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The Book

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Chattering Class

TV shows on dieting

Ugh, enough now! Oh alright, just one more...

People leaning forward in train seats

Annoying and intrusive

Metcalfe's Skinny popcorn

Favourite niche snack about to go mainstream

Tax returns

Absolutely love sharing misery on Twitter

Books received for Christmas

No idea how/when to get through the stack

Doddle

Still not convinced it's a doddle

Dry January

Would be easier if people didn't stop talking about it

People who breathe really loudly in yoga and pilates classes

Do please shut up

Kale and spinach

Why do they come in such huge bags?

A newly filled fruit bowl

As satisfying as fresh bed sheets

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The Periodic Table of the Middle Class
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    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! 
    Friday
    Apr082011

    Chattering class

    Doctor Who producer teases death of a central character

    Anyone reckon it won’t be Rory?

    Sophie The Giraffe

    The new gold standard in status teethers for tots. It’s never too early for one-upmanship, right?

    The 2011 Virgin London Marathon

    First they took over my Telewest internet, then my Holmes Place gym – now Virgin are ‘running’ the marathon. Bring back Laker Airways

    Buckingham Palace launches Royal Wedding App

    At £1.79 it’s cheaper than a tea towel

    Russian spy overkill

    It’s us who are starting to feel left out in the cold

    Clegg’s intern gaff

    We thought he was interning for Cameron

    Old rag that hangs round the neck of others

    Meg Mathews has launched a scarf collection

    Her soft furnishings line is next

    Called S&M. Oh, please

    Afternoon tea

    Some London hotels now putting on six sittings. And there’s only five hours in the afternoon

    Jam jars

    Apparently we’re in the throws of a ‘jam jar revolution’. What do you keep in yours?

    Unlikely stat of the week

    Commuters carry £3,800 of gadgets, ‘including smart-phones, laptops and MP3 players,’ claims eSure insurance. Does a 3-year-old Nokia count?
    Friday
    Apr082011

    What social class you reveal by the amount of clothing you remove at the first signs of spring

    As the temperature finally begins to rise and we see the first signs of Spring, the change of season seems to cause a great deal of confusion about how to dress each morning.

    The other day I set off for a trip into town bright and early when there was still a bite to the wind and the sun was well hidden by a thick layer of cloud. I was dressed accordingly in my jeans, ankle boots and warm jacket, but how I wished I’d caught a later train, or checked the Met weather website like a sensible middle-class girl, before I set off! By lunchtime the sun was out, the temperature had risen, and I was surrounded by a laid-back crowd decked out in their Spring attire. Among this crowd were many people who seemed to think that the combination of a flash of sun peeping from behind a cloud and a morning when you didn’t need to use your de-icer, required the removal of almost all items of clothing while ensuring that any items that do remain are white and/or made from linen.

    As I sweltered among this more wafty crowd, it struck me that there was a correlation between the amount of clothing that you choose to remove and the earliest date you consider applying fake tan, and your social class. The higher you rank socially, the less flesh you will choose to expose; the underclass chap will strip down to his shorts as soon as the snow clears, while as the temperature rises the upper classes merely exchange one type of luxury fabric for another, lighter-weight luxury fabric.

    And what of those inbetween? Well, why not read this quick handy guide, and see how many of our Springtime middle-class tribes you can spot?

    Chaveau Riches

    He will put his shorts on at the first opportunity, in order to show off the tattoos on his leg; at the same time, she dons her sandals to show off the tattoo on her foot.

    No Sugar Babe

    She will drive the change to summerwear, encouraging her White Vain Man hubby to wear his shorts so that she doesn’t “look too summery” in her flowery maxi dress or white linen trousers (with visible thong beneath).

    The Hornby Set

    He swaps his black jacket for a slightly shorter black jacket, she’ll wear summer clothes, but in layers. Lots and lots of lots of layers.

    Damn-wrights

    He will swap his stonewash jeans for a pair of even lighter stonewash jeans. She will swap her coat for a heavy-knit waterfall cardigan.

    The Fair-to-Middlings

    Won’t remove any layers. She will swap her woollen scarf for a silk one and he will swap his cashmere sweater for a cotton one. Alternatively they both swap their over coats for macs

    Jamie Oliver’s Army

    He will also put on shorts at first opportunity but will team them up with sporty Merril trainers and a North Face kagoul in case of a chill. She’ll play it safe and be one of the last at work to shed her tights - while stocking up on cardies that are “a bit different” to distract from her conservatism.

     

    Friday
    Apr082011

    WHAT’S THE PROBLEM WITH REBECCA BLACK?

    There was much uproar a couple of weeks ago about a song called ‘Friday’, the debut single by a 13-year-old American singer called Rebecca Black. The Daily Mail suggested it made her famous ‘for all the wrong reasons’. It was posted on YouTube on March 11 and by March 19 was being called ‘The worst single ever made, ever’. The video has been watched in excess of 42 million times, apparently largely because of further damning praise calling it ‘the most irritating of all time’ and its singer ‘the worst singer in the world’. And to be fair, ‘Friday’ is unlikely to be mistaken for the work of Radiohead. Detailing a teenager getting ready for the weekend, it notes: ‘Yesterday was Thursday, Thursday/ Today is Friday, Friday/ Tomorrow is Saturday/ And Sunday comes afterwards’. Later on it describes a car journey: ‘Kickin in the front seat/ Sittin’ in the back seat/ Gotta make my mind up/ Which seat can I take?’

    Black has apparently been targeted by ‘cyberbullies’, some of whom, the newspapers have suggested, said ‘she deserved to die’. Still, Black seems to be having the last laugh. Forbes magazine estimates that her YouTube views could have netted her $20,000 alone, while she’s racing up the iTunes chart and beating the likes of Katy Perry and Britney Spears in the process. And Black’s critics have missed the point. Calling it the worst single of all time is ridiculous. U2's last album was much worse.

    What’s more there are certain places where being irritating is the key to success. The boss of the Go Compare website was recently asked why her TV adverts featuring a faux-tenor called Gio Compario bellowing the name of the company were so bad. What were they thinking? Simple, she said. Our brief to the ad agency was to make the adverts “as irritating as possible”. (The success of those adverts has helped make her company worth £400m). You might say the same of their rivals over at Compare The Meerkat. Irritating equals memorable, and memorable equals sales. And advertising and pop aren’t such different beasts. Vince Clarke, who played the keyboard in Yazoo and Erasure, used to flit between the Top 10 and writing advertising jingles with the greatest of ease and no small amount of success in both.

    Think of irritating pop and ‘Barbie Girl’ or ‘Mr Blobby’ might come to mind. But I’d also say the same for ‘My Name Is…’ by Eminem or ‘Country House’ by Blur or ‘Space Oddity’ by David Bowie. ‘Eight Days A Week’ by The Beatles is a pretty irritating song. And its lyrics are no less daft than Rebecca Black’s ‘Friday’. Let the haters hate, at 13-years-old Rebecca Black may be better placed than most to have grasped one of the central tenets of pop – and irritating us all, all the way to the bank.