Friday, 14 April 2017

Yet More Decor Crimes



From the Times, April 2017

If you want to sell your house, avoid:

Off-white kitchens
Unusual layouts
An extension that’s bigger than the garden. (Don’t overextend.)

Pebbledash, Artex and the usual avocado bathroom suites (Though pebbledash may be right for your 30s villa.)

Purple, pelmets and patterns. (Avoid that 80s “window treatment”, this is “the age of plantation blinds”. And “chintz-patterned wallpaper... divides tastes.”)

Fountains, dark paint, garish carpets. (Says an architect.)

“Stark modern interiors... have a short shelf life and will look outdated in a couple of years.” (Says an estate agent.)
“Overly vibrant décor and sitting rooms that contain a supersized bed (an arrangement considered weird for all sorts of reasons.)” (The Times’s Anne Ashworth)

Also per the Times, these have had their day:
Venetian mirrors (with an ornate surround also made of mirror)
Cowhides or sheepskins draped on furniture (Leave them on the floor. Or out by the bins.)
Fake Eames (the plywood furniture designed by Ray and Charles Eames in the 50s)
Flos (Furniture and lighting with a retro look. Attractive but costly.)

Black and white tiles (“We all went mad for them when there was a bit of a buzz around the Standard Hotel in New York.” Oh, didn’t we? But now apparently they make you feel you’re living in your bathroom.)

Tin (and copper) pendant lamps
Zinc worktops
Roll-top bath
Painted tongue-and-groove walls
Kilims
Sisal carpeting (stick to rugs)
Velvet mustard sofa
Giant clock in the kitchen (“Just too gastropub to be safe any more.”)


MORE CRIMES

Yarn bombing. (
Sorry, but it’s twee.)

Annie Sloan chalk paint for that “distressed” look – created 26 years ago.

Transform your old chest of drawers with colourful ceramic knobs!

Pampas grass is 70s naff. (Carol Midgley)

Nesting tables (but they might be useful).
Paintings of roistering cardinals
Suspended ceilings

Doing up a genuine a Tudor house/restaurant/pub with artex, fake beams, fake candle wall sconces, Flintstones fireplaces and Jacobethan furniture.

Beaten copper hood over a gas fire (relic of arts and crafts copper hood over open fire)

Standard off-the-shelf Regency fire surround in a Victorian or modernist house.

Victorian décor crime: vast black and purple marble fire surround like a baroque altar in a room much too small for it. These survive, while elaborate Edwardian overmantels don’t.

Cutting the legs off a kitchen table to make a coffee table (and manufacturing coffee tables that look like kitchen tables with the legs cut off)

Getting that expensive hotel look in your home is easier than you think. (@sainsburys)

Bedrooms where seduction is catered for with swagged curtains and dry-clean-only sheets, bathrooms with shelves weighed down by vanilla tea lights. (Eva Wiseman)

Revamped Victorian warehouses given mirrored plate-glass windows in blue or brown (70s, 80s)

Buildings with exoskeletons

It’s kind of decorative in a ghastly kind of way. (David Dickinson on a brass clock and barometer moulded with baroque curlicues and flowers, painted and sprayed gold)

living statues dressed as Yoda
upcycling


GARDEN CRIMES
“Membrane”
over your front garden (sheet of plastic), covered with gravel that never stays put. Attempt at a Derek Jarman Dungeness desert garden in a tiny front plot in Chiswick.

Giant tree sculptures made with a chainsaw, life-size animals sculpted out of chickenwire

Over-restoration of faded ghost signs.

More here, and links to the rest.

