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The Book

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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

Latest Comments
The Periodic Table of the Middle Class
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    The best way of describing Jonathon and Claire is to say that their friends who are not members of The Hornby Set find visits to their house pleasant enough (Jonathon does the cooking, and always comes up with some incredibly elaborate stuff) yet somehow exhausting.

    Jonathon spent 18 months and three weeks researching bikes (John Hoppin, Flickr)

    Why? Because every detail of everything you do/eat/look at has a complex significance that has to be explained to you.

    Jonathon and Claire avoid your kind of olive oil, for instance, because while it says Italian, unless you buy single estate, the olives are probably imported from Spain and merely pressed in Italy. That photograph of Steve Hillage at Glastonbury in 1979 is in fact a limited edition, and reminds them of when you could smoke dope at the festival without undercover cops arresting you. Farrow & Ball is so class-ridden, with its obsession with old stately homes. Jonathon even likes talking cars now that they have greener engines, and go a decent speed (they were always going to buy a Prius but ended up getting an Audi; now they have a Lexus RX 450h).

    There is a reason for this. Jonathon and Claire are the descendents of the old 1970s and 1980s radical left-wingers who believed everything you did was political. As students at sit-ins and demos they confirmed each other’s conviction that the clothes you wore and even the food you ate was bound up with the global capitalist conspiracy. When they decided to give up on the revolution and change things from within, setting up ethical businesses or taking executive roles in the public sector, they carried on their politics through these consumer choices. There was a certain middle-class competitiveness to it all as well, of course. The Hornby Set are the people, more than any other, who invested environmentally-friendly products with the sort of green-upmanship that alienated sceptics.

    This obsession with their consumer choices means they feel compelled to know about everything; they love to appear to be polymaths, although genuinely polymath friends suspect they are “wiki-llectuals”, i.e they sometimes seem to swot up on the internet in order to drop facts into conversation. They always read all the information they are given at an exhibition even though they are bored by it; they comment on political blogs (usernames: Gangof_1 and Trot55) and cite things they have looked up on Wikipedia as if they actually knew them; and they love the way Stephen Fry and people in The West Wing seem to know so much. Their home offices are crammed with books that have been lent to them by others in the Hornby Set, just as they have lent theirs. “You must read this,” they say. “You’ll love it!”

    “Right, I will.”

    Of course no one ever does. They read the first few pages and a plot summary online, and bluff.

    A few years ago, Jonathon and Claire really felt they had arrived. They vaguely knew some of the people in the Labour government (including one cabinet minister who used to go on sit-ins with Claire. He was a dyed-in-the-wool Maoist in those days – Claire says she won’t tell but always spills the beans after a second glass of Malbec), and it seemed to represent more or less what they thought. The Hornby Set ideas seemed the Right Ideas – and they made good money. There were the two well-timed property deals. A pay rise for Jonathon when he masterminded a new, talked-about programme of social interventions with his public-sector organisation. The mail-order wholefoods business Claire ran, with the help of a couple of fantastic Latvian girls, boomed. It meant they could move again into the catchment area for a good state school for their children, Luka and Sam. Everything seemed right.

    Things feel a bit different now. Despite Claire’s belief that people would keep spending on quality during a recession, takings are well down, and Inga has had to be let go. Thankfully Jonathon’s wage can look after the both of them, but they can sense their friends’ resentment sometimes (“Please don’t let the conversation get on to bloody pensions again,” they tell each before dinner parties).

    And then there is the Luka and Sam problem. Jonathon and Claire are a little horrified and scared by their children. They encouraged them to do arty and altruistic activities. They used to eat Jonathon and Claire’s food, and check out the urban nature reserves they had donated to, all that sort of thing; now Luka and Sam are teenagers, though, their chief interests are as far removed from that sort of thing
    as possible. 

