My salad dressing days

How to get on in society
August 30, 2005, 9:14 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Phone for the fish-knives, Norman,
As Cook is a little unnerved;
You kiddies have crumpled the serviettes
And I must have things daintily served.

Are the requisites all in the toilet?
The frills round the cutlets can wait
Till the girl has replenished the cruets
And switched on the logs in the grate.

It’s ever so close in the lounge, dear,
But the vestibule’s comfy for tea,
And Howard is out riding on horseback,
So do come and take some with me.

Now here is a fork for your pastries,
And do use the couch for your feet;
I know what I wanted to ask you —
Is trifle suffient for sweet?

Milk and then just as it comes, dear?
I’m afraid the preserve’s full of stones;
Beg pardon I’m soiling the doileys
With afternoon tea-cakes and scones.

by John Betjeman [1906 – 1984]

JB loved to mock the aspirant, some might say ‘nouveau riche’, middle classes*. If you liked this one, you might also enjoy ‘Hunter Trials’.

* note that being middle class is practically a term of abuse in the UK


10 Comments so far
Leave a comment

lol I love that poem! My father got rid of the fish knives on the strength of it!

Comment by Jane

UC, your line at the end has me baffled. What are the correct terms to use in the UK?
Not still commoners and gentry is it? I’m way out of touch-enlighten me?

Comment by Kyahgirl

Most of New Zealand is middle class-ish so it doesn’t have that sort of stigma attached to it.

Comment by Make Tea Not War

I really enjoyed that poem, though I’m obviously missing some of its intent–but that’s okay, that’s normal, for me:)

Comment by actonbell

Oh, I LOVE that poem! Nancy Mitford would have had a field day.

Comment by Hannah

These are great!

Comment by Meegan

I should have been born in England. I have always had a fascination with the Brittish. My Undergrad major was Brittish literature. Too bad that as a teacher, I can’t possibly afford to actually GO to England.

Comment by United We Lay

L, I think what UC meant about a term of abuse is that BEING middle class is itself viewed as a very bad thing. British society has now moved to a place where there are still a few upper class people and there is an underclass and everyone else is frankly differing degrees of middle class. This makes those who come from what would have been called working class roots in the old days feel like they have sold out. So even though they enjoy a middle class life, vote for Blair and do and buy things that their grandparents would never have dreamed of, actually admitting it is quite out of the question and being accused of it is an insult. That way you can just carry on, maintain pride in your roots and ignore the extreme poverty in the UK right at the bottom end of the scale. Personally, I’m downwardly mobile upper middle, in case anyone cares.

Comment by GreatSheElephant

thank you great she elephant!

i had been intending to post a response to laura’s query but kept chickening out, knowing i am not best placed to explain the underlying sociology etc.

people imagine that being ‘working class’ is more authentic

the people who JB is mocking are the same butt of the joke in nancy mitford’s ‘noblesse oblige’


Comment by Urban Chick

Thank you GreatSheElephant and UC. What an interesting muddle of loyalties and history. I asked my British colleague about classes at lunchtime and she said she’s happy to live her because its not an issue. She said its still quite apparent in England, even so far as subtly thinking of us people here as ‘living in the colonies’ still. We’re not quite so refined I guess. Rrowr!

Have a lovey weekend!

Comment by Kyahgirl

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