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The Book

Out now at Amazon | Waterstones

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Chattering Class

That video of newsreaders mispronouncing “Jeremy Hunt”

Possibly the best thing on the internet ever

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Starting to get a just little bit silly now

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It is lovely though, to be fair

Tim Peake's space marathon

Marvellous

Boodles

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Using your phone in the cinema

Never, ever acceptable

Pret A Manger's “Protein Pot”

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Early-summer optimism

This year we're definitely sorting out the garden

Missing The Night Manager

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Pretending you understand Game Of Thrones

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The Periodic Table of the Middle Class
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    Thursday
    Apr142011

    Guide to wearing sunglasses in April without looking like a twat

    It’s a common dilemma at this time in the year: it’s a sunny day but it’s still nippy out. Do you wear sunglasses and risk looking like a Dulwich Mum/media twat/Primrose Hill celeb pretending they don’t want to be recognised? Or risk frying your retinas?

    Brief and totally unscientific research in one of South London’s bourgeois enclaves this weekend produced the following:

    Sitting at a pavement table outside a cafe – yes. Almost compulsory we’d say. Makes you look at ease with your cosmopolitan lifestyle. Accessorise with small dog. Also avoids premature frownies from too much squinting.

    Walking down the street (sunny side) – ok as long as street consistently sunny, not ducking in and out of shade. Sunnies must be removed when stopping to greet a friend.

    Walking down the street (shady side) – no, and not top of head. Tuck into pocket or cross the road.

    With Bermuda shorts and deck shoes, or a strappy dress – no. for God’s sake, it’s still only April.

    With coat (preferably puffy jacket) and scarf – good for working a sort of après ski or Rome in January look. Especially if you are sitting outside a café and have a small dog at your feet.

    An amendment is this rule is no hats, or more specifically tweed caps.

    Oversized quiff, 50s dress, or other retro styling – yes, as long as glasses match period

    Big sunglasses with conspicuous logos (Chanel, Dior, Gucci) – can be worn in any situation, indoor or out, at any time of year. Providing you are a rich expat or don’t mind being mistaken for one.

    On the school run – only if you drive a people mover or a Mini (probably to an independent prep school) and only if you don’t mind people thinking you do. 

     

    Wednesday
    Apr132011

    When Is It Time For A Man To Pull Up His Waistband?

    I’d say 24 years old is the cut off for a low-slung waistband. Why so young? Why so cruelly specific? Well, the whole concept of an unruly waistband playing a precarious game of frottage with one’s crotch and lower arse area came out of the US prison service. Gang-bangers would get arrested in their baggy jeans and have their belts (and shoe laces) confiscated to stop them attempting suicide by hanging. Consequently baggy denim trews would hang low and tough, showing off lots of underpant elastic. Shoes showed lots of tongue.  A look was born. 
      
    So, let’s fast forward back to the 24 year old cut off. Sorry to be definitively prescriptive here, but at that age, a British middle class man should really have worked through his morbid, comic book fascination with scary US gang culture. 
       
    Yes, he can carry on liking rap music, still nod his head to a Jay Z or Kanye tune at a wedding, but once he starts working for a living and finds a cut of suit (with proper trousers) that flatters him, defining deviancy down by trying to relate to slackers, surfers, moshers and skateboarders via some sort of mystical waistband semaphore becomes a bit, well…embarrassing. 
     
    You don’t have to go Clarkson or Cowell with your pants once you hit your quarter century. Just find a cut of trouser that actually fits properly, sits on your hips nicely, doesn’t infantilise your body, isn’t endorsed by the guys from JLS, doesn’t inspire you to break out into a chorus of “Pretty Fly For A White Guy” when you look in the mirror and doesn’t require a sideways skewed baseball cap to set it off.  Ditto skinny jeans. Sorry. 
    Tuesday
    Apr122011

    The mealtime names conundrum; what exactly ARE lunch, dinner, tea and supper?

    Flickr: Danielle Walquist Lynch
    One of the classic markers of class status in Britain is the naming of midday and evening meals. Traditionally, the working classes, and some among the lower-middles, eat dinner in the middle of the day, and tea in the early evening; the middle and uppers, meanwhile, eat lunch at 1pm and dinner at around eight with, possibly, tea thrown in at 4.
     
    In recent years, this has slipped a little. First, there is a discernible trend among the younger, liberal, urban middle classes – the ones who wish they were not middle class at all, dreaming of Alan Bennett-ish working class homes, or aristocratic wealth – to refer to the later evening meal as “tea”. Second, I hear more working class people than previously referring to “lunch"; I have no clue why that is, but would guess it has something to do with people eating more restaurant-based/fast food whose marketing always refers to “lunch”.
     
