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


    Irrational holiday annoyances #3: Thief-proof coat hangers

    You know what we mean – those hangers that eschew proper hooks for knobbed stalks that fit into a rail, looking ugly and being a pain to take in and out of the wardrobe. The anxiety about hanger-theft seems misguided in an age when IKEA sells wooden hangers for pennies. It’s a Travelodge-level measure that has no place in a nice, modern hotel. Bah, etc.

    Flickr: miss_Kcc 

    Murdoch’s disastrous PR strategy, and how you can tell he can’t cope with the internet

    We were just talking about our favourite tweeter this is most pleasing because of the sense you get that the Murdochs don’t really get Twitter and the social network aspect of the web; this is, after all, the family company that managed to destroy MySpace within months. Their PR strategy has noticeably leaden and slow, as if operating at the pace of the old days, when you could control information flows more easily; remember Brooks speech to doomed NOTW staff, when she said more, and more momentous, information would come out in the next 12 months? Either there is an incredible amount of it still backed up, or she still felt they could control the flow to an extent.

    Similarly, Murdoch appeared to believe he could wait before he came over, and that that awful, grinning TV appearance with Brooks in Mayfair would project winning confidence. Alas for him, Twitter now allows you to ask questions such as “God, are they offensively smarmy or is it me?” and get the answer immediately, and signal to journalists what the public opinion is. (Don’t underestimate the extent to which national journalists do this; one online editor recently told me forums, click-through figures and Twitter allowed them “hone and adjust their content constantly”.)

    It’s interesting that the one person who seems to have understood what was happening to the family is Elizabeth – married to a PR man, she could arguably be the best placed to understand. It used to be said that it was the advent of computer technology that brought down the USSR, because the old power structures of the Kremlin couldn’t cope with the speed of its development. It could be argued that the internet, and people like @ExNOTWJourno2 are doing the same for one of late capitalism’s most powerful figures. It’s not Twitter has damaged them so much as the speed of information exchange of which Twitter is now a symbol.

    This afternoon Rupert and James Murdoch must contend with a very modern media situation; a televised hearing, available to view and hear across a variety of “platforms”, with a backchannel of comment and judgement that will highlight and share the tics, mistakes and any economies of truth. It will be interesting to see if the overlords of the old world can cut it in the new one. 


    How to be middle class: The leaving do

    Although some more refined people still sneer at the phenomenon, the extravagant celebration of milestone events has become a key part of mainstream middle-class life over the last decade. Significant birthdays, anniversaries, housewarmings and welcome-homes now seem quiet, bare affairs unless they involve elaborate surprises, shop-bought balloons and streamers, one-off cake toppers, specially-printed T-shirts and gift collages compiled by the guests. Predictably, as every conventional milestone has been identified and commercialised, so new ones are being found and subjected to the same treatment; and most conspicuous among these is the extravagant work leaving do.

    I was recently harangued, via group email, into recording a video best-wishes-for-the-future message on my phone, and sending it off to be compiled into a leaving video for a fellow employee that I had actually worked with for no more than about 40 hours. The leaving do included a card (signed by everyone of course), multiple gateaux, much Prosecco into which everyone wept, and a compilation CD of songs that meant something or other to people in the departee’s department. Afterwards everyone went to the pub, drank hard for five hours, and in most cases got off with other members of staff. The preparation took about two weeks, and the discussion about the actual event lasted a good three days once we came back on Monday.  I liked the woman, but this seemed to be about more (or less) than thanking her and well-wishing; it was like a small, random mini-carnival with speeches.

    I know from friends this is far from uncommon in workplaces up and down the country – although to be fair, this sort of do does tend to be orchestrated by a specific cabal of like-minded women and gay men in each office. Some attendees (especially alt-middles) try to sneak out quickly, but really the modern, mainstream middle-class way is to play along and enjoy it, while insisting that it’s soooo sad and you will miss him/her soooo much and saying things like “do you remember that time Rachel broke the photocopier with her lipstick?” I have theorised that this is part of a contemporary need to create a heightened, excited sense of reality closer to than on television, but I’m not sure, to be honest; it might well have more to do with another middle-class trend, i.e. the one to drink dangerous amounts of alcohol wherever and as often as possible.

