Via a series of most fortunate events, I have recently written a bit for the Irish Independent, Ireland’s biggest selling newspaper (by some distance). It’s nice to be back writing, especially the stuff for INM, which is more like the blog and less like the po-faced stuff I often did for print. Basically, I get to make obscure references and dick jokes, and get paid for it. It’s all good – especially since I recently spoke to a person who asked me the depressing question ‘so are you just a whiskey blogger now?’ I felt like crying.
That said, I’m not entirely certain how to describe myself – ‘writer’ sounds too pretentious, while ‘journalist’ is an outright lie, so really ‘word whore’ is the most accurate. Anyway, here is some of my waffling –
An Ode To The Middle Classes
It’s been a rough few years for the middle class. When Bertie Ahern stood up on April 2, 2008 to tell us he was standing down, it marked the end of a golden age for Ireland’s noblesse au premier degré. It was their JFK moment, a magic bullet that snapped their politics back and to the left. Over the following months, financial institutions fell to the ground like toddlers in a supermarket aisle, and the weary middle classes were expected to pick them up and dust them off. Suddenly they were the squeezed middle, crushed with debt to a point that they were forced to compact words into nonsensical portmanteaus – a wet weekend in Leitrim was a ‘staycation’, while being eaten alive by midges in a medium-sized tent was ‘glamping’. Harsh lessons were learned, like where the local Aldi and Lidl were located, along with the startling revelation that ‘Primark stuff is actually alright, actually’. But they survived, and lived to tell the tale of those cruel years; an Angela’s Ashes for a generation that sees iPads as a basic human right.
But things have been improving. There have been – whisper it – green shoots. Few people want to admit it, but things are not all that bad. So maybe it is time for the middle class to waken from their financial hibernation, dust off the debit card and reach once more for that capitalist rainbow of Having Nice Things And A Nice House. In case they need guidance, William Hanson, one of the UK’s leading etiquette experts, has compiled a list of 16 items that mean that you are, in fact, middle class.
Thank the lord for Mr Hanson’s list, as the portion of the brain that controls middle class urges, or HyggeThalmus, has grown dusty during its cryosleep. You can barely remember how to correctly pronounce quinoa, not to mind what it actually is, and no longer know for sure if Nespresso is more Fair Trade-y than fresh ground.
These are the middle class problems you now face. Ten years ago your problems included getting mild hypothermia whilst queuing overnight to pay 250k for a two bed apartment in a village that didn’t even have a Spar. Now your problems include the dilemma of being this moment’s greatest monster – a private landlord. But who needs that mud slung at them when there is AirBnB? No longer are you 2016’s version of Charles Boycott, now you are that middle class aspirational figure – The Perfect Host. You are Beverly and Tim from Abigail’s Party, welcoming guests from across the world to your beautiful bespoke two-bed flat in a village with no Spar, telling them about the many amenities in the surrounding area (including a Centra in the next town, a short five mile walk) and trying to figure out what exactly they plan to do in your (Primark) Egyptian cotton bed linens.
The cultural theorist Mary Douglas says that dirt is matter out of place – shoes on the floor are fine, shoes on the table are dirty. And so when your guests check out, you don the Marigolds and become a crime scene investigator, figuring out what matter went where, scrubbing away the general ickiness of Other People. But Other People are also your target demographic – you want to impress them, to fit in, to belong. You spend countless hours fretting over what shade of Le Creuset goes best with a stainless steel Rangemaster – the aquamarine or the bastard orange? You don’t want to discredit your kitchen, which cost a small fortune in 2007, an era in which having your domestic space designed by Porche somehow made perfect sense, as did the four clocks on the dining room wall giving the time zones in London, Tokyo, New York and Mullingar.
The must-have list for the struggling class, as compiled by Mr Hanson, is as follows:
- 1. Smart TV
A curveball straight from the get go. If you had been asked to guess, most people would have said ‘a bookcase’ would top the list, or, if they were being honest, ‘a dusty bookcase’. Because why would you ever need to open a book when even your TV is smart?
- 2. Dyson vacuum cleaner
A €600 vacuum that looks like it was designed by the doozers from Fraggle Rock, with clear plastic so you can see several dozen pieces of Lego rattling around it at 5,000 RPM.
- 3. Barbecue
A telling trait of the middle classes is their belief that things will somehow be ok. Tied into this vague optimism is the belief that barbecues are a thing that actually happen in the real world, not just in unrealistic Richard Curtis-scripted romcoms. This is a false belief that is as corrosive to the soul as Irish rain is to your B&Q kettle BBQ. But at least the spiders have somewhere to shelter from the rain.
- 4. Vinyl records
You tell everyone they sound better, but you really don’t know anymore in this world of FLAC and Beats by Dre. But there are people here for a dinner party, so they might be impressed by your ironic use of Demis Roussos to soundtrack the frantic smashing of avocados in your Porche kitchen.
- 5. iMac
You secretly love your iMac more than you love your kids.
- 6. Nutribullet
Don’t call it a blender. It’s so much more than that. How much more? Two blades more. That is your line and you are sticking to it.
- 7. Antler or Samsonite luggage
Strictly for the carry-on – the rest of your belongings are stuffed into bin bags in the hold, where nobody can see them.
- 8. Wood burning stove
Wood, newspapers, sweet wrappers, nappies. Anything flammable really. Those pine logs are really more for display purposes.
- 9. Spiralizer
Who hasn’t looked at a courgette and thought ‘what this watery mess needs is to be served in ribbon form, to drag the experience out even longer’? You, that’s who. But somehow you still own a spiralizer.
- 10. Mulberry bag
You secretly love your Mulberry bag more than you love your iMac and your kids combined.
- 11. Matching coasters
Cohesion. Order. Control. Constant judgement. Constant disappointment. You know: Matching coasters.
- 12. Boiling water taps
Taps that spit out boiling water – what a time to be alive. Tea has never been so unsettling, and your hands have never been so sore. If only science would hurry up and invent a cold tap too.
- 13. Hot tub
This is where Mr Hanson’s list starts to move away from the good old Irish middle class and into the realm of Hollyoaks and that episode of Grand Designs where they stuffed a hot tub and pampas grasses into their tiny back garden. Hot tubs are expensive, tedious and will never shake off the whiff of dubious activity, no matter how much chlorine you dilute the (mostly rain)water with. You may see yourself as a suburban Dorian Gray, but atop the Stira to your attic, that portrait is riddled with Legionnaires Disease.
The middle classes are meant to be repressed – nobody went for dinner in Lord Byron’s house because they were scared of what he might have done to the food. Please tone it down.
- 14. Aga range cooker
Like a Range Rover you park in the kitchen, this is borderline upper-middle class, as are having an actual knowledge of wine, or owning a small blowtorch just for caramelising the sugar on your creme brulee. Keep going on like this and it’ll be wax jackets and clay pigeons before you can say ‘formers morket’.
- 15. Smeg fridge
Presumably taken from the Swedish word for smug, you don’t need to tell anyone you got this hulking beast on the first day of the January sales for a mere ten euro, because your smirk has broadcasted it to every coffee morning in the parish. Everyone hopes it falls on you some day.
- 16. Brompton bike
The fact they can be folded away means they are easier to steal. You will never see one of these anywhere other than on DoneDeal or in the Liffey at low tide.
That is Mr Hanson’s complete list, which failed to mention piano lessons, blazers, knowing a European language and owning a memory foam mattress. However, the most egregious omission was that of the most middle class trait of all – the fear that you might not actually be middle class.