You are What You Eat 9


I went into all the businesses on Green Street High Street to ask whether my mobile had been handed in, e.g. beauty parlours, florists etc.  Everyone v nice and concerned and chatty with exception of a man in the angling shop. Best place was beauty parlour where two glamorous old bats were having hairdos and facials and there was a white poodle reclining on a couch.
 (JL)

Did you push a shopper to the floor this morning to snatch a cut-price TV from their grasp? (Times)

The border between the north and south should be drawn at the point where you ask for a cup of tea and they respond: "What sort of tea?" (@carey_davies)

If Samantha Upward lived in Green Street Green, she would be unable to go into the beauty parlour, florist or angling shop. She prefers to whinge about Black Friday – it’s an American import. It’s “folks beating each other up for a cheap telly”. Upwards used to make the same fuss about post-Christmas sales (folks camping out outside the store the night before, then scrum as the doors open), but somehow this isn't "prejudice", which they are always careful to condemn. Sam suggests a “no-buy Friday”, but explains that it wouldn’t mean not buying anything, just “not buying in a media-induced frenzy”.

According to Eileen Weybridge, Waitrose is preferable because although it’s a supermarket, you are less likely to bump into “single mothers with large numbers of children with different fathers” and there are “fewer people on obviously bad diets”.

Some idiot in the Cotswolds complains that in his local Tescos “two whole aisles are devoted to Polish food!” Pictures or an address never surfaced. He probably takes home baguettes and pasta every week, cooks boeuf Bourgignon and drinks Chablis. Upwards think European peasant food (polenta) is fearfully chic. But Polish food? Tripe soup? Pickled gherkhins? Sauerkraut? And they don’t like the Polish writing on the side. Weybridges can gain points by knowing how to say Soave, tagliatelli etc, but they have no idea how to pronounce Grochówka, and can’t brag about having eaten flaczki in this charming little café on holiday, because people like us don't go on holiday to Poland. And it’s the wrong kind of peasant food: everything in tins, packets and jars and smoked or pickled because it assumes you don’t have a fridge. Rowena Upward gives Polish dinner parties, with rye bread and pork sausages, and her friends are shocked to the core. Next week it’s Swiss/Alsace cookery with rösti and spätzle. This summer she’s going on a tour of Hungarian spas.

A BBC girl just talked about the Queen “participating in the Christmas meal”. Upwards and Stow-Crats shudder.

Upwards women never seem to be hungry at "proper meals" (lunch and dinner), when they eat protein and veg in shades of green, orange and purple, and go on about "anthocyanins", "clean eating" and the "paleo diet". This is because they eat porridge for breakfast, biscuits all morning, biscuits all afternoon, and cake and scones at 4.

In the 70s there was huge snobbery over curry powder. You were supposed to buy all the spices separately, know how to pronounce them, and fry them yourself a la Madhur Jaffrey. How many of us actually did this? Curry powder has been available in England since 1784. Cue anecdote about visiting Indian bishop: “I hope you like the curry, Your Excellency?” “Oh, is it curry?”

Upwards can’t go to a “carvery”, or even a pub, so they moan you can’t get decent English food in restaurants. Some Upward parents think children should be taught to shoot squirrels and pigeons, skin, gut, cook and eat them because “our cotton-wool culture has got out of control”.

More here, and links to the rest.

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Stay Classy

Baguettes, not regrets!
Top Tip: Pretend to be incredibly posh by professing a lack of knowledge about the most commonplace items. (Andrew Male ‏@Andr6wMale)

Some incomers slag off us Brits for having a class system, some like to point it out in case we hadn’t noticed it was there, others come here precisely because we still have an aristocracy - because they want to join it. They used to settle near Brompton Oratory and shop at the best emporia (Peter Jones, Harrods, Fortnums, the Tao Clinic).

One thing everybody agrees on – the English class system is different now. It’s based on money, not blue blood, says Professor Mike Savage in Social Class in the 21st Century. He shows – with graphs – that those from a “posh” background earn several thousands more a year. He quotes interviewees verbatim: those who claim not to be snobs are the funniest. If comfortably off, they put it down to their thrifty lifestyles, not their inherited wealth or high-paying jobs. “The point here is that class today stems not only from economic capital but also from social and cultural factors, ” says the Times review. Just like the history of Britain for the past 500 years.