    Jonathon and Claire are not square parents – they’re on Facebook and Twitter (though Jonathon never checks his), and last year they really got into The X Factor, actually. Claire keeps up with fashion too, but she can’t understand why Sam likes that badly-made rubbish – though she doesn’t go to Primark, thank God. And at least she has an interest in clothes. All Luka wears are things that look a million sizes too big. They know he also smokes quite a lot of dope; they are hoping to contain this by being liberal, but they’re not sure. It has reopened some old arguments about the school; Claire always said they should send them private, but Jonathon made her feel guilty about it.

    As for the old Labour government – they gave up on them when it all came out about the Iraq war, and then the mess in Afghanistan; one thing you can say for the Hornbys is that they have a genuine moral repulsion for war – it is where their sentimentality about “the People” and their slightly showy rebellion has its sweet spot. They have washed their hands of the Labour Party now; secretly they are more comfortable with the coalition in as it means they can enjoy slagging off the government again – though what it will mean for Jonathon they just don’t know. It’s very much a “what-now?” moment, actually. Like all the modern middle classes, they replaced ideals with the principle of doing the best they could, and that seemed to do them very well for a while. Now, however, they feel as if they need another big idea.

    * What they don’t know is that the friends also resent Claire because while she bangs on endlessly about supermarkets ripping off food producers, the amount of profit she passes back to her suppliers is, to sat the least, highly questionable; Inga told one of the friends’ nannies all about it)


    How to spot the Hornby Set

    Dream jobs

    • Guardian relationships columnist
    • Organic food producer
    • UN ambassador for women

    Actual jobs

    • Primary school teacher
    • BBC resources coordinator
    • Child support operative

    Acceptable reading material

    • Word Magazine
    • Hari Kunzru
    • The Tipping Point

    Unnaceptable reading material

    • Zoo Magazine
    • Paulo Coelho
    • The Racing Post

    Acceptable pastimes

    • Blogging
    • Cycling
    • Crying 

    Unacceptable pastimes

    • Shooting
    • Fishing
    • Fighting

    Acceptable pin-ups

    • Donna Tartt
    • Lucinda Williams
    • Naomi Klein

    Unacceptable pin-ups

    • Anna Kournikova
    • Jenna Jameson
    • Dannii Minogue 

    Heroes and heroines

    • Germaine Greer
    • Alan Rusbridger
    • Will Self
    • Tracey Emin
    • Thom Yorke
    • Arsene Wenger
    • Ken Livingstone
    • Jarvis Cocker
    • Kirsty Wark
    • Chris Martin
    • Monica Ali
    • Julie Burchill
    • Peter Tatchell
    • Michael Moore
    • Jonathan Ive
    • Heston Blumenthal
    • Claire Short
    • Craig Brown
    • Nicole Kidman
    • Nick erm, whatsisname, wrote Fever Pitch?


    • Dubya ‘n’ Blair
    • Bowyer ‘n’ Woodgate
    • Ariel Sharon
    • Ian Paisley
    • Ronald McDonald
    • Phil Knight
    • Jim Davison
    • Gordon Ramsay
    • Andy McNab
    • OH, YES! / OH NO!
    • Noel Gallagher / Liam Gallagher
    • Man and Boy / Man and Wife
    • Nick Kent / David Brent
    • Angela Carter / Angela’s Ashes
    • Pro Choice / Pro Celebrity Golf


    They have two cats, which unaccountably hate each other. They’re called Carl and Sigmund. Which is a better joke than Yassir and Ariel, but only just.


    One thing it made me realise was how their whole world view is based on them being in a position of no power - and whether or not you think they have power or not depends on how you define power BUT what they do have a near monopoly on is influence. They control ideas.

    They have pioneered a new kind of "positive consumerism". With their newly-acquired wealth they express their politics with buying power. In the 80s they were so washed up they decided you had to fight fire with fire, hence Gordon Brown's conversion to enterprise. They bought fair trade instead of boycotts and demos, and decided you had to fight in the marketplace with cash. This convenently made it OK to make all the money and try to hold positions of power.