    The term that has always confused me, though, is “supper”. Nowadays, this seems to be the province of those towards the higher end of the middle-class spectrum, and vicars; “I wonder if you’d like to join us for a light supper to discuss the organ appeal” etc etc. Not being overly-familiar with this group, I have never been sure whether this version of “supper” is the same as “dinner” or something else; I’ve heard it said that it’s less formal than dinner, but would love to have this confirmed.
     
    And before anyone leaves comments, yes I know the working classes sometimes eat a snack at about 10 (or 11 if it's after the pub). My parents were fond of a bit of bread and dripping before turning in. However, I think this is on the way out, whereas if anything the middle-class version is on the rise. 
    Monday
    Apr112011

    Hail the Scandiman; has anyone else noticed the calm, appealing Nordic men taking over global business?

    Credit: Fame
    I work in a job where I meet a lot of department heads and managers at big global corporations, and without wishing to be prejudiced, I do think you can spot certain stereotypes. There’s the trendy younger British blokes on the marketing side; the incredibly hard-working and single-minded engineers from the Indian sub-continent; the smiley and yet uber-competitive German sales guy, and many more. 
     
    One I’ve noticed a lot recently, particularly in the senior ranks, is Scandi-man. Scandiman is from Scandinavia (actually he can be from Germany and Holland as well, but quintessentially it’s Sweden) and is incredibly relaxed, confident and chatty in a masculine way. Fluent in English (and possibly Spanish, maybe even Farsi), he has a slightly transatlantic accent that underlies the upbeat tone he applies to everything (“Hey, how aur yoo, friend? Glad to hear it!”) except obviously bad news, for which he drops into a distinctly different, confidence-inspiring register (“So guys, I have some pretty, uh… sad news today…”).  
     
    There are many other blue-chip business-guys (you can’t call him a businessman, it doesn’t seem right) qualities he has, including a business degree from a prestigious American university, sportiness, trim physique (he is often very, very tall) and Really Nice Wife with Three Fabulous Kids. However, this isn’t annoying because he will also have a vice that he openly admits to; he caves in to the need for a fag after two pints, or he gets drunk and leads a naked conga at company parties. It’s this fallibility and lack of neurosis that gives him the edge over the Americans with whom he often competes for top jobs, and is thus probably the most important quality fuelling his takeover of the new world of global business.
     
    Scandiman (typical names: Magnus, Marcus, Jonas, Jon) reads Monocle and good crime fiction, and wears Prada or Hugo Boss suits (leisurewear picked up in New York is possible; he loves Banana Republic). Over a beer will tell you great stories about doing business in Miami, China or former Soviet states. And while you sense he might have had some hair-raising adventures, he’ll tone them down with a positive look to the future (“Yah, that stuff was pretty tough at times, but you know it’s under control, and I think it’s looking great now”), and then ask about you. This is all very well-mannered of course, but that’s the point – Scandiman’s manners are not only good, but also nicely balanced between formal and casual, striking that right-for-now quality that the British had a long time ago, and the Americans had until recently. 
     
    I know it may also sound as if I have a repressed gay crush on him, but I wouldn’t go that far. I just feel that I know the coming man when I see him; believe me, if you want to get ahead in business, your best move now is to move to Malmo and get naturalised. "Gatsby"
    Sunday
    Apr102011

    Letter From America #4: Sugar Wars!

     
    New varieties of Pepsi and Mountain Dew have appeared in grocery stores in the US. These “throwback” varieties are made with real sugar. This may come as a surprise to you if you thought that fizzy pop has always been made with real sugar, but since the 1980s drinks in the US (and just about everything else) have been sweetened with cheap, fake sugars. Not artificial sugars, but HFCS – high fructose corn syrup.
     
    The alleged trouble with HFCS drinks is that they make you feel hungry and have been linked to America’s rise in obesity. You know something’s up when an industry lobby resorts to television advertising to make its case, and last year the Corn Refiners Association did just that. The ad shows two moms clashing over the sugary drink available at a kid’s party. The snarky anti-HFCS mom was informed by the cooler black mom (no doubt, a nod to Michelle Obama) that “it’s made from corn, doesn’t have artificial ingredients and that, like sugar, it’s fine in moderation”.
     
    In the sugar wars, both the corn refiners’ ad and Pepsi’s real sugar variety are both trying to persuade us of the same thing, that “natural” means “healthier” regardless of the actual health effects.
     
    The problem for Pepsi and Mountain Dew is that real sugar versions are more expensive, hence a new variety with retro packaging is born – it’s the same Pepsi, with the cheap stuff taken out. Although, why they picked the name throwback is beyond me: throwback is generally a derogatory term; referring to the 80s is not going to mean anything to anyone under 24; and throwback sounds a little too close to throw-up!