And perhaps when people say “there’s no class system any more”, they mean “It’s not like Downton Abbey, with Lords and servants”. No, it’s about very thin layers of the middle classes despising the people in the next layer for eating the wrong food, or having the wrong kind of curtains, or speaking slang, or picking up Americanisms, or misusing the checkout divider, or being ignorant about apostrophes. And it always was.

The media is mainly staffed by the middle classes because these days the entry point is university/unpaid internships. They know they’re not supposed to be prejudiced, but somehow snobbery isn’t “prejudice”.

Tatler is doing “the new snobbery” again, Dec 2016. It always has to be “new” because we have to pretend the “old snobbery” has gone away. Nancy Mitford’s U and Non-U (1954) is a bit out of date, they say. No more sneering about “piercings, carnations, paper napkins, the words “mirror” and “liquid soap”. But the following are still beyond the pale: visible bra straps, coloured toilet paper, vulgar celebrities, fake Christmas trees, people who don’t have books, red cars, baby showers, talking about money, “lounge” for sitting room, clinking glasses and saying “cheers!”. Telegraph agony aunt Mary Killen says that “anyone who puts a glass down without a coaster gives away that they did not grow up in a house with polished furniture.” Mary, it’s more complicated than that. You can’t put down a glass or mug on a polished table, but coasters are irredeemably naff. Caro Stow Crat leaves magazines around so that guests have something to put their glasses down on. In earlier times, polished tables were protected by cloths, mats and runners – perhaps we should revive these?

The Duchess of Devonshire "understood what artists were trying to say...and had these wonderful people from all backgrounds come to stay [at Chatsworth]." (Historian Maxwell Craven)

Rachel Johnson, sister of Boris and editor of the Lady magazine, wrote about the new snobbery in Times (2016-02-17)

According to her, the new status symbols are:
Five children, to whom you give very plain names like “Johnny” and send to state schools (avoiding “Eton disorder”).
Holidays at your second home in the UK, or the country homes of your family and friends (not crowded, expensive “abroad”).

A dark blue and grey colour scheme for your home (stone is so ovah).

A Land Rover Defender (discontinued so now hard to get and exclusive).
A lab-collie cross (a “working dog” – a Lollie?).
Impromptu suppers with friends (not competitive birthday parties in castles or on Greek islands).

You should always look as if you have just come from a Pilates class in a plain but top-quality T shirt and skinny jeans.

And eat carbs – we’ve reached “peak kale”.

An Aga – even in “hunting green” like the Duchess of Devonshire. “She had a penchant for kitsch – it is important to have ugly and funny things, otherwise it looks as if you’ve got what John Betjeman called ‘ghastly good taste’.” (You can feel Rachel cringing in the duchess’s kitchen, desperately trying to think up an excuse for the titled lady’s “bad taste” green Aga. According to Jilly Cooper, the aristocracy can do whatever they like – even hang a deodoriser block in the loo that turns the water bright blue. Agas are supposed to be cream, but the Duchess probably got her Aga in the 80s when navy and red were also available. Real aristocrats don’t update their décor, either.)



It’s OK, apparently, to make ill-informed and unfunny jibes at the middle classes. The recent March for Europe was allegedly full of people called Tarquinius and Fiona, and Waitrose was empty. Admittedly, someone was wielding a placard written in Latin. And a man in a white ponytail carried a poster that read METROPOLITAN CROISSANT-EATER. And you can always accuse Upwards of latte-sipping and quinoa-munching, especially if they're socialists. You'd think people would have got over middle-class socialists by now – we've been around since the 19th century at least. But OK, be like that then. We won’t turn up next time.

