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Capital

Very interesting but does anyone really know how to pronounce Piketty?

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The Periodic Table of the Middle Class
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    Monday
    Nov172014

    The most MC TV ads you’ll see this Christmas

    For a concentrated shot of class values, this season’s much-discussed TV ads are a great place to go. There’s that Sainsbury’s ad of course (the one that rips off Paul McCartney’s Pipes of Peace), but you won’t find more juicy nuggets of insight into middle-class beliefs than in the John Lewis and Waitrose offerings.

    This year, their ads explore a theme close to middle-class hearts – the Sensitive Child. John Lewis brings us the tale of a boy with an imaginary penguin friend while Waitrose tells the story of a girl who overcomes her lack of confidence to run the school gingerbread stall.

    Parallels between the two ads are interesting. In both, the child is slightly at odds with their social environment. Not seriously, dysfunctionally out-of-kilter, just a little different, a little awkward. John Lewis Boy plays with his penguin while the other kids play together. Waitrose Girl looks awkwardly down while her classmates all shoot their hands up to be gingerbread nominee.

    What could be more middle class than that? The fantasy of the Sensitive Child means being special and different. There may be a price to pay in social awkwardness, but it’s well worth it.

    Another interesting feature of the ads is their sense of loneliness. John Lewis Boy and Waitrose Girl both have inner journeys to undertake in these ads – and as they do so they’re largely on their own. Caring parents look on with concern from a distance – OK, Waitrose Girl does get one hug. But deep down, life’s lessons have to be learned independently.

    That’s another major middle-class belief. You have to be self-reliant and can’t depend too much on other people. Life is an individual quest and not always something that’s easy to share.

    For a window onto a totally different universe, the Tesco ad is worth a look.

    No awkwardness and no sensitive children here – Christmas is an outer not an inner experience: about lights, sharing and fun, not long dark nights of the soul. Phew.

    Friday
    Oct312014

    Halloween Pumpkin as Status Symbol: A guide to Britain’s conspicuous carvers

     

    Is it just in my own north London locale, or have the middle classes become quietly competitive about Halloween pumpkin carving? I know people have experimented before, but this year it all seems to have moved up a level: on my street, a café has a window display of pumpkins “carved by a local artist”, my neighbour has told me she is doing FOUR for her balcony, and on Facebook I have already seen two jack o’lanterns decorated with stencil-assisted outlines of film characters. It’s become the autumnal, MC version of competing to see who can have the most Christmas lights: where will it end? And how long, I wonder, before Britain gets American-style pumpkin-carving classes?

    So far, the conspicuous carvers fall into five tribes, here’s a quick guide:

    1 The Artist

    Holes are not good enough for the artist; instead they peel off the outer skin and carve a realistic (if scary) human face in it. Clearly begun in early September. Showy.

    2 The Classicist

    A traditional, scary face, but with dozens of uniformly-sized, perfectly-pointed teeth that must have taken hours to do. May backfire by making small children cry – but then this isn’t actually about the children, is it? Frightening, in more ways than one.

    3 The Stenciller

    Downloaded a stencil of a classic Star Wars scene last week and has been busy ever since. His (and let’s face it, it is always a he) Instagram followers will love it! Bit weird to us, but who are we to argue?

    4 The Modernist

    Rather than carving, the modernist gets out the power drill and creates an impressive, polka-dot pattern of differently-sized holes. VERY middle-class.

    5 The Bodger

    Old-school: a couple of eyes hastily hacked out, and a row of fangs – all done on the fly because the owner forgot to buy one until they suddenly realised what day it was. Perfectly adequate, actually.

    Friday
    Sep052014

    Emergency etiquette guide: How to react when undergoing the Ice Bucket Challenge

    By now your Facebook timeline will have been groaning with videos of people doing the ice bucket challenge, and you may well be thoroughly fed up with them. However, if you haven’t already done it yourself you may still be called upon to do so, and if you don’t want to look like a killjoy, you will be obliged to go through the somewhat over-familiar ritual. This will leave you with a question: how to react when the icy water hits you, and you stand wet and soaking for the world – or at least the bit of the world that uses Facebook – to see. People’s reactions tend to divide along certain lines, and so far we have noted the following, take your pick:

    The Shrieker

    Screams loudly, then stands quivering as if they’re in a horror film and have just been attacked by the villain. Finally runs off, cursing person who nominated them.

