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The Book

Out now at Amazon | Waterstones

Middle Class Handbook on Twitter
Chattering Class

Prince Harry

Even republicans approve, surely?

Microwaving tea

Recommended by scientists, apparently. Disgusting

No televised election debates

Disappointing; we were rather looking forward to May vs The Sturge

Broadchurch

Olivia Coleman = nailed-on Future National Treasure

Spring Bank holidays

Too close together! Very bad!

Bin-mageddon

“I queued for THREE BLOODY HOURS at B&Q for a new recycling bin! The entire town’s in CHAOS”

S-Town

To be listened to whole on a long journey for maximum effect

Using a proper paper map

Strangely satisfying

The “Flash” Flash ad

It’s back! Possibly the best ever singing dog in an advert ever

Crap tacos

Reheated, with too much chilli: middle-class kebabs, basically

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The Periodic Table of the Middle Class
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    Entries in Berlingerer (6)

    Tuesday
    May242011

    6:30pm - un-disputably the most depressing time of the middle class week

    There used to be an urban myth that the national grid would experience a power surge during the Coronation Street interval – the legend being that the TV nation, gripped by the latest catastrophe in Vera Duckworth/Ken Barlow/Hilda Ogden’s love life, would run to the kitchen and switch on the kettle to make a cup of tea, the better to deal with the overpowering emotions emerging from Weatherfield that evening. My guess is the opposite also happens - a power glut - today, when after Eddie Mair’s Today and the 6 o’clock news, R4’s “comedy” slot comes on.

    Comedy is of course a subjective thrill – not everyone finds the same thing funny. Still, I have never seen my retired, devout R4-listening parents so much as raise a smile at any of the recent so-called comedies on the slot. “Just a Minute” and “I’m Sorry I haven’t A Clue” are the diehard mirthful staples, the latter even managing to remain moderately amusing since the death of the matchless Humphrey Lyttleton, and the former limping on now that Clement Freud has gone to the great open-mic in the sky.

    But the others – dramedies like "Clare In the Community", or "Arthur Smith’s Balham Bash" and so on – seem to do the opposite of what comedy intends: rather than distract audiences from the misery and incomprehensibility of modern life by emphasising the joy of silliness, they only confirm its awfulness.

    All the reinforcing pessimisms of the British middle classes are there – kids speak a language we don’t understand, politicians/bankers/footballers/the Fun Police/the media are leading the country to ruin, everyone is having better, weirder sex than you are, computer technology is developing so that young people have already forgotten more than you’ll ever know, etc etc

    Listening in from Germany as I do, the essential parochialness of R4’s comedy – the thing that once made it great – these days just sounds meek and wet in the hands of R4’s current exponents, squeaky-voiced characters like Jeremy Hardy, David Mitchell and Sandi Toksvig who rejoice in their own smallness. It’s the sound of people wallowing in repression, defeat and self-pity. (By the way, the cliché goes that in Germany, humour is no laughing matter, and one German friend helpfully compiled a long compound noun expressing the feeling of despair occasioned by the arrival of the 6.30 comedy slot: “Frühabendsverzweiflungsfall beim Radio-4-Pseudokomödienanhören.” Try making a gag out of that, Arthur…).

    By the time the jaunty intro music to "The Archers" comes on, my guess most people will by then already have switched off for sweet relief, and gone in search of something more entertaining to do, such as watching paint dry, or even more fun, listening to Winifred Robinson on iPlayer repeats of "You & Yours". 

    Monday
    Mar212011

    Fear Of Change: the unbearable awkwardness of my relationship with the supermarket cashier

    Flickr: Ton Haex
    To some supermarkets are consumer paradises, but to me they are purgatory. Along with the many other unpleasant emotions they inspire in me – extreme disorientation, paralysing confusion when contemplating the biscuits/cheese/detergent options, and plain old rage – the biggest is anxiety. I mean a very specific type, namely, the anxiety to make sure all my purchases are bagged up before the cashier hands me my change and receipt; or if I’m paying on a card, the various print-out receipts.
     
    On many – in fact hundreds  – of occasions, particularly when doing a big shop, I find myself rushing to pack everything that has been scanned and billed and ferried to the rear packing areas of the till so as to avoid the extreme embarrassment of the cashier proffering change and receipts, his or her outstretched palm hanging silently and ponderously in their air, as I frantically struggle to jam, say, some leeks into the space between a cereal box and some tins of tomato, while the people in the queue behind regard me with a combination of impatience, loathing and naked pity. “Oh for f***’s sake,” I can almost hear them thinking. “Get on with it you imbecile.”
     