The Adam Smith Institute has commissioned a report proving that well-off activists are just “virtue signalling”, so there's nothing to worry about. Exec director Sam Bowman says: "New aristocrats prefer to show off their privilege with hard-to-get retro clothes and objects, studying obscure subjects at university or even taking loud, outrage-driven political positions, or making conspicuous donations to sometimes wasteful charities... undertaking costly actions to demonstrate they are not complicit in the globalised, liberalised, capitalist order of the 21st century, even though they are the very elite of that order.” Not that he’s biased at all, you understand. That’s just inconspicuous consumption, though in the 80s I did wonder why all the anti-capitalist lefties had mortgages and pension schemes... But when they said “capitalism”, they may have just meant “you know, nasty stuff”. (And that’s where all the broadsheets and Tweeters got the “virtue signalling” stuff from.)

Michael Gove recommends dropping Art History A Level, and some say that’s OK because “It’s just for posh white girls anyway”. Just insert any other group – it’s OK to drop geology because “It’s just for nerds”, or dance because “It's just for short people”, or...

It's tough being an Upward. There’s always something we’ve got to feel guilty about: eating too much, not recycling enough, not having the right attitude to whatever’s happening today, not having tasteful enough Christmas decorations, not being hip or cool enough, not excluding enough foods from our children’s diet. Why is it never “drinking too much", or "being sarcastic"?

Every year during the traditional Great Poppy Debate, Upwards tie themselves in knots trying to find their own unique reasons for either wearing or not wearing. What if the presence or absence of a poppy signals a reason somebody else has bagged already?

Garrison Keillor sums us up: "We liberal elitists are now completely in the clear. The government is in Republican hands. Let them deal with him. Democrats can spend four years raising heirloom tomatoes, meditating, reading Jane Austen, traveling around the country, tasting artisan beers, and let the Republicans build the wall and carry on the trade war with China and deport the undocumented and deal with opioids, and we Democrats can go for a long, brisk walk and smell the roses."


Don't let the side downI got shouted at by a phlebotomist for putting my stuff on the floor (tidy Teales hang everything up). And I was gently and politely eased out of the Pringle sweater shop (jeans, anorak, school lanyard, Labour sticker – obviously couldn’t afford the clothes they were selling). I hear the same thing happens in car dealerships. And schoolchildren are banned from the Leisure Centre café. But, as a friend points out, Web sites have no choice but to be egalitarian.

We don't want to be "those whom to know is to be unknown", quipped Anne Shirley (of Green Gables). When I was younger, friends were always giving me recipe books. They wanted me to break my journey home and go to a “good” fishmonger. I had to eat adult food, the kind you would cook for a dinner party, or the kind you would cook for a partner, even though I’m just me and I can live on chips, takeaways and Tesco’s microwaveable meals if I like. But there I go, letting the class side down! I have to eat middle-class food even when I’m on my own and nobody can see me. (I could have lied – perhaps they expected me to!) They also used to bully me to give dinner parties – was this so that they could make sure I knew how to cook proper food, even if it was only spag bol?

See also “How can you live in London, Oxford Street is so ghastly?” When pushed, they explain that they mean “crowded”. But it’s a shopping street, of course it’s crowded. Of course what they really mean is “crowded with the wrong kind of people”. I ought to know that we have to keep the plebs (literally) at arm’s length, and we mustn’t go to places where they go, where we might even have to touch them in a crowd! How can they know someone who thinks there’s nothing wrong with Oxford Street and even does her shopping there?

Class is dead, long live class.

More here, and links to the rest.



Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Choose Your Words Carefully 6

Do pop round for supper!

I was advised to get elocution lessons to erase Scouse accent, by woman examiner from Chorleh (Chorley). (Via Twitter)

English people respond well to Scottish and Irish regional accents because the speaker’s social class is not immediately clear, according to Kirsty Young. “To an Irish or Scottish person, that voice has class and they can place it, but to most English people they can’t place an Irish or Scottish accent in class terms.
(Daily Mail, 2016)

Remember, if you don't 'speak like you're from a council estate', where you're from is instantly negated. (@owenhatherley)

The success of the Mrs Merton show was partly attributed to the "round vowel sounds of the North West accent" which "naturally sound safe and unthreatening". (Wikipedia Accents you don’t like are “flat”, vowel sounds you like are “round”.)

