Saturday, October 31, 2009

Toff Media Part 2

Do you think they have signs in the office saying "You don't have to be posh to work here - but it helps!"......?

Friday, October 30, 2009

Toff Media

I've just watched the latest episode of Armstrong & Miller (excellent as ever, especially the camp Northern Irish Royal 'expert' who knows nothing at all) and just saw at the end credits that it was made by Toff Media. This turns out to be a Hat Trick backed company (Hat Trick is one of the most successful comedy production companies - from Who's Line Is It Anyway? to Have I Got News For You) formed by Ben and Xander in order to produce 'snugly fitting bespoke comedy and drama'.

I have to be a part of it! Comedians who call themselves toffs! Comedy doesn't get toffer than this! How can I join? Stand outside their offices in Soho looking suitably toff-ish and spouting knock-knock jokes? All suggestions and tweed loans gratefully received.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Dinner Parties

The Daily Telegraph reported this week that the dinner party is officially extinct: it's now all about the informal kitchen supper, al fresco dining, 'pot luck' dinners and a general foodie-free-for-all. There have been comment pieces by writers thrilled that the hostess no longer has to worry about caramelising the onions in time, the guests don't have to agonise between bringing flowers, wine or a scented candle and no one is left perturbed by stiff linen napkins, pouring the wine in the wrong glass or passing the port to the right.

In one sense - yes. This kind of formal dinner party is over - the one where the hostess strains to impress with her knowledge of olde worlde etiquette and cordon bleu dining (which involves a lot of sugar cages and not a lot of taste) and the guests struggle to maintain a classy froideur whilst hoovering up several bottle of Chateau Plonk.

I ruined my 20s by being far too serious about being a grown-up: my only social aspiration was to throw a really successful dinner party. To have a dinner party, in other words, would testify that I was A Sophisticated Adult. I would blow all my money on foodstuffs from Harrods and crystal glasses from Peter Jones, for a bemused set of family and friends who only really wanted a bit of spag bol and chatter, followed by some drunken dancing until 4am. (I usually managed the drunken bit but quickly sobered when an arrogant young heir asked which bedroom he would be going to that night - mine or my flatmate's?)

But dinner parties now are no less frightening - in fact, the lack of formality means there is no structure on which even the least socially able can hook their hang-ups. A supper party in 2009 means we must source the best local food, cook with the ability of a divine cross between Nigel, Jamie and Nigella, invite a mix of old friends and the newly powerful, have everyone lounging around in an enormous kitchen (at least before everyone was hidden in the dining room, away from the carnage and the hastily unwrapped Marks & Spencer ready meals) which has been artfully decorated in the manner of a bohemian artiste who has not only inherited stag heads and armchairs covered in ticking but has picked up clever little pieces from her frequent trips to Delhi and Peru. No one can leave early because all the children are asleep in the garden in a Cath Kidston tent and, besides, the drugs come out at midnight.

Come back Margot and Jerry - all is forgiven.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Lady

Possibly the poshest publication of all, The Lady, has recently undergone a revamp with Rachel Johnson (sister of Boris) at the helm. For almost a thousand years, The Lady has been the place for posh people to find their staff. Occasionally they'd also book a villa in Tuscany or Provence through the small ads too. The rest of the pages were basically ignored, except possibly for the occasional person who ordered a pair of fleece-lined slippers or a walk-in bath. Now it's rather glossy and groovy, with top contributors - including your very own posh self. See my article on dos and don'ts for townies in the country this week. And my piece on posh foodies next week. OK, yah?

Posh Bird in Venice

I forgot to get pictorial evidence but in Venice this weekend I wore my red Hunter wellies. From Stansted airport to Treviso and onto a taverna for supper - all the while, stomping in wellies. Looking at the Grand Canal - in wellies. It rained but even when it stopped raining and the sun was blazing, I had to wear the wellies home again. Back to Treviso, a Ryanair flight and to Stansted - where I was met by my man in our knackered Land Rover Defender. You can't get much posher than that, eh?

