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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 Sheila Speed (131)


    Is M&S really still the definitive shop on the British High Street?

    As I read the recent news stories about the declining sales at M&S, I found myself wondering if we all still really care that much? Of course M&S remains a treasured icon of British retail, but when stories about its stumbling first hit about 20 years ago now, it felt like real news that said something about Britain’s changing tastes. These days M&S really isn’t that sort of default shop where you can rely on decent taste and quality; if you want an OK top for work, say, you are just as likely to find it in Next or (more likely) Zara.

    A journalist friend tells me some papers with younger readers are not carrying M&S stories any more for this very reason. And this leads me to ponder whether we should in fact be looking to different shop chains for that mix of soap-opera-ish success-and-failure cycles and socio-econimic bellwether-ism. If so, what would be the contenders? I’d suggest the following five:

    1 Zara

    Never mind that it’s Spanish. Once Mary Berry had worn it, it was clear that it above all else had a nose for comfortable suburban aspiration. And Zara Home is like what you wish M&S interiors were like.

    2 Next

    Unglamorous yes, but rather unappreciated on the whole. Outdoes M&S for reliability, and doesn’t have those tent-like florals and washed-out colours that make you think you’re in the wrong place.

    3 John Lewis and Waitrose

    Yes, we would say that. But Waitrose is miles better than M&S Food, which has been trading on its reputation to shove out cheap rubbish for miles too long. And John Lewis does kindly mother-substitute staff better than anyone.

    4 Primark

    We could have said Boden, but we would have been deceiving ourselves. A big part of M&S success was always its competitive pricing, and unless or until IKEA goes into clothing, Primark does “competitive pricing” better than anyone. Lacks that sort of moral dimension M&S used to have, but then that’s had a lower profile recently anyway.

    5 Chic Outlet Shopping Villages

    One for the future, as so far there is only one in the UK, at Bicester. But does anywhere quite capture the determination to do “nice” and a bit “exclusive” for a bargain price quite like Bicester Village? The last time I went, I saw at least two women dressed and groomed almost exactly like Kate Middleton, which said it all.

    Flickr: rubber bullets

    The awfulness of this year’s Apprentice; what price the Badger in 2013? 

    “I like to keep my class and my dignity,” sulked The Apprentice’s Sophie Lau as she was fired from the programme earlier this week. But without wishing to be mean – Sophie was one of the more dignified contestants – one has to say that she might have chosen the wrong show for that.

    This year’s Apprentice features among its female team the most preening and distastefully-dressed group of business Barbies ever to “grace” the show; the flesh, sky-high-heels and predictable cattiness is reminiscent of the days when producers were trying to keep Big Brother afloat with glamour models. Luisa might have attracted most of the bad press but it’s the sight of the overly made-up mass pouting in presentations that is really depressing.

    This was once the reality show that the middle classes could enjoy because it had some intellectual content, and the BBC is making a huge mistake if this direction is to be permanent. The producers seem to have forgotten the best-loved female contestant of all time was a flat-shoed, un-made-up down to earth lass from Birmingham. Bring back the Badger, we say.


    Is there anything worse than an "ice-breaker"?

    Have you been through that moment at a brain-storming session or training day when the leader of the session makes you do a peculiar brain-testing exercise with someone you don’t know, just to “get things going”?

    At the training days I have to go on as a teacher you have to do loads, and I have found myself having to, among other things, confess the most embarrassing thing I’ve ever done, work out how you would carry water without a bucket, and mime being part of a football crowd.

    On one particularly awful occasion, I was told to sketch the person on my right; fine in theory, but she was hugely obese, so what to do? (I just did her face). They’re all excruciatingly embarrassing, and not actually ice-breakers at since all anyone wants to do at the end of them is get away from the other person. I’ve always felt these actually make it easier for the leader, because they get to waste half an hour that they’re presumably getting paid for.


    The Voicemail Etiquette debate: the time has come to name and shame the Phone Rambler

    Yesterday The Guardian’s Oliver Burkeman sparked a Twitter debate about voicemail etiquette with his response to a New York Times piece claiming that leaving voicemails rather than sending texts was rude. That claim seems rather strong to us, as it did to Oliver, but we cannot let this pass without an accusing glance at the person (well, type of person) who has helped to make voicemail so unattractive. I refer to the Phone Rambler, that often endearing person who is verbose enough in face-to-face communication, and on voicemail messages seemingly out of control. The Phone Rambler, who can be any age, male or female, never says just “can you call me?” Rather, they fill your entire inbox with gush whose exact point is unclear, and which usually ends with a truncated apology “sorry to leave such a rambling messa-“ click. The fear that somewhere near the end they might leave some awful, life-changing news once led us to bear with the message, but it seems more and more people are just deleting midway through – and we can only say it serves them right. Four letter for the future, Phone Rambler: T-E-X-T.


    The awkwardness of choosing what to watch on television on visits to friends houses 

    For many of the British middle classes, January is a time of weekend visits to friend's houses – usually the result of having tried to organise something over Christmas, and then saying “let’s do something in the New Year” (while secretly hoping that in reality you’ll both forget).

    This is fine so long as you have a good host, or you know the people very well, but I’ve just come back from a visit to people I don’t know all that well, and at times it was awful. Most awful were the evenings when we sat around supposedly “just chilling” and watching TV, mainly because our hosts clearly had programmes they wanted to watch, but felt obliged to ask my boyfriend and I what we wanted.

    If I suggested something that they obviously didn’t like, I felt like I was imposing my choice on them (“fine, no, we’ve never watched Celebrity Big Brother, it’ll be interesting!”). If I let them choose, but then talked too much over footage of African wildebeest, they replied in tense monosyllables. If they chose and I then mistakenly revealed I’d seen the programme before, they went into a flurry of apologies and insisted on changing the channel and beginning the tortuous process yet again.

    I sometimes wonder if the middle classes are still not quite comfortable with the television; whatever, it’s all quite enough to make me long for proper middle class evening entertainments such as Scrabble or Bridge.