I concede that the 'Cardie' pronunciation is looked down upon by 'proper' Welsh speakers but it's still genuinely the way a large number of Welsh speakers actually speak, and I have great battles with locals to get them to stop apologizing for not speaking 'proper' Welsh. (MT)

What happens if you live and work abroad, pick up the local accent, and then go home again? “People often don’t react well when someone comes back with an accent, like they’re putting on airs or trying to be somebody else,” says Jennifer Nycz, a specialist in sociolinguists and phonetic and phonological variation at Georgetown... US newscasters are trained to change some of the most telling regionalisms in their accents. (Atlas Obscura)

Her accent – the sort of upper-class boom made to carry across a crowded paddock – did Linda Kitson no good at all [at art school]. (“Very unfashionable to have an aristocratic accent.”) Times Mar 2017

Tatler March 2017 lists the 10 poshest words:
“Jolly” for “very”, as in “jolly good”
“Devoted to” for “fond of”.
“Blotto” for “drunk”.

Someone’s behaviour may be “poor form”. (Or “bad form”.)
Nasty things are “beastly”.
Nobody is “ill”, they are “seedy”.
“He was in a terrible bate.” (Translation: He was in a filthy temper.)

“She’s an absolute brick!” (Translation: You can always depend on her, she’s a foul-weather friend.)

“That leaves me in a bit of a bind.” (Translation: Your plan will land me in an awkward predicament, trying to work out complicated transport arrangements, or finding myself incapable of being fair to everybody.)

And finally “sups”, for an informal evening meal. (There was a lot of fuss when the Camerons talked about “kitchen suppers” a few years ago, implying that for them “dinner” is a formal meal eaten in a dining room. “Sups”, like “bate” and “jolly good”, sounds left over from school.)

The Times’s Robert Crampton tries a parody: “I say, Rupert old boy, would you pass the pearl-handled revolver, leave me to do the decent thing, what what, there’s a good chap.” (Pearl-handled firearms are for girls, and nobody has said “what what” since King George III.”)

“It’s posh rather than RP and yet people have to sympathise with her,” said Andrew Marr on the voice actor Claire Foy used for the Queen.
 

“It’s modulated, we’re halfway. We never wanted it to be a caricature or an impression.” Claire Foy comes out with the usual cliché for actors portraying a well-known public figure, and explains why actually, no, she didn’t do the Queen’s voice. Nobody mentions that everybody spoke differently in the 50s (see old newsreels).

But passing as posh may be more about avoiding certain words. Upwards never use “bulk” to mean “most” or “a lot” (the bulk of). Especially not pronounced “bolk”. And they don’t pronounce the O in Charlotte – it’s Charl’t, not Char-lot to rhyme with hot.

Cllr Lisa Duffy, who came 2nd in UKIP leadership race, says she's "not overly surprised" Diane James quit.  (‏@LOS_Fisher Duffy also says the UKIP elite think “similarly”. )

Lower-middle-class Teales say s’mw’n and s’mthing, while Upwards say sahmwahn and sahmthing.

Posh Caro Stow-Crat has a slight moan: “I love these presenters from Wales, Scotland, Belfast and Durham, but whenever the BBC does programmes about local volunteering, must they be fronted with someone from “Lancasheer” chatting folksily about the “commewniteh”?”

Samantha Upward shudders when commentators say “Breggzit”.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

What's in a Name? 5

Violet-Elizabeth

Caro Stow-Crat speaking! I've just read some awfully good tips on dealing with people's names in the Times, by Sathnam Sanghera (or Satan Sinatra as some people call him). Here's the gist of what he said:

Never make a joke about someone’s name when you first meet them.
Never give someone a nickname without their permission.
Memorise the names of junior staff (and use them).
Make an effort with foreign names.

But not too much of an effort. If someone has Anglicised their name, don’t pronounce it as you think it should be said. And don’t be the only person still saying Marleen Dear-trick and Bob Geldorf.

