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The Periodic Table of the Middle Class
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    Entries in Swiss Cottage Kev (4)

    Monday
    Feb142011

    Is Valentine’s Day good or bad for relationships? Our undercover London cabbie has his doubts

    Flickr: neekoh.fi
    The evening of Valentine’s Day is usually a busy night for cab drivers, and of course we a greater proportion of customers than usual are couples. I have to say that from what I’ve seen in the mirror over the years, I it isn’t exactly a good experience for everyone.
     
    There are basically three different sorts of Valentine’s Day couple, in roughly equal numbers. Firstly there are the ones who have had a great night, and are being very physical, even a bit frisky in the back as I take them home. They’re very welcome – the fella usually tips generously. Second, there are the blazing row couples – somehow the pressure of the night and/or the wine will have got to them, or one of them has said the wrong thing, and they’ve saved up the big barney for the journey home. Sometimes it’s bleak, sometimes it’s just a situation where they probably argue a lot anyway. 
     
    The third type is the most depressing though. These are the ones who sit at either end of the seat, with their heads pressed gently against the window, looking out at the streets going past and not at each other. It’s as if they’ve been out because they felt they should, but really whatever might have once been there between them has gone AWOL, and Valentine’s Day has only reminded them of that. I sometimes wonder if I should try to chuck in a friendly word, but usually just leave it; I suspect they’d be better staying in. 
    Tuesday
    Feb082011

    How to tell a middle-class man by his footwear

    Flickr: Ganymedes Costagravas
    I like to think that although there can be some grey areas between middle and other classes when it comes to clothing (where exactly do we stand on Barbour these days, for example? Or even Polo Ralph Lauren?) it is still possible to tell a middle-class man from the small area in which he keeps his shoes.
     
    The rule is simple. The true working-class male never owns, discounting trainers, more than four pairs of shoes; his middle-class counterpart, on the other hand (or foot) owns at least five. These are most likely to be:
     
    • Two pairs of black leather shoes, one with laces, mostly worn for work between Monday and Thursday. 
    • One pair of brown or oxblood lace-ups, worn for work on Fridays. These black and brown work shoes are very likely to be made by Church or Oliver Sweeney.
    • Two pairs of casual shoes, most likely including a pair of loafers and/or a pair of Clarkes.
    • A pair of walking boots, important for the walking at weekends and/or on holiday. He only wears trainers for the gym (he just finds he looks slightly foolish in them) but may well own a pair of rugged Merrell shoes in addition to the walking. He will also have a pair of Argyll wellies of course.
     
    On top of these he may also add brogues (a shoe not confined to one class, unless it’s suede), deck shoes, Chelsea boots or any one of a great variety of footwear; the point is, he will never have less than five on the go at any one time. Steal a few from him, and you could give him a serious identity crisis. 
    Wednesday
    Feb022011

    Red or brown, sir? The saucy way to spot a middle-class condiment user

    Flickr: Tom Taylor
    Although matters of class distinction in Britain can be complicated, I personally feel that there are some occasions on which they are only too clear and simple. One of these occasions is the choosing of basic condiments, i.e. the preference for and selection of tomato or brown; by studying someone as they make their choice in cafes, from vans, or at home, you can learn all you need to know about their background and aspirations, because the choice of brown will always indicate middle-class status, while red strongly suggests a more proletarian character. This is why:
    1. McDonald’s does tomato but not brown, and a presence in McDonald’s immediately means something is not proper middle class.
    2. Brown sauce is too strong to apply all over most food, except salty bacon, and everyone knows the working class way is to douse while the middles go for a side.
    3. Brown sauce is seen as traditional while, despite Heinz's best efforts to play up the heritage of their tomato ketchup, tomato has a more modern feel to it. And the middle classes are much more obsessed by traditional food than the working classes.
    4. Brown sauce cannot be shared by children, as they dislike its stronger taste. This makes it ideal for the middle classes, who fear that eating tomato sauce will turn their children into chavs who don’t ever stand a chance of winning Junior Masterchef.
    Admittedly, the waters can be muddied. If someone asks for “tomato ketchup” rather than “tomato sauce”, they are more likely to be middle class (slumming it, perhaps). Some members of the working classes may go for brown on their bacon butty. And all bets are off in Scotland, which has that peculiar variant of brown known simply as “sozz”. But generally, anyone needing a guide to class will be ok with this; as far as modern saucing is concerned, the workers still fly the red flag. 
    Thursday
    Jan272011

    Tight club! who are the best and worst tippers in London? Our new blogger reveals all

    I’ve driven a black cab in London for several years, and if the experience teaches you one thing (actually it teaches you many things, but I’ll do those later) it’s who you’re likely to get a tip off at the end of a journey. And I can tell you that class can be a guide, though maybe not in the way that you’d think.

    First, there are the people who never tip. Australians are renowned among cabbies for not tipping, and the butt of many jokes because of it. The French are similarly tight. I also find that most black people don’t tip me; maybe there’s a reason for that, I dunno, but it’s my experience.

    Of those who do tip, there’s a big gender divide, with about 70% of men doing it but only about 10% of women. And in terms of class, the upper round up the fare or add a pound, and the middle is frankly hit and miss, but as a rule the tightest – most of them tip only if you put it on the receipt. The best tippers are Americans – always 10% or more – and working class people; again I don’t know why, but there it is. My message to novice drivers would be to look out for working class Americans, and if you pick up a middle-class French woman – forget it.