel heat or cold or pain or tiredness or hunger or thirst or calls of nature, and they mustn’t do anything to make themselves more comfortable, even if the solution is easy, simply and obvious – like fanning yourself, or sitting on the grass, or moving nearer to a fire. (According to 19th century novels, entitled middle-aged middle-class men stood in front of an open fire warming themselves and blocking the heat from everybody else.)

In the 30s, you couldn’t wear a fur coat, or any coat, indoors, but you were allowed to wear a fur stole over your sleeveless, backless evening dress which you wore (over an “opera-top” woollen vest and knickers) in frigid English drawing rooms. That was when “everybody” dressed for dinner, but didn’t have the blazing fires that made the thin evening dresses possible. (You were also allowed to wear something called a “coatee” or a “matinee jacket”.)

I remember going to a cocktail party in a vicarage in the 60s and standing around chatting in a room that felt like an industrial fridge. Why were Upward houses so cold in the 50s, 60s, 70s? They hadn’t installed central heating because it was “American” (ie too expensive). If they did install it, it was always off because it was too expensive to run.

Victorian houses were heated only by open fires, but the Victorians managed to be quite cosy because they wore so many clothes. In the 30s Upwards cast off restricting Victorian spencers and combinations – and shivered. They wore nylon stockings and thin shoes in the winter. It would have been sensible to wear huge ski jerseys, thick stockings, hats and fingerless gloves indoors, but as always, they were afraid of looking different. (While thinking they were wacky individualists and exhorting everyone to “Be yourself!”)

During WWII Upwards were forced to become more practical, and were encouraged to knit woollen vests and knickers. (Was baby wool unrationed?) Strangely, lace-trimmed long knickers in jazzy colours trended in the short-skirted 60s and were seized on with joy by chilly Upwards. That was just before tights took over from nylons.

In the 50s and 60s, if you said “I’m cold”, someone would say loudly: “Well, put on a thick jersey!” Because they couldn’t possibly say “I’m not turning on any form of heating because it costs money”.

French writer Agnès Poirier is appalled that the English set their central heating to go off for several hours a day. At one lunch party I went to, it got very cold at about 3pm and we all asked if we could have some heat. The host said “The central heating will come on again at 4pm.” We said “Well, can you turn it on now?” And he said rather crossly “It will come on again at 4!” Of course, he didn’t know how to override the timer, but couldn’t admit it. And didn’t have any other form of heating.

When do you turn on your heating? How long do you “hold out” and “resist the temptation” before you finally “succumb”? Oil is expensive! October 1 seems to be the official date. Upwards with oil-fired central heating and a wood-burning stove in the sitting room are like people who had an open fire in one room and no heating anywhere else (back in the Good Old Days).

The trouble with central heating – it’s either OFF or ON. In the slightly more recent days you could turn on individual radiators. Perhaps Upwards should reinvent this useful feature. Or uncover the fireplace, sweep the chimney, and build a fire. They might find themselves sitting round it and, who knows, they might even talk to each other. Humans have lived around fires since Prometheus gave us the secret – a room without even a fake fireplace seems disorganised and unfocused.

Lady Dedlock’s fireplace was “closed in by night with broad screens, and illumined only in that part”. (Dickens, Bleak House) Lady D managed to turn her huge, formal drawing room back into a cave.

Jen Teale has a wall-mounted electric fire with Optiflame log effect. Or a free-standing fire with a slate effect hearth pad and chrome effect surround. Or else she stuffs an antique-style electric fire into a Victorian fireplace. Bohemian Arkana keeps warm by a bonfire in the back garden.

When it pours, Jen and Eileen wear packaway plastic capes with hoods. Jen stores her “tote” collapsible umbrella in the fabric cover it came in. (Everybody else throws them away.) Very Bohemian Rowena wears an umbrella hat. Her husband wears giant glasses with windscreen wipers.

The heat, the flies...English people still look askance if you fan yourself in public. Fanning yourself with a programme or magazine is just about OK – but an actual fan, made for the purpose? You can collect fans, you can display them on your walls, but you can’t fan yourself with one. And if you fan yourself with a programme, others may tolerate it for a while, but eventually they will tell you it’s distracting or  noisy. Really, of course, you are doing something that isn’t “done” by middle-class English people, and hence you are drawing attention to yourself. And your companions are going to be damned by association.

When the sun shines, Rowena wears a pink coolie hat from a seaside pound shop. Arkana wears a coolie hat from Kalimantan made of natural materials – she bought it on the spot. But these days you can get almost anything on the internet – it has put those old Stoke Newington travellers out of business. And next year Rowena goes to Kalimantan and buys a native hat made of instant coffee packaging. They’re more rainproof! She also has a lot of colourful baskets woven by Africans out of telephone cables.
More here, and links to the rest.