It’s also rude (and unfunny after the first 50 times) to call George Osborne “Gideon”. It’s his first name, but he prefers his second name, George. It’s rude and unfunny to call Americans “Merkins”, too, though some people think it's hilarious.

Forcing your children to call an unrelated friend of the family "Aunty Mary" has gone out, thank goodness.

Strictly speaking, a "close" is an enclosed area around a cathedral, a "cross" is a market cross not a mall, and a house called “Something Lodge” is either a hunting lodge or the gate lodge to a big house. I cringe at "Whyteleafe" done in loopy wrought iron, but there are some genuine old houses with yyys: Tyntesfield, Compton Wynyates.


More about namesI have the feeling “vicar” is a bit naff, like “settee”. (HP)

You’re more likely to get a place at Oxbridge if your surname is of Norman origin (Pierrepoint, Somerville), latest research shows.
(Times July 2014)

Latest survey results show Amelia, Oscar and Oliver overtaking Tyler and Madison. (Aug 2014)
Superannuated girls’ names, per styleblazer.com: Blanche, Myrtle, Ethel, Barbara, Mildred, Agatha, Phyllis (they think it’s a combination of Phil and Willis), Beatrice, Marge, Ruth, Gretchen, Gertrude, Martha, Opal, Rose, Eleanor, Marlene.

They’re all called Margaret or Jean around here.
(Tim Wonnacott on Bargain Hunt)

Isabel has got to be the new Sharon, surely? (mumsnet)

A yougov poll shows which names are connected with which political party (May 2015)

Most likely to vote Tory: Charlotte, Fiona, Pauline
Labour: Michelle, June, Andy
LibDem: Tim, Kathryn, Samantha
UKIP: Jill, Nigel, Terry

Least likely to vote Tory: Sharon, Samantha, Clare
Lab: Nigel, Nick, Jonathan
LibDem: Lynne, Joan, June
UKIP: Tom, Rachel, Alex

Tom, Rachel and Alex shared a house in the 80s. They all had jobs in arts administration and ambitions to work in street theatre.

Eleanor, Peter, Simon, Anna, Katherine, Elizabeth, Richard, John and Stephen are likely to get into Oxford, while Stacey, Connor, Bradley, Reece, Danny, Kayleigh, Jade, Paige, Shannon and Shane have little chance. (bbc.co.uk, April 2014)

Pupils with names such as Kayleegh, Destiny, Haydon or Chantal tend to do less well at school as a result, while those with traditional names such as Laura or William do better. (Times 2014)

And Richard is more likely to get a job interview than Mohammed.

Comedian Arthur Marshall’s childhood friend imagined Jesus having children called Cynthia and Roland Christ. Upwards are never called Valmai, Maxine, Sheryl or Moira. Retro kids’ names have reached the Edwardian era, but maybe not to the point of Archibald or Gwladys.

More here, and links to the rest.


Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Classy Quotes 24

Raine Spencer
If I had more time, I'd write something on all the different ways that politicians try to rephrase what is essentially 'lower middle class'. (Charlotte L. Riley ‏@lottelydia 16 Nov 2016)

Their gifts were merely so many bribes, sent with a purpose which was easy enough to fathom. The donors wished to be invited to the wedding in the first place — after that, they sought to be included in our visiting-list, and foresaw invitations to our dinners and house-parties — and more than this, they calculated on our influence in society. (Marie Corelli, Sorrows of Satan)

Because of her background it was easy to underestimate Raine Spencer”, who foiled a plan to raze Covent Garden and replace it with motorways and tower blocks. (What was her prejudicial background? She was married to an Earl.)

[Working-class writer Colin Wilson] fell for Joy immediately, partly because he was impressed with her middle-class background: ‘When I heard Joy, I thought, “Oh marvellous, that’s what I want.”
(Beautiful Idiots and Brilliant Lunatics: A Sideways Look at Twentieth-Century London, Rob Baker)

I know misery does exist, but we don’t want it in our drawing rooms. (Raine Spencer But thanks for saving Covent Garden, Raine.)

