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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

Broadchurch

Olivia Coleman = nailed-on Future National Treasure

Spring Bank holidays

Too close together! Very bad!

Bin-mageddon

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

S-Town

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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The Periodic Table of the Middle Class
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    Entries in Richard B (45)

    Wednesday
    Mar282012

    The Archers may be rubbish, but so are James Delingpole’s ideas about English villages

    I know I’m going to go against mainstream middle-class opinion here, but I wasn’t sure I completely agreed with James Delingpole’s recent attack on The Archers. The Archers is rubbish, and yes it can seem to have BBC notions of “relevance” and “diversity” clumsily nailed on, but Mr Delingpole seems at times to be arguing that British villages have only white, British, straight, middle-class people in them.

    The village in which I grew up was in rural, Tory-voting Yorkshire, and in a population of 600, we had a black American, a white Vietnam veteran, two Germans (one an ex-POW to whom the travelling butcher would not speak), a lady vicar, about a dozen Scots, one bloke I knew to be gay because he was my friend, and another who everyone knew was, but it was supposed to be a secret. My brother still lives there and is married to a Chinese lady, there’s a Chinese restaurant in a village down the road, and the landlord of a local pub is married to a Thai bride. I could go on, but you see my point.

    I am certainly not a bleeding-heart Guardianista – as it happens, I write about the countryside for the same newspaper as Mr Delingpole. I am not arguing that villages are as diverse as cities – for one thing, people who don’t fit into the stereotype get driven out to urban areas by attitudes celebrated by Mr Delingpole – but nor are they the cosy, predictable places of Sunday night telly.

    My question for him and the many people who support him would be, what ratio of non-white and gay people would you allow in The Archers? And how would you come to that conclusion?

    Tuesday
    Mar062012

    The Last Post: the last few letters you get for the previous resident of your home

    Anyone who has ever moved into a home that has been previously occupied will know that for years afterwards, one keeps on receiving mail for the people who lived there before you. I don’t mean the personal letters that will be diverted under a mail-forwarding arrangement, but the thin drip of mailing-list and semi-official-looking statements that the intended recipients have, presumably, failed to cancel or have redirected. I, for example, still get herbalist catalogues and statements from an Isle of Man bank for our home’s former owners, and as we never knew them, this sometimes leads me to fantasise about them; was he a banker with a hippyish wife? Did they have an herbal enterprise? What might they have grown in the conservatory? I enjoy these fantasies, and have even sometimes discussed them with my wife, but it’s not the first time I have fallen into such musings; looking back, I can actually remember other bits of weird mail, and my conjectures about it. I’ve listed some below. Do I open the letters? Yes. After two years, this is permissible, according to a rule of middle-class etiquette I have just made up.

    1. Vast number of leaflets about classical music concerts, flat in Camden, North London, 1992

    Eventually convinced myself previous resident had been a notable, and perhaps obsessed classical musician. Theory knocked by friend whose Dad is a classical musician; says they don’t go to many concerts when off-duty.

    2. Hand-written A5 envelopes, flat in Leeds, 1988

    A spurned former lover, obviously, or perhaps an unacknowledged child! In fact badly photocopied flyers from a small local pub that put on gigs.

    3. Statements from small Isle of Man bank, house in West London, recent

    Criminal, of course; perhaps a small-time provincial gangster! In fact an American who worked in financial services.

     4. Polythene-wrapped copies of free magazine about food processing equipment, plus occasional mailings from a small airport used by private flyers just outside Lincoln, also recent

    Not that exciting, but led me to wonder how rich said person is, and if he could be a food magnate. I have no idea how rich you have to be to fly a private plane.

    5. Note from postman about undelivered package for man who had moved out two years ago, maisonette in North London 2002

    I felt bad about this, and wondered if I should try to collect it and contact him. In the end took the only possible action, i.e. left it on entrance hall table until it was too late to do anything. 

    Flickr: And all that Malarkey
    Thursday
    Feb022012

    How to be middle-class; inventing things to worry about when there’s nothing wrong

    Despite the fact that most of us seem to love smart phones, we also spend a lot of time complaining about how they cause more stress in our daily lives.

    People from work can always get hold of you; you can’t help looking at your emails even though you know it will ruin your weekend; friends tell you about their latest apps rather than their news. And so on.

    When I heard about a recent study by Worcester University about people suffering from smart phone withdrawal, I couldn’t help wondering if a) we all secretly enjoy being stressed and b) as a result we now invent things to be stressed about. I have identified at least five new emerging middle-class stresses that I think could soon rival that identified by the Worcester study.

