JAMIE OLIVER’S ARMY:
MATT & STEPH
Matt and Steph came of age as the young, optimistic middle-class foot soldiers of Blair’s Britain. In recent years they have come to feel overworked, put-upon and rather taken for granted by bosses, politicians and extended family but have responded by working harder and making the best of things. They still quietly apply themselves with great vigour to their chief objective of making life just a bit (Matt and Steph use the words “Just a bit” quite a lot) more individual, fun and interesting. As this has become just a bit more difficult in the past year, they have found comfort in their ambitions; now in their late twenties, they think a lot about their next career move. When they talk about their lives, another phrase that crops up often is, “At the moment, but what I’d/we’d really like is” (or for our purposes ATMBWIRLI).
Matt works as a designer for a company that produces marketing materials (ATMBWIRLI to draw a comic), and Steph works as an instructor at a local gym (ATMBWIRLI to be an estate agent) two days a week. She went back a few months ago after having their first baby, George. She would have stayed at home with him full time, but Matt’s hours have been cut, and to be honest they’re worried about his job. The upshot is Steph’s mum now has George on Mondays and Tuesdays. It works OK although she and her mum disagree about George’s diet.
The transformation-through-attitude principle also, of course, applies to Jamie Oliver, the man who captures the essence of Matt and Steph’s take on life in the way he fuses anti-establishment individuality with something as basic as cooking. Matt and Steph were first drawn to Jamie by the brilliant way he cooked novel versions of familiar foods like burgers or sandwiches. However, more recently, they would say that the reason they respect him is that he “puts something back”. Matt and Steph have an immense respect for people who do things to put something back, or try to help other people. This sometimes motivates them to take on jobs like helping Steph’s mum with the church Christmas fair or old people’s summer tea, although invariably this becomes a bit of a bind, and they regret saying they’d help.
They have also discovered a new delight in pseudo-traditional things; they don’t know if it’s them getting old (it isn’t, it’s looking for the comfort and security of the past during an economic downturn, says Matt’s left-wing friend from college. Steph thinks he talks rubbish, and his wife is snotty) but they just really love all that stuff like old-fashioned sweet shops, teashops, and even some of that Cath Kidston kitchenware, though Steph is not keen on the flowery stuff. (The years in marketing have dulled Matt’s sense of absurdity, but Steph thinks, privately, there is too much trendiness for the sake of it nowadays.)
Another change in Matt and Steph’s tastes in the past five years is a greater predilection for unusual experiences, and socialising outside the home. The money that in 2005 they would have spent on a novelty wall hanging is now used for tickets to a big one-off gig or a visit to a novelty restaurant. Jamie Oliver’s Army is responsible for much of what is new in the style-conscious hedonistic parts of the leisure industry. Big gigs, festivals, trendy shopping centres, the girls’ and boys’ nights out that have grown out of 1990s stag and hen culture: Matt and Steph helped to make them all. Excuses for a really big bash are always welcome, and they’re both already planning something special for their thirtieths – something really different, maybe a weekend away with the girls/boys. They love doing things “with the girls” and “with the boys” – hence Steph going to see Take That, and Matt playing poker. However, they do still go out together of course – last year they went to a music festival together for the first time. Steph wasn’t that bothered, but Matt enjoyed it. They’re going to see Kings of Leon soon, and next they’d really like to try Jongleurs comedy club.
Holidays have changed, too. They used to go to amazing coupley places, but last year it was a villa with Steph’s mum and dad. Every now and again they try out a British holiday – they’ve done Cornwall, the Lakes, Dorset – but it’s just as dear as going abroad and secretly Steph likes a tan. This year they got a brilliant deal to Croatia.
In the main, holidays are like the other activities that Matt and Steph enjoy. The trips themselves are not out of the ordinary, but they undertake them in ways that show they have a bit of individuality and creativity – “funkiness”, as Steph calls it. This is why they had a Routemaster bus to transport guests at their wedding, and why, when shopping for George, they will seek out the wackier things in babyGap while avoiding Mothercare. When Steph finally gets enough money to change her car, she wants to swap the Clio for a Mini because you can customise them (she’s already planned a colour scheme, of course).
The principle of ordinary-with-a-twist runs deep with Matt and Steph. Their aspirations for their children are in some ways timeless – they want them to be well behaved, well mannered, and kind – but, far more than their parents, they would also like their kids to be creative. More than anything, it’s this creativity and individuality stuff that differentiates Matt and Steph from their solidly middle-class mum and dad’s generation. Both sets of parents aimed to appear respectable, reliable and reasonably well-off but Matt and Steph, while not rejecting those values entirely, also see kudos in self-expression – though they are wary of anything so out of the ordinary that it might invite ridicule. Creativity and individuality are important to them, but they also like the neighbours to think their house looks neat and tidy.
Where to spot them
- Satellite town new housing developments
- Domincan republic holiday complex
- Parents for Sunday lunch
- IKEA (all day)
- Edging away from loud homosexual at wedding receoption
- Early sitting at Gastro pub on Valentines day
- B&Q on Sunday (esp garden centre)
- Metallic effect wall
- Foreign road or advertising sign featuring one of their names
- Realistic effect soft toy on back of settee
- Newspaper headline featuring one of their names, framed
- Novelty bottle opener acquired on holiday
His T shirts
- Any Hanna Barbera cartoon character
- Printed digital photograph of self on stag night
- Logo of any foodstuff or toy popular in 1970s
- Getting drunk
- If by any chance she does, she really really worries about whether she looked silly in front of people.
- Sister (see above)
One of Jamie Oliver’s Army’s greatest talents is making commonplace things special – visiting friends chuckle at their Saturday Chinese takeaway nights, when Steph gets the Chinese bowls out and the food HAS to be ordered in time for the start of The X Factor or Britain’s Got Talent (she sometimes lets George stay up to watch them – he picked the winners last time round!). This ability to transform the mundane through sheer enthusiasm in part explains their tremendous affection for upmarket shopping malls. They were excited to visit London’s Westfield recently. Matt thought the parking system was amazing.