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The Book

Out now at Amazon | Waterstones

Middle Class Handbook on Twitter
Chattering Class

Prince Harry

Even republicans approve, surely?

Microwaving tea

Recommended by scientists, apparently. Disgusting

No televised election debates

Disappointing; we were rather looking forward to May vs The Sturge


Olivia Coleman = nailed-on Future National Treasure

Spring Bank holidays

Too close together! Very bad!


“I queued for THREE BLOODY HOURS at B&Q for a new recycling bin! The entire town’s in CHAOS”


To be listened to whole on a long journey for maximum effect

Using a proper paper map

Strangely satisfying

The “Flash” Flash ad

It’s back! Possibly the best ever singing dog in an advert ever

Crap tacos

Reheated, with too much chilli: middle-class kebabs, basically

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    Secret Snob #18: traditional Welsh blankets

    The duvet has a lot to answer for. Much as it revolutionised middle-class life, it also meant blankets, and the blanket box, ceased to be essential items, disappearing as we de-cluttered our households and embraced our continental lifestyles.

    On the plus side, once something is no longer “essential” we can start to appreciate its finer qualities and move it into the category of items classed “object of desire”. On that basis, it’s time to stand back and appreciate the work of craft that is the traditional Welsh blanket.

    You’ll be vaguely familiar with the pattern: a checked arrangement of fuzzy squares and lozenges – currently being replicated on tea trays and lampshades by admiring designers – and the slightly coarse texture of the thick, woven wool. These are heavy-duty blankets for a pre-central heating world.

    Over in Pembrokeshire, Melin Tregwynt is wooing the design shop market with some contemporary patterns and mid-century modern crossovers, while Trefriw Woollen Mills in the Conwy Valley stick so closely to tradition that they even spin their own wool. But today we are heading to Rock Mill at the heart of Welsh blanket country on the Ceredigion/Carmarthenshire border. Not only is it the last water-driven woollen mill in Wales (check out the water wheel), but the low stone mill was built by the present owner’s great-grandfather. 


    More small shop awkwardness  

    While we’d be the first to champion small independent shops, there are times when their enforced intimacy can cause the polite middle class person to experience mild discomfort.

    Take for example when you go in to find a specific item and you can clearly see that they don’t have said item, but feel compelled to ask anyway. Probably because they’ve been friendly and/or desperate for a sale and asked, ‘Are you looking for anything in particular?’ Now, the body language of someone ‘looking for something in particular’ (purposeful) is very different from that of someone who is ‘just browsing’ (casual feigned interest), so the shopkeeper’s not going to be fooled. Or maybe you ask because you don’t want to seem the sort of person who strides in to a shop and strides straight out again. You feel compelled to make it clear that you haven’t been shoplifting before people start looking at you weirdly.

    Worse is when the shop has said item clearly on view, but you don’t like any of the varieties of said item that they stock. You can hardly ask, ‘Do you have any item X, but not the rubbish and rather ugly ones you have on the shelf?’ 

    And if they helpfully go into their storeroom, rummage around for a while, cross check stock on their computer and perhaps risk a minor injury by clambering up a rickety step ladder, then eventually emerge with the item you asked for, how uncomfortable are you going to feel when you have to reject it to their face because it’s not up to your own high standards? How long can you gabble away making up apologetic excuses as to why it’s not quite right? 

    Or are you going to feel so embarrassed it’ll be easier just to buy it?

    Flickr: chocobos

    What does your lampshade reveal about you?  

    Just over 200 years since Sir Humphry Davy invented the arc lamp, and 100 since Thomas Edison developed those ideas into a practical domestic light source, the lightbulb has been causing as many problems as it solved. Namely, how best to keep it covered. So, how do you shade yours?

    Drum-shaped shade with a modern print – Maybe bold line drawings of leaves or foxes. In a colourway that goes with the rest of your studiously modern-but-homely home. The John Lewis home furnishings department makes you a bit excitable. As do the property pages of the local free magazine. You probably own a couple of Kilner jars.

    Modernist Danish shade, especially the Norm69 – It seemed like a good idea at the time. It would demonstrate that you truly appreciate design and can handle hard edges. No House and Garden for you. It’s Wallpaper* all the way. Unfortunately you didn’t realise how hard it would be to a) assemble, and b) dust.