‘What did your mater mean when she asked who I was? She got my name right.’ ‘You’re not supposed to ask that sort of question,’ said Hendon, then relented. ‘She meant who was your mother before she married your father. Women are always totting up people’s relations.’

The fashion papers wrote of a world that anyone could enter who had conventional manners, a respectable record, and a sufficiency of money.

Possibly his father had never heard of the Radlington Club – the small social club of ‘the real people’ – the inner core – at Oxford... ‘How does one get into the Radlington?’ ‘Oh, I dunno! When you come “up”, somebody you know asks you if you’d like to be a member, and the other members know you, or your relations have told ’em to look out for you, and then the secretary sends you a chit.’ Without leaders, without tangible organization, without policy except the preservation of Britain, they held aloof from domestic politics, ignored elections, but subtly coiled themselves round Governments in being.
(The Department of Dead Ends, Roy Vickers)

Realising that henceforth I could no longer lay claim to the title of "young lady," but must consider myself only in the light of a "young person," I thought perhaps it would be better for me to remain in the hall, so I sat down on the hat-rack in orthodox servant-girl fashion. (Adventures of an American Girl in Victorian London, Elizabeth L. Banks She was a journalist who went undercover as a servant.)

Pamela Popham, square-jawed and resolute as a big game-huntress, stared round the room through her spectacles, drank three cocktails, said: ‘My God!’ twice, cut two or three of her friends, and stalked off to bed. (Decline and Fall, Evelyn Waugh Aristocrats can be as rude as they want to – they’ll never be socially excluded. And the girl who behaves like this is mysteriously more popular than the one who tries hard to be likeable.)

Not everyone can belong to a club catering to a certain social class. Not everyone can climb the social ladder. (George Simenon, Maigret at the Coroner’s Maigret visits America and wonders why there are so few bars, restaurants and cafés in an army town, and why the ones that exist are so empty and dreary. He learns, when he’s taken to one, that everyone belongs to a “club” that’s also a bar, a restaurant and perhaps a casino. You join the club that exists for people like yourself, and never have to mix with the others.)

Millions of Britons are not mixing with people from a different age or ethnicity to themselves. (Figures from Dec survey by social integration charity, The Challenge, quoted by Huffpost.)

In England it is bad manners to be clever. (George Mikes)

Once I heard that a local mother had smothered her kids’ faces in self-tan cream the night before the school photo to make them look “prettier”. My first thought was “Ugh! How common!” My second was: “I’d have killed for that.” (Carol Midgley)

Everybody is liberal... but when the mask slips, they're terrible snobs. (Hugo Rifkind on an American drama series)

Children ran free, in safety. They knew the seasons, from broad beans to mistletoe, the names of trees, wild flowers, what was edible and what wasn't. They knew every bird that flew, every fish in the sea, in the river. They lived off land and sea - a shop-bought cake was a blot on the character (although tinned pineapple was conceded as exotic birthday fare). (Playwright Pam Gems reminiscing about life between the wars. Typical middle-class romanticising about children foraging for their own food! And children hardly knew the name of “every bird and fish”.)

More here, and links to the rest.

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Class and Décor in the works of Simon Brett

Mustard and olive

I’ve just read two of Simon Brett’s Charles Paris novels – Cast in Order of Disappearance and Amateur Corpse – back to back. They are early entries in a series that continued into the 90s, both published in the mid-70s. Charles is a usually out-of-work actor who has left his wife about 12 years before. His bid for adventure and freedom has led him no further than a dreary bedsit, with a rickety kitchen chair, yellow candlewick bedspread, and gas ring behind a plastic curtain. While picking up work here and there, Charles sometimes stumbles across mysteries or murders, and feels compelled to try and puzzle them out, usung the many characters he has played over the years as a disguise.

