Friday, 20 October 2017

Gentrification 7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Choose Your Words Carefully 7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More here, and links to the rest.

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

You Are What You Eat 11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can get black ice cream. End of days.

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

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

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

More here, and links to the rest.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Innovations 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Biros will ruin children’s handwriting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More here, and links to the rest.

Sunday, 25 June 2017

World of Interiors 10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paper your walls in a simulated concrete design.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

More here, and links to the rest.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Beat the Heat, Beat the Cold 5

Renoir was a fan
Alan Davies is as unstarry as it gets when he turns up at a north London cafe with his greying hair cut short and his coat zipped up against the cold. He asks the staff very politely if they could turn the heating on, but when they can’t work out how to do it he suffers in silence rather than strop like a diva. (Daily Mail interview with Alan Davies)

Caro Stow-Crat opines:
In this hot weather, I use a paper fan I bought in China Town, and I got some lovely electric fans in the pound shop. Living in a draughty old historic house can be an advantage.

Can I just point out, though, that if you wear trousers, skirt or dress made of thin material, thong panties are perhaps not the perfect base layer?

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

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

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

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

Upper-middle-class Upwards frown on sitting next to an electric fan when it’s hot. They’re not quite sure if they’re allowed to own one. What about the planet? And besides, fans are a) too pleasant and b) too practical. In earlier decades, Upwards never approved of sitting too close to a fire, or the TV.

As a teenager, I got on a bus on the hottest day of the year. Opposite me on the bench seat were three ladies in thick woollen overcoats. Sweltering, I opened a window. They frowned and said, “Are you warm? We are not!”

In an office with no opening windows, turning on the aircon can be perilous. Sometimes it gets turned off because "draughts give you flu".

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

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

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

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

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

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

More temperature tips here, and links to the rest.
More etiquette here.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

The Upwards: Update

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More here.