    Flickr: wetwebwork

    “It is high time someone explained to you about good manners. Yours are obvious by their absence and I feel sorry for you.” Why The Mother-In-Law From Hell might have point but is, in the end, a villain

    After two days of media, social network and pub debate, we are reaching a consensus opinion on Carolyn Bourne, Heidi Withers an the now-infamous mother-in-law-from-hell email. It’s obvious that Heidi a) can be rude, especially at the table, and b) hated her future parents in law even before the email. The latter point is given away by Carolyn’s bitch about late-rising; we’ve all been tempted to stay in bed as long as we can to try to avoid having to make conversation with them over breakfast, Heidi, so Cazza probably knew what you were about. A hangover was and is no excuse; dealing with the in-laws with a regretful bad head is a rite of passage, and you should get over it.

    Given that most people have some sympathy for Carolyn, it is interesting to ask where she overstepped the mark and became offensive.  If you’re reading, Carolyn, here is our brief guide to the modern good manners, which you appear to be lacking.

    1 If you want to admonish or complain, do not send an email or letter. The British of all classes have unspoken beliefs that a) if you want to insult someone you should do it verbally and in person, and b) letter-writers are cowardly, and likely to be pompous.

    2 If you must send a letter, try to use simple and direct language rather than over-complex sentences. The latter make you sound as if you are trying to be intelligent than you are, and like a bully.

    3 The worst sentence of the lot, and the one where you lose any sympathy you may have had, is the most Hyacinth Bouquet-esque one : “I understand your parents are unable to contribute very much towards the cost of your wedding. “There is nothing wrong with that except that convention is such that one might presume they would have saved over the years for their daughters’ marriages.” Carolyn, Carolyn, Carolyn; elthough the British often judge people on the basis of wealth and parentage, they never, ever admit this, even to themselves. And even the snobbiest among them believe you shouldn’t visit the sins of the parents on the child.

    4 If you have a point to make, make it without trying to communicate your own good taste at the same time. Many people will share your irritation at young people demanding elaborate weddings that they can’t afford. But saying “No one gets married in a castle unless they own it. It is brash, celebrity style behaviour,” is incorrect, out of date and pretentious. Since the 1990s it’s been the height of pretension to deny any interest in “celebrity” behaviour, because we all know we’re all susceptible. One wonders what Carolyn’s reaction would be if an agent dropped by the nursery and enquired about a discount for his her client, Kristen Scott Thomas.

    5 Don’t put the point that is clearly the one that has really annoyed you (insulting the Bourne family in the pub)  in the middle of list of grievances. It makes it clear you’re motivated by personal offence.

    6 Don’t bring small children or animals into it, as you did when you claimed Heidi had made your pet dog Bomber (Bomber?) ”profoundly upset, depressed and anxious’. This makes you seem at best manipulative, and at worst unhinged.

    If you feel the need to act on any of these points, please get in touch; the Middle Class Handbook offers an excellent “finishing” service which could help if you wish to be accepted by wider British society. 



    Lost and Found #5: The Serving Hatch

    The British middle classes’ love affair with the serving hatch budded in the late Fifties, bloomed in the Sixties and Seventies, and went to seed in the Eighties. By the time open-plan and minimalism arrived in the Nineties, the divorce between it and Good Taste was inevitable, and these days, a quick Google reveals the extent of the estrangement; the majority of links on the first page are to forums on which people are swapping tips for filling them in.

    For me, this is a shame. Perhaps because I grew up in an old house that didn’t have such mod cons, I always felt serving hatches were glamorous things, the closest a wall could come to being a gadget, unless you counted (another loss) wall-mounted telephones. They belonged to the optimism of the Fifties and Sixties, and spoke of a belief that life could be made increasingly more efficient (think of all that time you’d save over the course of 10 years by not having to walk through the door!) until suburban existence became space-aged and perfect.

    They were also tremendous fun for kids. I remember my aunty moving to a new housing development in Bradford in the late 1970's, and her demonstrating her louvre-doored hatch on my family’s first visit. Afterwards, my cousins and I concocted an entire game in which (I think) the hatch became an airlock in a space ship; that’s not the sort of thing you could do so readily in a minimalist loft, not once you’d exhausted the possibilities of the beanbags anyway. That’s why to me, as well as signifying optimism, they also seemed part of a playfulness to home design that has slipped out of fashion to be replaced by heavy-handed, TV-dictated tastefulness.

    According to some of those Google pages, some homes are still built with them, which is a pleasing thought, and one that makes me think a mass revival could be possible. In the meantime, I dream of partitioning my kitchen-diner, just so I could make one of those delightful little holes with MDF doors, and pass my family breakfast in the mornings; food always tastes better once it’s come through the Death Star’s airlock, you know. 

    Flickr: j0hncooke
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