    1. Punctuality-fear: the stress resulting from the Ocado delivery actually arriving on time when you had banked on it being late
    2. Deceptive discipline syndrome: occurs when your children have been really well behaved, so you worry that they’re hiding the fact that they’ve done something wrong
    3. Tradesman suspicion: resulting from workmen finishing the job in your house on time and on budget, so you fret that they haven’t done the job properly
    4. Fake Sincerity Anxiety: crops up when everyone who came to your dinner party says they enjoyed it and the food was nice, so you worry that they’re just being polite
    5. Inverted laziness: the nagging feeling that comes when your boss hasn’t overloaded you with extra work this week, meaning that you worry that they’re not happy with the work you’ve done
    Tuesday
    Jan172012

    How To Be Middle Class: Introducing yourself to new neighbours

    We’ve all seen those American films in which newcomers to a neighbourhood are greeted with fresh-baked pies and cheery introductions from the folks next door, but I suspect that very few home-movers have experienced this in Britain. The British middle classes are more diffident; not so much anti-social as socially anxious, worried that the new people might be busy, or not keen on meeting at the moment. This easily lapses into not-really-knowing-the-neighbours, which we don’t really want either; is there a way, perhaps, to manage the situation from the newcomers’ side? Anything you can do to make friends as you move in? Well, yes, actually. The Middle Class Handbook has three tips:

    1 Appeal for help

    The British might be shy, but they are great in crises – not least because crises are an excuse to overcome shyness. So asking for help might well get the ball rolling, and will be a lot less awkward than “Hi, we’ve just come to introduce ourselves…” When you move in, go around and ask for as much help as you dare; the name of a good plumber is the most basic, and will lead to conversation about local services. Tools are the next step up (but you MUST return them) and if they have strapping lads and lasses, physical help getting furniture upstairs is always an ice-breaker – and gives an opening for a small, follow-up gift (wine is fine – and have a glass if they offer to open it when you’re there.)

    2 Be gauche

    Unless they were on close terms with the former residents, your neighbours will be curious about the inside of your house (everyone is curious about the inside of other people’s houses, hence the huge number of magazines featuring them). One of our bloggers once went round to the new neighbour, and asked a) if they’d look after a spare key and b) if they’d like to come and see the inside of the house. In fact they had been on bad terms with the previous residents who had also done lots of conversion work, and were dying to see it; they quickly became firm friends.

    3 Wait until Christmas

    If you’re confident and chatty, you can invite the neighbours to a little drinks party, and Bob’s your uncle. If you’re not, such events can be slightly excruciating. Our advice is to wait until December, and do one then. Christmas throws up endless conversation topics (families, travel, mulled wine recipes etc etc) and, as it’s a busy time, no one will mind if you wrap things up early (useful if neighbours turn out to be a less-than-ideal company).

    Flcikr: SallyB2
    Friday
    Jan062012

    Nice package! The under-appreciated art of supermarket own-label design

    The Middle Class Handbook has the greatest respect for Johnny Trunk, and this is only deepened by the publication of his new book Own Label: Sainsbury’s Design Studio 1962-1977. This collection of classic Sainsbury’s Own Label packaging (examples are at the link above; do have a peruse, they are beautiful) is a must-have for us, and is a reminder of how nicely-designed food packaging can be a truly life-affirming thing. It’s got us thinking about supermarket branding and design in 2012; we don’t think the current Sainsbury work is anything to get excited about (the best you can say about that kiddy-ish font they use in ads and in-store displays is that it has  a love-it or hate-it quality), but some of its competitors have some lovely touches that may well be remembered with fond nostalgia in years to come. Here’s our top five; we’d love to know yours.
     
    1 Waitrose Own Label packaging
    The closest we have to the old Sainsury’s design studio - clean, modern and classic-yet-contemporary. Best of all; the cheese, particularly Gorwydd’s Aged Caerphilly.
     
    2 The Lidl logo
    No cheap Lidl cracks please, everyone knows the squeezed middle adopted it years ago. The logo has nice nursery-ish colours, and that cheeky little tilting “i” is just pleasing, somehow.
     
    3 M&S’ Own Label Home Baking range
    Baking is a tricky business, and one often needs a bit of reassurance. M&S' dependable reputation means that using its ingredients can bring such a feeling, and the elegant yet friendly look of the bottles and packets reinforces this. And the Organic Vanilla Essence bottles are very pleasing to hold.
     
    4 The Spar tree
    Spar shops are a bit like Wimpys – impossible to pass without thinking, “Oh, are they still going then? Good.” Brand-wise it’s hard to think what they stand for, really, but the pine tree inside the circle is gorgeous.
     
    5 Morrison’s Value range
    Wouldn’t really want it in a middle-class kitchen, as it lacks the reverse-chic cachet of Lidl, but still, it’s nice and clean, and reminds us of the early 1970s.