    Baby Plumen bulb – the anti-shade. Just a bare (designer) bulb. Whoa, you really are urban! Lampshades are for wimps. This is a design classic and a philosophical statement. A piece of functional purity. It looks perfect in your loft apartment, ironically-industrial rural retreat or coffee-shop start up. 

    Plain white paper lantern – Only acceptable if you recently left home, or are a student or intern trying to make your rental pad feel more homely on a limited budget. 

    Light ‘fittings’ – These are not merely coverings to be slipped over an eco lightbulb and clipped to a plastic cable, these are complete ensembles hanging from their own chrome cables. It’s all about detailing. And being able to afford an electrician to install it. Which is why you are more a Heal’s customer than an Ikea one.

    Chandeliers – dismissed as being OTT, a bit ‘ideas above your station’, but that’s by people who don’t live in houses as big as yours. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of bling, as long as your interior designer offsets it with some more pared-back contemporary pieces. Which they have.

    Tapered shade – This used to be the only shape a lampshade came in. Which is why we’d now do anything to avoid it. Generally now only found in rental properties, or homes over-70 chintz-botherers. Which means an ironic revival must be imminent.


    What will your 2014 calendar say about you?  

    In a family or shared household, the wall calendar is God, allowing people to essentially ‘bagsie’ particular days or evenings. Write it on the calendar first and it’s officially happening, ergo anyone who might have made conflicting plans is going to have to fit in around you. 

    These things usually hang in public spaces in the house such as the hall or the kitchen, so you need to be sure that it’s giving out the right messages:

    Art gallery or museum calendar

    This is a small assertion of self-confidence and self-knowledge. A good way of expressing something fundamental about yourself to visitors or – if you only like the impressionists because their work has pretty colours and looks good on a tea towel – at least painting a public face. 

    One made online using family photos

    Firstly, congratulations. It’s the sort of thing most of us think we’ll get round to doing at some point – perhaps as a well-meaning present for gran – but simply don’t. Either you are super organised, or you have too much time on your hands. Are you on the PTA committee at school? You should be.

    Landscapes/natural history

    These are like living with a year-long BBC natural history programme, but without having David Attenborough or Neil Oliver in your kitchen. We’re guessing you spend a lot of time watching BBC natural history programmes, possibly repeatedly on box set. 


    If you’re a teenager, fair enough, you are too young to know better. If you are doing it ironically, then it’s probably easier to pull off if you’re gay, own novelty slippers or habitually feed all the cats in the neighbourhood.

    Google calendar 

    Or similar online organisational app. You’ve taken care not just to organise your own life but also everyone else’s. With the ability to share a communal calendar and to input appointments wherever you are, so everyone can know at all times exactly where they, and everyone else, need to be at any one time. The flaw? It relies on everyone else being as efficient as you and actually updating their info.


    The Annual Dilemma of Choosing a Diary

    It may come as a shock to some people (my friends, for example, are scandalised) but some of us still use actual diaries – those pleasing notebooks, carefully bound, occasionally illustrated, and divided up into handy sections in which you can write (with an actual pen) what you plan to do on any given day. 

    There is something extremely satisfying about snapping the elastic closer back around the book after entering a forthcoming appointment, or carefully replacing the ribbon bookmark as the date changes. And don’t get me started on the rounded corners. Mmmm…

    However this commitment to paper comes at a price, for every year at about this time it forces you to make a difficult decision – do you stay wedded to the same make and style of diary that you’ve had the year before, and probably several years before that, or is it finally time for a change?

    Say, for example, you’ve been using a black Moleskine week-per-view for the past few years, do you go a bit wild and say, switch to an equally desirable MC brand (those Leuchtturm ones are nice)? Inject some colour into your life with an on-trend turquoise?

    Will a different format cause you to completely change your approach to how you organise your life? In terms of extras, would a spreadsheet of international holidays be more or less useful than lists of international dialling codes or flight durations (when you probably look both up on the internet anyway)? And, hardest of all, what are you going to keep in that extra pocket at the back?