Monday, October 19, 2009

Armstrong & Miller: no longer too posh

The BBC comedy duo Armstrong & Miller were told sometime in the late 90s that they would never get their own tv show because they were "too posh". Now their latest series, on primetime BBC1, has been both eagerly anticipated and received. Hurrah for the boys.

Their most popular running sketch is two RAF men with the look and diction of the Second World War but the language of modern teenagers ("So iz you saying you iz going to shoot us all up with guns and this and that and everything else?"). The point they make is clear: the respect we had for the brave young men of the war is aeons apart from our feelings towards modern teenagers. And yet, perhaps all that is different between them is language (all that is different between *anyone* is language). Those young men in 1940 were just as insouciant, foolhardy and determined to resist authority as they are now.

...Or were they? Are the questions more about leadership, upbringing, education, a sense of belonging, purpose and direction? Have we once again placed upon the issue of class the greater social ills of our country? Iz it, you know, because I is posh?

PS I can't make a link work but if you go to, type in 'armstrong & miller RAF' and watch the one about the broken leg...

Friday, October 16, 2009

Posh looking-glass

I really rather like this - good present for a posh person: they like kitsch things that also secretly make them feel, "Ha haa -it's only because I'm actually really posh that I can ironically find this amusing". This looking-glass (or mirror as the non-posh say) does just the trick. It's by Giles Miller (

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Why Jeremy Clarkson is a toff OR Why posh doesn't mean snob

Jeremy Clarkson has written a very funny column (sorry - I know I shouldn't find him funny, but I do) on why appreciating Monty Python marks him out as a toff. The argument basically revolves around the idea that being clever is a toff thing, or rather - that enjoying cleverness is a toff thing. Well...he sort of says that. But then he makes the classic mistake of using 'toff' and 'snob' interchangeably, as if they are one and the same thing - and this is my basic problem. Being a snob is not the same thing as being a toff. There are some frightful snobs who are also toffs - but most people (toffs and non-toffs alike) can't bear them - think they are at best irrelevant, at worst mentally ill. There are hordes of toffs who are not snobs. Noticing what is u and non-u is not actually snobbish - it's simply putting things in a box (not to say that that is any less worse, but it is a different thing.) Plus there are plenty of non-toffs who are terrible snobs: intellectual snobs, arrivistes, aspirationals, the type who send their children to a certain school because someone Royal went there, the ones who won't speak to someone who pronounces 'perfect' like the song, the snobs who are offish with anyone driving a Toyota. That lot can push off.

So Clarkson is a sort of a toff, I think. And probably a bit snobbish, too. But mostly - quite funny.

Leopardskin - surprisingly posh

I had a funny moment last night. I went to a very grand house on a very grand street in Chelsea, owned by a woman on her second marriage to someone frightfully grand and rich (think 'Dukedom' and you've got the right ballpark). Anyway - her study (only posh people have studies, right?) was almost Magic Eye-dazzling for its leopardskin. A vast, red trimmed leopardskin rug (not real animal skin) covered the floor. And leopardskin-covered small armchair sat in one corner. There were some other leopardskin trimmings dotted about but I could hardly absorb it all in one eyeful. Everything else was posh-as-you'd-expect: huge, plump sofa covered in a softly-coloured taupe wool material, a wooden hot water bottle on a side table (?), small pieces of tasteful Italian art, a desk littered with papers and paperweights. But, really - all one could see was leopardskin.

It reminded me of the time I was sent to Chingford for three days by the Mail on Sunday to track down all of David Beckham's teammates from when he was eight. It turned out not to be that difficult as, bar one dead and one who lived in Hertfordshire (and only then because he was paid to live there - he was a footballer for the local team), they all still lived in Chingford. We went to one of his old friend's houses and in a tiny lounge at the back of the house was a room with a leopardskin-covered chaise longue, with leopardskin lampshades and small crystal bowls of boiled sweets on the nests of tables. I realised that, rather touchingly if you think about it, David and Victoria Beckham lived in the exact same house only 50 times bigger because they have £50 million to spend on it. So they are totally true to their roots, no matter how pretentious all the snipe-y media like to pretend they are.