Classy Collectibles 3

The next big thing

Art that depicts cannabis leaves... or includes “faux ethnic” carvings is a sign of terrible taste, according to a checklist produced by Grayson Perry. [Also] photorealistic paintings, sculptures that enlarge everyday objects, and anything made of neon tubes. “Then there are collages with dolls’ arms in them,” he told an audience at Cheltenham Ladies’ College. “African airport carvings – you know, faux ethnic. Statues outside football grounds – things that are a little too earnest. ... I passed this shop recently in Leytonstone that had a sign, ‘Neon for art pieces.’ I thought, avant garde is dead.”
(Times Oct 2014-10-16)

Modern art appreciation is mainly a form of virtue signalling. You're so sophisticated you don't need beauty like the proles do. (P. D. Mangan ‏@Mangan150)

The days of the copper warming-pan are long since gone.
(Philip Serrell)

A recent TV programme, The Extraordinary Collector, showed the rich and those who want to sell them things fawning on each other. Everything is "fantastic" and "lovely" and "marvellous", and when someone shows you the tattiest piece of overpriced rubbish you have to react as if you’ve seen a vision of the Virgin Mary. (The millionaires rarely bought the things.)

Upper-middle-class Samantha Upward is rather surprised that we’re allowed to “see” Victorian stained glass now. She never displays “wall art” that runs across several canvases, and thinks the word “Fayre” should be banned. She is re-distressing her lovingly restored rocking horse and plans to pretend she found it in an old barn.

Very Bohemian Rowena is stockpiling 50s Greek chic (woven shoulder bags, black and gold imitation Greek vases, lots of gold on black, key-patterned dresses). She’s going to call it Griki Culture. She's also collecting very cheap tourist tat from around Europe – Alpine fridge magnets, Pope Francis biros, flamenco dancer coasters, costume dolls from the 50s. And rather lovely pictures, statuettes and china sneeringly dismissed by the experts as “made for the tourist market” circa 1900.

Some middle-middle Weybridges like to collect paraphernalia from the country house lifestyle, such as the Gothic wooden letterbox that stood in the hall. (You posted your letters here, and a footman took them to the postbox.) They try to shoehorn a butler’s pantry into a modern house. (Their equivalents of 100 years ago were nostalgic for medieval castles, old coaching inns and 18th century elegance.)

A rather Teale friend was furious that posh people collected plastic toys – with their money they could collect antiques and art, or at least somethng valuable like miniature silver chairs.

Definitelies who live in caravans collect cut glass and imitation Sevres. They are the last outpost of Louis Quinze, apart from Donald Trump. Young Dave D makes a pile gold-plating stuff for dictators.

More here, and links to the rest.

Monday, 21 November 2016

Café Society

We're expecting a party of six!

About 20 years ago, newspapers and magazines were fond of sending a woman journalist to find out whether it was OK for single women to eat out in restaurants in the evening – now that women have got the vote, and everything. In every place she tried, she would be put in a corner, next to the kitchen, or next to the gents, and eventually the publications gave up.

I wouldn’t try to eat in a restaurant on my own in the evening, but I often eat lunch solo in cafés of all kinds – from posh to midrange to greasy spoon. This is what I’ve learned. Looking at your mobile is allowed, reading a newspaper is tolerated, reading a book is looked on more dubiously. In cafés with wifi, sitting and tapping on a laptop is OK. But nobody seems to like it if you take out a pencil and start doing the crossword, or correcting proofs.

I should add that I am disabled, and once I have sat down, taken off my coat and put down my bags, it takes me some time to reverse the process.

In an Enjoy Café on Stamford Hill I was encouraged to leave by a hand under the elbow from the gentle, polite waitress. A lot of bowing and apologising and deference, but she was still throwing me out. (Correcting proofs.)

In a Kings Cross café the waiter started moving tables around me as soon as I sat down. He initially asked me if I would mind moving, or taking my bags off the next-door chair. I was willing, but he changed his mind. However, he moved my second table away to form a pair with another. Eventually he came back and asked me to move into a table for two in a corner.

In Newington Green I was asked to move to a table for two in a dark corner – too dark to read the paper. Trendy dangling filament bulbs are not great to read by. ("Expecting a party of six.")

In Green Lanes I was asked to move into a cold, empty back room designed for smoking shisha pipes. (There was plenty of room in the café proper. I stayed where I was.)

In Newington Common I was told – with a bow, a smile and a praying gesture – that they were about to close (in the middle of the afternoon). In Albion Road the proprietor stood in the doorway with a hangdog expression until I noticed him. “About to close” again. (In both venues I had been taking photographs out of the window.)

In Gray’s Inn Road I was asked to move, but then they relented. I stayed on the end of a table for six. I was joined several times by parties of three or four, but they all moved to tables for four as soon as they could. Perhaps they didn’t want me to overhear their conversation.

I’ve read that restaurants put young, attractive or even slightly famous customers in the window. As a single elderly woman I obviously have to be kept out of sight.

Of course there are many establishments which treat everybody well. I return to these, and recommend them, and give them good write-ups on Tripadvisor. But in future I shall know my place: I’ll head straight for the table for two in the corner, and avoid writing with a pencil or taking photographs.

And if you say anything about the music a café is playing, they’ll say: “We’re going to have live music! Jazz! And open in the evenings!” This never happens, fortunately. In fact it usually means that the café shuts or changes hands in a few weeks. I tried a (lovely) Turkish restaurant in Dalston recently and I’m sure they switched the music from Turkish to dull jazz standards as soon as I sat down. I just wish I could find a café like the long-gone Aroma chain that plays music from South America... However, the Café Deux Amis in Judd Street plays Classic FM.