I find Charles likeable, despite his drink problem, and particularly appreciate Brett’s sharp eye for the contemporary scene.

“The Bricklayers’ Arms was one of those modem pubs that capture all the atmosphere of an airport lounge. Hanging red lights shone on leatherette couches and framed relief pictures of vintage cars.” What has happened to pubs like this? All re-Victorianised? Charles later drops into a “a coach lamp and horse brasses pub” patronised by the “the local Scampi and Mateus Rosé crowd”.

“The door was opened by a woman in a pale pink nylon housecoat and pink fur slippers. She had prominent teeth and dyed black hair swept back in the style of a souvenir Greek goddess. Her face was heavily made up and eye-lashed... She ushered him into a stuffy little room lit by bright spotlights. It was decorated in orange and yellow, with a leopardette three-piece suite covering most of the carpet. Every available surface was crowded with small brass souvenirs. Lincoln imps, windjammer bells, lighthouses, anchor thermometers, knights in armour, wishing wells... On the dresser two posed and tinted photographs rose from the undergrowth of brass.” Popular in the 30s, miniature brass ornaments have never made a comeback.

In one Nouveau Riche interior “all the walls were hung with hunting prints which were anonymously expensive, bought on advice by a man without natural taste. Two enormous china Dalmatians stood guarding the front door.” And “The front door had a brass lion knocker and was white, with small square Georgian panels. The up-and-over garage door was panelled in the same way. In fact the whole scheme of the house was Georgian, with thin-framed white windows set in neat red brick. It was exactly the sort of house that anyone in Georgian England who happened to own two cars, a central heating oil tank, a television and a burglar alarm would have had.

Inside Charles finds: “jungle wallpaper, a Raspberry Ripple carpet and a green leather three-piece suite”. Also a giveaway are “the miniature cluster of swords and axes tastefully set behind a red shield on the wall. And the three-foot-high china pony pulling a barrel. And the wrought iron drinks trolley with the frosted glass top and gold wheels.”

The couple who live here sport “saxe-blue silk shirts” (the man) and “rainbow lamé slippers” (the woman.

At the suburban house of his friend, a successful lawyer: “The conversion had consisted mainly of sticking cork tiles on every available surface... The pale green bath, basin, bidet and lavatory were modem and functional. Fluffy yellow towels hung from the heated rail... The walls were olive green and the floor was covered with the same mustardy carpet as the bedroom.”

Gerald “was wearing a double-breasted gangster-striped suit over a pale blue T-shirt. Around his neck hung a selection of leather thongs, one for a biro, one for a packet of Gauloise, one for a Cricket lighter and others whose function was not immediately apparent. His lapels bristled with badges, gollies, teddy bears, a spilling tomato ketchup bottle and similar trendy kitsch.”

Brett is exaggerating, but not much. There was a fashion for wearing a biro or cigarette lighter on a thong round your neck. Another female character wears “a P.V.C. apron with a design of an old London omnibus”. Plastics were trendy because modern, and you could print anything on them, including the retro kitsch popular at the time.

The apercus keep coming: “Charles remembered how cheap he had always found the emotionalism of Wagner’s outpourings... Again Charles was conscious of the other man’s need for him. He was being paraded for the benefit of Hugo’s local crowd.”

There is way too much about Charles’s drinking. He and others (and readers) assume that investigation is his hobby, and that he blunders around until the solution falls into his lap, but actually he behaves quite like a regular detective. He starts off noticing something that doesn’t add up, or wants to help out an old friend or girlfriend, and then does the usual pondering and legwork.

What makes these books particularly 70s, apart from the clothes and the décor? Censorship had disappeared less than a decade ago, and now we could say anything, and girls were on the pill, and you didn’t have to marry them... Brett veers between voyeuristic salaciousness, and a vision of how life would really be for a 50-ish actor in this brave new world. Charles has a rather unbelievable number of one-night stands, but wants to fall in love like a 17-year-old, while admitting to himself that this is unlikely to happen.

More décor here.