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The Book

Out now at Amazon | Waterstones

Middle Class Handbook on Twitter
Chattering Class

This week's fiddle-faddle

Babybel

Must be MC; they have a waxed jacket, says @heidistephens

Mini M&S 99p cheeses

Compelling

Personalised gifts

Always luggage, never towels. Distinction c/o @ohchrisburton

Cheese toasties

Need a more grown-up name, says @Gary_Bainbridge

America's "grilled cheese"

Not good enough. Implies there's no bread involved

Croque Anglaise

Possible winner from @Robins_Books

Supermarket pasta salads

Always, always rubbish

Andrex's "rollaphobia" campaign

No, we do NOT leave loads of rolls around the house!

Gladioli

Grand and colourful; very MC

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The Periodic Table of the Middle Class
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    Thursday
    Mar102011

    Cheese counter ennui

    Flickr: Jan1ceBeing fortunate enough to live 200 yards from a specialist cheese shop, I am spoilt for choice when it comes to unpasturised diary produce. Over the years I’ve been slowly working my way along the counter from the nutty Jarlsberg by the door, through various Tommes, Manchegos and Pecorinos, to the British section by the backroom, with milky Wigmore, sharp Mrs Kirkham’s Lancashire and the black waxed Welsh classic Snowdonia. I’ve done nettle wrapped, oatmeal rolled, and wine washed, and, yes, I’ve have been known to amuse myself with themed cheeseboards (alphabetical, geographical, etc).

    Last year I made a point of trying every cheese in the miniature soft cheese section, a different one each day for lunch, until I overdosed on ash by eating chèvre cendré with charcoal biscuits.

    But now I’m bored. Even the porter-infused cheese or the one for Norway (who knew?) no longer seem exotic enough to hold my interest.

    The nice lady behind the counter suggests a Camembert, or a Cheddar. I take offense. These are the ready salted crisp of the cheese counter. No self-respecting foodie would be so unadventurous. I mean, I haven’t had a commonplace Camembert or Cheddar since… and I see what she means.

    It’s just the ‘something different’ I’m looking for. Good honest classics with no showing off. And they still taste fantastic. I may even buy some plain old cream crackers to go with them. 

     

    Wednesday
    Mar092011

    Seriously, Johnnie Boden, would you wear a shirt called ‘Italian Stallion’?

    Boden, Boden, Boden… the manifesto of acceptable midlife dressing, the sartorial scriptures for the bourgeoisie, the Torah of tastefulness… well, you’re already familiar with the brand.

    Ok, so their clothes are hardly avant-garde, and those kooky get-to-know-the-models picture captions in the catalogue should be admissible in court in a plea of incitement towards violence (‘Anna Flore, what is your karaoke song?’ ‘Celebration by Kool and the Gang’; ‘Michelle, how do you know if someone’s a real friend?’ ‘It feels like no time has passed.’) But, to be fair, the clothes are sturdy, generous around the hip, and come with an excellent returns policy.

    Where it all goes horribly, flesh creepingly wrong is in the men’s section, in particular the naming of the items.

    Does wearing an ‘Artisan Jacket’ allow someone who works in derivatives to imagine themselves as a penniless creative at weekends?  Does the wearer of the Plain Architect Shirt think it gives them Norman Foster-esqe levels of cool? (Granted, we haven’t checked, but it’s doubtful Lord F shops at Boden.) And what sort of man (or, for that matter, wife) picks out something called an ‘Italian Stallion Shirt’ without any sense of irony?

    Bearing in mind that men’s Boden is clearly aimed at people who have the sorts of jobs that demand you wear a suit to work and who think casual dressing is dark jeans with a blazer, it should be no surprise that the ‘Rugged’ Cotton Shorts have been teamed in the catalogue with a floral linen shirt and are modeled by a man who clearly moisturises his legs.

    But it’s disturbing that, in a bid to feel more street (or should that be avenue?) they’re also doing jolly striped rugby shirts, or rather ‘The Rugby’ (‘comfortable casual fit’) and, quite incongruously, hoodies. But not any old urban hoodies of course. Washed Piqué hoodies, which I don’t advise you asking for in Brixton Market.

    And don’t get me started on the ‘Fun’ Socks. 

    Tuesday
    Mar082011

    How to be middle class - Loyalty card denial

    ‘Do you have a Bonus Card? Would you like one?’

    A simple question and yet in this instance one fraught with implications that chip at the very fabric of who I am. Data-protection issues? In a hurry issues? No. This is Iceland. What I have is happy to shop in an ‘economy’ supermarket on a short term basis while it’s still part of the recessionista downshifting trend, but still in denial about any longer term loyalty–issues.