    It may be an imagined anxiety – a bit like those dreams where you realise you’re in a pub or at work without any trousers on – but the feeling seems real enough: of being scrutinised, judged, and found wanting as a competitor in the consumer-human race. People hate queuing in supermarkets, and so do I, and I have also regarded the fumbling, stressed shopper ahead of me with something approaching hatred for not being fast enough to get their shopping bagged up, paid for and out of there.
     
    It’s not, of course the cashier’s fault. They’re only doing their job, efficiently relieving shoppers of their cash and processing them through the system. Nor I guess is it the fault of the people queuing, even if they don’t smile much while you are struggling with the shopping. (There is of course a second stage to this – the fear of keeping people waiting while you stuff your change and receipts into the correct compartment of your wallet or purse before finally leaving; my own wallet is a somewhat complicated affair and that can occasionally take a few terror and shame-filled moments to complete). Still, it’s one of those very modern, anxiety-creating moments that adds an extra piquancy to the misery of late-consumerist life. Please tell me I’m not alone in this… 
    Wednesday
    Jan122011

    now thats what i call #Middleclassprotestsongs 

    Britain’s middle-classes are revolting! As a regular reader you already knew that, but what did yesterdays big TT on the popular timewasting website Twitter say about the nature of British middle class anger - or more correctly, mild, phelgmatic annoyance as expressed through the medium of pop songs - in the early Tens? Right from the start of the working day, squeezed-middle Twitterers were keen to vent their spleen on bankers, politicians, customer services, the law, the media and anyone else within blogging distance – that’s to say, everything and everyone. Adopting a Jeremy Clarkson-like come-one, come-all derision of the contemporary society, the overall message may have just as easily been summed up in the title of a Blur Album – “Modern Life Is Rubbish” - though that didn’t have quite the creative flair of some of the middle-tweeters’ creative efforts.

    All the key concerns of the embattled middles were there, from surveillance (Jimi Hendrix’s suburban anthem “All Along The Neigbourhood WatchTower”) and the iniquity of the bankers (“Our Bids Are Sealed” by Hedge Fund Boy Three) to fashion (remember the Manic Street Preacher’s apposite comment on credit-crunchy clobber, “If You Tolerate This Then Your Children Will Wear Next” or Status Quo’s witty observation re: designer threads, “Your In Armani Now”?)

    The middles are angry about being ripped off and about poor customer service, judging by their remixed song titles. What would firebrand Public Enemy rapper Chuck D make of “Fight the Npower increase in gas and electricity tariffs”? Another icon of modest middle class apsirationalism, Niggaz With Attitude’s Eazy-E (RIP), would doutbless have agreed with the sentiment of the 2011 rap protest anthem “Focaccia Tha Police” (or indeed the aggro-shopping ditty, “FCUK Tha Police”). Suffice to say the revolutionary spirit of ‘79 is alive and well in such songs as “Should I Stay or Should Go Shopping” and “Flat White Riot”, both by The Clash. Fight the power, bring the noise, fuck the police – and then have a good old moan about not actually getting round to any of those things, because really, what’s the point!  

    A closer analysis of the #middleclassprotestsongs stream showed that the middles remain just as obsessed as ever with those age-old definers of class, food, and home and hearth. The class subset offered some enduring protest titles: “Killing In The Double-Barrelled Name Of” by Rage Against The Machine, Thin Lizzy’s little-known “The Public School Boys Are Back In Town", Johnny Nash’s stirring paean to untroubled winter sports holidays, “I Can Ski Clearly Now The Chavs Have Gone” and of course the Dead Kennedy’s amusing riff on student travel ”Gap Year In Cambodia.”

    If there was any fighting going on in middle class homes, it was fighting in the cause of a decent dinner, to the tune of “You’'ve got to Fight for Your Right to Tupperware Party”, “Fight for Your Right to Dinner Parties” or even “Fight For Your right to Pâté”.

    Twitter was alive with the sound  of middle-class foodie protest classics such as U2’s “Sunday Bloody Mary” Bob Marley’s “Waitrose Voucher Redemption Song”, The Clash’s “Rock The Salad Bar,” “Buffalo Mozzarella Soldier”, Musical Youth’s "Pass The Duchy Originals" and MCH’s favourite, “Give Quiche A Chance" by those paragons of Scouse middle-classness, The Beatles. Well aware of their entitlement to a pleasant lifestyle involved attractive soft furnishings and plush interior nice-to-haves, the middles, in the event of a revolution, would also also kick out the jams to Sir Elton John’s “Scented Candle In The Wind, ”Bob Dylan’s masterful “Subterranean Homebase Blues” and Queen’s radio4-friendly singalong, “Radio Aga”.