    The In-Shocker

    Stands rigid and silent for so long that it appears they have suffered some sort of permanent injury. May repeat one word or phrase over and over, e.g. “So cold, so cold, so cold.” Slightly worrying.

    The Stoic

    Shows no sign of alarm or distress then walks calmly away. Tends to wear fancy dress and/or be doing something amusing, e.g. drinking gin and tonic, reading a book.

    The Customiser

    Takes the idea and adapts it to a more extreme version, e.g. jumping in bath of ice, having ice cubes tipped over self. Reaction usually in same ball park as Shrieker, as effect is all.

    The Jumper

    Light shouting, with an extreme physical reaction which may involve jumping or dancing around on the patio before running off camera to get warm. Occasionally trips on slippery floor, which can be alarming.

    Flickr: Anthony Quintano
    Thursday
    Sep042014

    Introducing Mrs Bore d’Eaux: lover of the French exception

    We’ve met Bore d’Eaux – now it’s time to introduce his female counterpart. Mrs Bore d’Eaux is his equal in revering French-ness, to the extent that once she’s in France, she’ll do all kinds of things she’d never consider at home – because ‘it’s part of the culture’.

    Back in Clapham, for instance, she religiously abstains from wheat and dairy, but both become her daily staples on holiday in the Dordogne, where she’ll even begin the day with a croissant. All these foods undergo a mysterious transformation in her eyes when bathed in the aura of French-ness – as if, through them, she can imbibe the glamour of France itself. At home, she’d never dream of letting her kids drink fizzy pop, but in France, she buys them Orangina by the litre – it’s healthier, of course, because it’s French. She’ll even let them have Nutella tartines for breakfast, when at home, she blames the obesity crisis on non-MC kids ‘eating chocolate first thing’. But if it’s part of French culture – like smoking and adultery – it’s different, naturellement.

    How to spot Mrs Bore d’Eaux:

    • Bookshelves stacked with Francophile self-help books such as French Women Don’t Get Fat and French Children Don’t Throw Food.
    • Serves diluted wine to her six-year-old daughter.
    • Boasts about how she owns one good Hermes scarf rather than a thousand from Primark.
    • Sings along to Carla Bruni in the car.

    Flickr: einalem 

    Tuesday
    Aug192014

    Meet Bore D’eaux: King vacances en France

    Alex Bore D’Eaux may be as mc-British as it gets – ex-minor public school, plays rugby, works in financial services – but his true amour is France. From Spring onwards he lives for the moment when he loads the wife and their two children into the Audi estate and heads off for the Midi or Sud-Ouest.

    They’ve tried a few places over the years, but now tend to stay at the same gite, where they know the owner and locals (and the local wines!!!) really well. Once there he goes native, cycling up to the café for breakfast in the morning, living on bread and cheese, visiting the vineyards and soaking up as much of the culture as he can. He’s popular and gregarious – all the more so over there – but, get him on his pet subject – France, obviously – and he can, well, go on a bit.

    Ask if it’s better to fly or drive, and he’ll tell you not only why you should drive, but also everything about the motorway system, and the relative merits of the Eurostar versus the St Malo ferry. Mention the wine, and he’ll whip out his Kindle to show you every local mention in Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book. Ask about the local area, and he’ll describe every single local point of interest, with place names all pronounced in perfect French, naturellement, and a bit of history thrown in.

    His wife Sophie humours him, and the kids gnaw their way through crusty baguettes dreaming of the pizza the other kids get. Alex meanwhile imagines himself selling up and moving out in few years time, because the French just seem to have life sorted out better than we do. It would be wonderful, of course, but the only question would be – who would he have to tell about it?

    How to spot Bore D’Eaux

    • Lucky Breton sweater, deck shoes, mirrored shades as “good for driving”
    • Has Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Guide on his Kindle
    • Back of car stacked with wine on return to England, Liber-t tag attached to windscreen
    • Speaks excellent restaurant French
    • Large collection of yellow Michelin road maps
    • Drinks “33” Export when not quaffing wines. Also knows about unusual local alcoholic drinks. Wishes he liked Pernod.
    • Passionately believes Britain has got its priorities all wrong, and quality of live could be doubled at a stroke if lunches lasted two hours and shops opened till 7pm
    • Obsessed by cheese
    Flickr: Simon Woolf