    Now I’m more than happy to take advantage of Iceland’s cheap branded goods with their easy to add up pricing strategy of everything seemingly rounded to the nearest pound. I get disproportionately excited over its high number of nostalgia brands like Birds Custard Powder and Tunnock’s Teacakes. And on several occasions I’ve bumped into people who I know send their children to independent schools or who work for the BBC eyeing up the Special K. But a loyalty card? Hmmm.

    As we all know, loyalty cards mark you out as belonging to a tribe. They make a statement about your lifestyle values, or how you’d like your lifestyle to be perceived. A bit like buying posh jam even though you actually prefer the cheaper one cos it’s less lumpy, or following someone cerebral on Twitter.

    Even though it is currently fashionable to mention your Asda online deliveries at drinks parties, or tweet your excitement that Aldi are selling tennis rackets this week, for most of the middle classes it is still a short term adventure, Blitz spirit and all that. Something they assume they can drop as soon as this whole recession thing blows over and they can start booking Ocado daytime slots again (not just those secret deliveries after dark that I’ve noticed creeping in along our street). It’s rather like admiring the clean lines of a classic concrete estate knowing you’ll never actually have to live there.

    Am I the only person who never forgets their cotton shoppers when taking a trip to Iceland, and not just for eco reasons? Or who thinks a Bonus Card would sit awkwardly in their wallet next to loyalty cards for Space NK, Village Books and the local non-chain café? Am I the only person still in touch with their inner snob? Would you like a Bonus Card? Well, would you? 

    Monday
    Mar072011

    Trickle-up; when middle-class trendies need the masses to show them the way

    Flickr: Peter Dutton
    Yesterday my wife and I were having that most middle-class of
    conversations – i.e. what sort of coffee maker should we buy? If you’ve
    had this discussion yourself recently, you’ll know that sooner or
    later, you will have to consider a Nespresso machine. You may also
    know that if you are a coffee snob you will a) reject Nespresso
    because you assume Nestle coffee must be crap, and then b)
    read on the internet that The Fat Duck serves Nespresso, and note that
    Amazon has about a billion positive reviews. You then realise that
    many of your coffee-snob friends have them, and get quite confused as
    you reassess a brand that middle-class liberals instinctively hate as
    much as McDonalds.
     
    Undergoing this process made me realise that there is a little brand-
    phenomenon here. The trendy middle classes like to think that they set
    the trends, and are among the first people to adopt stuff that
    later trickles down to the masses. But since the recession began,
    there are many brands that started off as mass market and then became
    adopted as acceptable by German-hatchback–driving smart-alecs. My
    personal trickle-up top five is below. 
     
    1. Nespresso
    2. Uniqlo
    3. IKEA
    4. Aldi & Lidl
    5. The X Factor
    Friday
    Mar042011

    Now then! If the BBC wants to make more working-class programmes, we suggest it claps its soft southern shandy-supping eyes on this lost gem

    Earlier this week we mentioned the 1970s Yorkshire TV programme The Indoor League in a tweet to one of our contributors, and to our surprise it received one of the highest click-through rates of the last few days. For this reason, we thought it might be grand to share it officially on the blog, along with a few words about its short and glorious history. It wasn’t really middle-class at the time, although the middle classes now fetishise this sort of old-fashioned pub culture – so much so that the dimple glass tankard is making a comeback.
     
    Anyway. The Indoor League’s premise was simple; a sports programme about the “sports” that men played in pubs. Broadcast from The Queen’s Hotel in Leeds, it featured amateur men (and very occasionally a woman) competing in the arts of darts, table football, shove ha’penny, bar billiards table skittles. The competitors were nervous and untalkative, but for 2007 the visual impact of their clothing and hairstyles is quite enough. At the heart of it all was the host, Fred Trueman, resplendent in brown suede-front cardigans, flared slacks, and thick wedges of hair, tie-knot and sportsman’s muscle running to fat. He look like the question mark at the end of the inquiry – what is this new “casual” style we were supposed to have developed in t’1960s?
     
    The really weird thing was that The Indoor League was on during the weekday children’s television slot, i.e. the bit between coming home from school and having your tea. Apparently it was initially tried at lunchtime, but was moved back in the day, presumably for men arriving home from work. For us it meant you could stick Crystal Tips and Alistair or Roobarb and Custard – if you turned over just before the early evening news, you got Fred supping ale and insulting the audience, and blokes with barmy haircuts balancing a Players in one hand and a table skittles ball in the other.
     
    However unusual it seems, The Indoor League was a success. It ran for four years, and there were 72 episiodes, all produced by Sid Wadell, now of course a cult darts commentator. There’s a DVD of highlights but it ought to be revived, or at least repeated on Bravo. “I’ll sithee!” Fred used to say at the end of each episode - if there’s any justice in TV land, he will. And this time there’ll be a clothing line as well.