    Ever-conscious of being ripped off, squeezed and swizzed, it’s perhaps telling that the number one middle class protest song, based on retweets, was a close things between two versions of the Bob Dylan classic, “The Times They Are Behind a Paywall” and “The Times They Are A-Charging”. That bloody Murdoch!

    Still, that hides the real story. Buried among this fire-hose of middle-class water-cooler creativity were a selection of song titles that reveal the true, unchanging character of the British middles and the “quiet desperation” which Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters identified as being “the English way”. Perhaps nothing sums up the put-upon, bewildered but essentially acquesiscent modern middle class anger better than such songs as The Dead Kennedy’s “Nazi Punk Polite Cough”, The Rolling Stones “I Can't Get No Satisfaction From The John Lewis Customer Service Desk, Which Is Most Unusual” and the rousing popular chorus of "What do we want?" Gradual change. "When do we want it?" In due course.” Yeah man!

    Twitter’s Top Ten #Middleclassprotestsongs

    1. The Times They Are A-Charging – Bob Dylan
    2. Nazi Punk Polite Cough – Dead Kennedys
    3. Stuck in the squeezed middle with you – Stealer’s Wheel
    4. Buffalo Mozzarella Springfield – For What It’s Worth (I Could have gone to Lidl)
    5. Fight the Npower increase in gas and electicity tariffs – Former Public Services Enemy
    6. Scented Candle In The Wind – Sir Elton John
    7. You’ve Got to Fight For Your Right to Pâté –The Beastie Boys
    8. I Can Ski Clearly Now The Chavs Have Gone – Johnny Nash
    9. If I had a Hummer – Peter Paul & Mary
    10. "What do we want?" Gradual change. "When do we want it?" In due course.”

    Middle Class Handbook’s Top Five #Middleclassprotestsongs

    1. The Cath Kidstons Are Alright – The Who
    2. Say It Loud, I’m Green & Black and I’m Proud – James Brown
    3. Flat White Riot – The Clash
    4. All Your Need Is Love, Actually – The Beatles
    5. Health & Safety Dance - Men Without Hats

     

     

    Tuesday
    Jan042011

    How to be middle class: Aspiration Fatigue versus Dispirationalism

    Among my New Year’s Resolutions this year is the decision to resist a syndrome I have scientifically identified as Aspiration Fatigue. This is the torpor and despondency occasioned by reading glossy lifestyle supplements on Sunday, and the attached feelings of failure inevitably induced by the photos of must-have products. 
     
    In the past I have been drawn to these supplements and the attendant feelings by some weird, self-torturing impulse, but for 2011, I am just saying no, and rejecting the practise. Interestingly, several of my friends have said they’re doing the same, so I’m thinking of naming this group “dispirationals”, and perhaps selling the idea to a Sunday supplement. 
    Monday
    Dec202010

    The Ascent Of Mum: what happens when silver surfers go mad for tech 

    Dealing with children’s disappointment when the Zhu Zhu Pet breaks. Studying the TV instruction book with a SCART in one hand and a Wii in the other. Realising you bought the wrong batteries. Such Christmas morning problems are well known, but I’d like to add another, less well-documented one to the list. 
     
    This is the moment when you try to explain to your parents the gadget you gave them as a present because they wanted to try the latest technologies talked about on the Today Programme, or on PM with Eddie Mair, or used with envy-inducing ease by one of their friends. It began with mobile phone and laptops for email around ten years ago, progressed via digital cameras and iPods, but has now become vastly more complicated by social media sites (“Johnny darling, what does ‘Tweeting’ mean?”), webcams, uploading and so on. 
     
    To be fair, you have to admire the gung-ho spirit of a generation that beavers away at keeping up, and that still gets excited by new stuff; by the time my spoiled generation hits 70, we’ll be grumpily dismissing new stuff as “not intuitive enough” and shrugging it off for another series of Downton repeats on our ancient Apple TV. 
     
    An awesomely challenging technology learning curve like that experienced by retirees will probably be beyond us. We’ll look back on the festive afternoon struggles with an iPod Touch, with us attempting to explain (“there are no buttons, mother”) in the background, as admirable moments on that great trajectory known (by me) as the ascent of mum.