And, as you know, Victoria Beckham is also known as 'Posh'. Turns out, with all that leopardskin, she really IS.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Posh Test part 2

I've just found a posh test:

It's quite funny and reasonably accurate (I come out as 67% posh, which I think is about right). But there are quite a few things there that they think mean posh and I think mean not posh at all. For example: taking your shoes off before you enter the house is absolutely not posh. Nor is hiding loo roll under decorative cover. (And the person who set the test has immediately given themselves away by calling it 'loo roll' and not that horrid T word; so maybe these are double-bluffs). Some of the questions are really rather witty: cf muddy Land Rover, garage as pronounced 'garahhj' (my friends used to fall about laughing when I talked about 'garahhj music'), having a 'study' in your house....

Suck it and see.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The posh X-factor & posh foodies

It's the 300th anniversary of Tatler this week. So I was asked to write a big piece about new posh, old posh, bohemian posh, u and non-u things. I thought it would be dead easy until I got down to it. I called a few poshos and we tried to define posh (see this blog passim) and realised that all the old benchmarks of poshness no longer hold the answer: not accent (think Guy Ritchie), not schooling (hardly anyone goes to Eton), not etiquette knowledge (few realise to address the envelope to wife only), nor even family history (you can get posh in just three generations).

In the end I decided that - appropriately enough for these times - poshness comes down to a sort of posh 'x-factor', or 'toff-factor'. An indefinable quality that is the only means by which you can know whether someone is truly posh or not: might be the high forehead, might be style, could be manners. The only truism is that when you ask someone posh if they're posh, they'll hotly deny it.

That done, I then settled down to write a piece about 'posh foodies' for someone else. And, my, that was fun! I could have done that for weeks on end. I decided that I really love truly posh people. They're always hearty, terribly enthusiastic, shouting down the phone about their really excellent cakes. And why shouldn't they be that way? Most have had a life of privilege - top schooling, rambling houses, fresh air, dear old Nanny, strong sense of identity and that cushioned feeling that life is never really going to be too hard. And for all their stiff upper lips, the fact that they've never had to waste energy on worrying about the roof over their head (beyond it leaking every generation or so) means that they're actually rather good with the big stuff of life. If you have heartbreak, terminal illness, blackmail, or are generally just feel a bit down in the dumps - seek out a posh person. Within half an hour they'll have you eating mashed banana in front of It's A Wonderful Life before telling you to buck up and get outdoors for a bracing walk. "It'll all be fine in the morning." It always is.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Saloniversary OR Is Shoreditch the new posh?

Last night, to Shoreditch. A blissfully unposh part of town. But maybe Shoreditch House itself is the epitome of 'new posh' - if you take posh (see discussions passim) to mean 'the ruling class', or at least 'arbiter of current high society etiquette' (not so catchy). Anyway - it's all deeply trendy, with bad mannered bar staff, people crammed into one room, padded shoulders knocking – one woman's studded t-shirt nearly took my eye out at the bar. Everyone looks furious, but whether this is the face of Hoxton-cool or just the side-effect of the recession, which is putting everyone in a bad mood, I don't know.

Thankfully, we were gathering for the most unpretentious of reasons - though at first it may not sound like it. Damian Barr's 'Salon' - which started exactly a year ago with an audience of just 30 and the chick-lit author Jenny Colgan doing a reading. Last night there were nearer to 300 in the room - Jenny read again, as did returning authors David Nicholls ('Starter for 10') and Geoff Dyer ('The Colour of Memory', 'Geoff in Venice') - who were so funny they caused many a woman, and likely some men, to fall instantly in love, despite their ramshackle appearance and the confession of one that he was so unhip at school he had the nickname "Biff, as in 'Spina Bifida". Bringing people together in a room to discuss books sounds hideous but Damian says it's all about the love of reading, which is something quite different. Hence highbrow and lowbrow are all in the same (Hendrick's) gin-fuelled, pizza-fed mix.

If this is the new posh, then I'd like to be Queen.