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Monday, 24 November 2014
What is good taste? As someone who married, as it is so quaintly put, out of my class, it was something that for far too long bothered me. Young as I then was, I was concerned, out of all proportion that I should not choose things that were in bad taste. My snobby in-laws automatically assumed that I would not have any idea of culture or social values and behavior. “How, with her background, could she possibly know what is acceptable and what is not,” they muttered behind my back - with satisfaction, not sympathy. There were times when I am sure they semaphored gleefully to each other that I had made yet another social gaffe, taste or otherwise, for they had no intention of telling me. It became quite a hobby with them.
It would be nice to think that this was just something that happened long ago; that such snobbery was past. But you have only to think of the Essex girl jokes that still pop up to know that such attitudes continue. And now we have - Elections, White Van, St George and Rochester – there’s no need to say more.
However, something else has happened. To the old class differentials have been added another - you have to be ‘cool’ to belong. You have to know what to wear, eat, say, enjoy. It’s like a club to which new members are not welcome, which has a set of rules that mark you as belonging. And, be assured, no one is going to enlighten you if your face doesn’t’t fit.
As in my time the areas remain the same. Food is one, and how it is eaten another. Jokes about fish knives still abound. Say serviette and you are still labeled immediately. And just think of the constantly changing fashions in food - mascarpone, balsamic vinegar, polenta etc. Invariably when I’m taken out in London these days I have to ask what many things on the menu are - thus ensuring that I am regarded with pity, by my ‘with it’ acquaintances. The very act of asking sets you apart - it just is not done to show you are ignorant. If you admit you like scampi and chips or worse chicken in a basket, or that you prefer your veg cooked and not al dente you are marked as a NOS - not our sort (the codes of my day are still in use. MIF - milk in first - is another I have recently heard still being used.) Why on earth should one be criticized for eating what one likes, why can’t you be chary of ‘foreign’ food? Heavens! Most foreigners show a deep and abiding suspicion of our food, so why is it so chic immediately to like something that’s often ordinary fare elsewhere?
Years ago white shoes and handbags were deemed beyond the pale - no lady would wear such offending articles – the late Princess Margaret did, bless her. I thought that one had gone, but no, only the other day, in a scathing fashion article, I read that - white shoes and Essex girls go hand in glove, and therefore are tasteless. But what is nicer than a young woman, with nice legs and a glowing tan looking lovely in her white stilettos? Am I alone?
Blue eye shadow - wear it at your peril! Princess Diana wore it constantly, but, come to think of it, there were quite a few snide remarks about her when she did. So why is someone who prefers it laughed out of court: who was it that suddenly decided it was unfashionable? Who was he or she, I’d like to know. A smart young woman told me in the nicest possible way that my blue eye shadow was not on, ‘Why?’ I asked. She had no answer, just that it if one wanted to be stylish it was never worn. ‘But it’s grey,” I pointed out. Oh, that’s all right then, I was astonished to hear her reply. Could anything be sillier?
Fabrics show taste apparently. Man made - ghastly; plastic - appalling. Natural - divine! Is it? If I wear silk or linen I look a creased mess within minutes, I for one am thrilled at the expertise of the manufacturers these days when it’s hard to tell until you read the label. And who is the guru who declares which trainers are ‘in’ which ‘out’, involving parents in endless frustration and expense. Is someone with vested interests taking us all for a ride?
If you like a painting that is reproduced a thousand times, for example Constable’s The Hay Wain, or Shepherd’s elephants, you are sadly lacking in artistic appreciation. Who says? A pile of dung is more artistically valid? Oh p.l.e.a.s.e!
Television is another minefield. Have you noticed how many claim never to watch and yet know all the latest catch phrases? I was once sneered at for being a Coronation Street addict - but of course that is now a cult programme and has become acceptable. I must be guilty of inverted snobbery since I rarely watch it these days.
A friend of mine who prides herself on her sophisticated and exquisite taste in all things was telling me about a black and white film she had seen, it was in Polish and about miners, her description was vague to say the least.
“It sounds boring to me,” I commented.
“Ah, but it had sub-titles.”
‘So? Does that make it less boring?”
“It makes it genre,” she purred.
Admit to liking ‘The Sound of Music,’ and wait for the sniggers.
When I lived in France I often asked visitors, travelling from England, to pick up a copy of Hello! Magazine for me. As often as not they said, “You don’t read that thing, do you?” So how come every copy that arrived had obviously been read from cover to cover? Closet Hello readers to a man.
And the home? Dadoes were out, then in, now out again as they appear in ordinary people’s homes. Austrian blinds the same. As for three piece suites - want to be regarded as with it, abounding in good taste - best ditch it. And we won’t go into ducks on walls, loo paper holders, bathmats shaped like feet - one could go on and on.
We haven’t even touched on language with its ‘pardons’ out and ‘what’s?’ in. Its looking glasses instead of mirrors, its sofas and not settees. Once when my husband’s terrifying grandmother visited I had laid the table with infinite care. The knives and forks were lined up, in order, like soldiers. I placed the dessert spoon and fork across the top of the setting. Perfection I thought.
“I was unaware you were running an hotel,’ she said, removing the spoon and fork; she made room for them with the others. I was flummoxed since I did not know what she was talking about. Later my husband explained to me that my way was how a restaurant would lay a table. “Why didn’t you tell me?” “I didn’t think it was important,” he sensibly replied. She stayed the week and each meal we had the same ritual, I put them where I wanted them to be, and she altered them to what she wanted. It was a form of a truce.
Who decides these things? Where do such rules and regulations come from? Who originally had the audacity to tell people what they should and shouldn’t like, use, say or do? I wish I could meet them on a dark night for all the anguish they caused me when young and scared of putting a foot wrong. What does upset me is that it is still bothering folks, those who, like me, felt out of their depth and insecure. The number of times people ask me what is right and what is wrong. It is depressing.
I feel like starting a club - the Ants - the Anti Taste Society. Whose members join me in eating what they want, dressing how they choose, admire what they like, say what they please .
On my wall is a set of, no not flying ducks but flying elephants and in my garden - horror of horrors to my taste obsessed friends - garden gnomes lurk! Come join me.
This article first appeared in the CGA.