Friday, 4 November 2016

You Are What You Eat 8

From oven to table

In August 2016, falafel and avocado are being used as markers for "utterly middle class". Like “latte sipping”. Latte has been around for about 15 years, we ate falafel at the Israeli café in Charing Cross Road (Gaby’s) in the early 70s, and my parents were trying to force me to eat avocadoes in the 60s,  because middle-class children must eat foreign and unfamiliar food. The haterz just need to bring their references up to date.

Jeremy Paxman made middle class friends at his prep school. When he visited a friend’s home, he was amazed to find “yoghourt” being delivered with the milk – whatever that was. His own father brought home an avocado one day. “We were all rather baffled by it.”

Now, apparently, we’re “obsessed with aubergines” and some chefs are using them instead of pasta sheets in lasagna. The young journalists who write this guff are too young to remember the 70s and Something Bake, particularly mozzarella, tomato and aubergine. It was a trendy version of Seven-Layer Pie.

Does anybody really like the kind of salad that comes in a cardboard box? And how do you eat them without chopping everything up small? And it’s hard to eat anything with plastic cutlery out of a cardboard box. They consist of rocket, grated carrot, grated beetroot, chunks of squash, chunks of pumpkin, all covered with chilli-flavoured dressing and a scattering of nuts and seeds. DIScomfort food.

Very upmarket food comes “plated” - ie it’s turned into a mini work of art with whole leaves of this and that lying on a bed of puree in a pool of coloured liquid. As soon as you start to eat it (and you have to cut up the leaves and the central thing to get them into your mouth), the picture is spoiled and the coloured liquid goes everywhere.

Upwards used to go on (and ON)
about how maaahvellous medlars and mulberries were, far superior to strawberries and raspberries (which you can get at any corner shop – or, in the olden days, at any roadside). Whereas with medlars and mulberries you have to own a tree, or know someone who does (and they’re bound to be posh). Ancient mulberries are probably left over from attempts to establish an indigenous silk industry.

The more middle class you are, the less you chop things. Lower-middle-class Teales chop food very small, so it’s easy to eat (thank you, Teales).

“Poshcorn” and “Proper Corn”
on sale in a corner shop? They’re not going to make many middle-class sales. And wasn’t gourmet popcorn a few food fads ago?

Prosecco peach jam has been spotted.

Rice pudding is the must-have dessert for 2016.  (BBC Breakfast)

You really can get a chicken tikka Yorkshire pudding in Iceland. (The shop, not the country.)

In many modern eateries the seats are too low.

Nobody eats vegetables in white sauce any more (very Mrs Beeton), which is a pity – the sauce stuck everything together and stopped it falling off your fork. I'm waiting for vegan comfort food. How about cauliflower with tofu, cocoanut and mushroom dressing?

I like to think that posh Stow Crats eat superbly cooked traditional roast and two veg.

From the 1894 White House CookbookDon't, when you drink, elevate your glass as if you were going to stand it inverted on your nose. Bring the glass perpendicularly to the lips, and then lift it to a slight angle. Do this easily.

Drink sparingly while eating. It is far better for the digestion not to drink tea or coffee until the meal is finished. Drink gently, and not pour it down your throat like water turned out of a pitcher.

I remember a type of woman from the 60s and 70s: smiley, brisk, in her forties or fifties, rather well off, with a second home. She had short grey hair and a tan from sailing, and dressed in big cotton jerseys, sailcloth trousers and deck shoes. She made vast batches of pies and casseroles and put them into giant chest freezers (one in each house) so that when her children and friends or guests came to stay she didn’t have to cook, but could just whisk something out and defrost it.

She had a modern kitchen with a lot of pale blue flowery curtains, trays and biscuit jars. (And "oven to table" casserole dishes.) She liked to sit at her (pale blue, wipe-clean) kitchen table drinking instant coffee out of a mug and chatting. She didn’t make a big fuss about laying tables, either. Food was served buffet style, napkins were paper. After the meal, everything was shoved in the dishwasher. It was the modern way, rational and practical when servants had departed.

It was much too practical for Upwards who were still trying to maintain their class position with Georgian silver, cut glass and linen tablecloths and huge amounts of fuss and bullying – but she tended to be a bit of a Stow Crat. They are much more practical and hard-headed, and also don’t have to worry about keeping up with the Joneses. They are also used to adapting what they’ve got (huge inherited houses) to changing times. Also you can’t fit chandeliers and Georgian silver into a sailing boat. And Upwards of the time didn’t want to sit around and chat – unpleasant home truths might have come out. And it was too enjoyable – bound to be bad for you.

When will we reach peak café? There always were cafés, but respectable people couldn’t go to them – they were full of working class people! (Respectable people flocked to tea shops – but could a MAN really drink tea in a tea shop?) No wonder the respectable people were so shocked by the teenage café culture of the 50s and early 60s, when “coffee bars” were trendy. As were outré sandwich fillings like bacon and banana, cream cheese and date...

More here, and links to the rest.