What your parents thought was common as shit

So you can imagine how the recent flurry of correspondence on the Telegraph’s letters page, about things their parents deemed ‘common’, made me squirm with gratitude. Telegraph readers were tickled by Anita Singh’s review of Keeping Up with the Aristocrats, where she sighed: “It is terribly difficult for the plebs among us to know what is common”, and sent suggestions to the shovel: popsicles, Daz detergent, shoe patents, comic books, vote Labor and shout in the garden. As one correspondent pointed out, parental reflections on the issue “often defied logic”.

In the Pelling household there was a long list of wares and verboten products: Angel Delight (so vulgar I thought it might poison me), Mr Kipling’s cakes, Smash mash in a packet, Monster Munch, Crunchy Nut Corn Flakes or any over-elaborate breakfast cereal (we had a shrine to Shredded Wheat), Chopper, Tiny Tears, Barbie and Ken bikes (so common they would cause teenage pregnancy) , lace curtains of the twitcher variety, doilies, calling your grandma “nan”, pantomimes (except at the Palladium), Freeman Hardy & Willis shoes and watching ITV. We were almost the only kids at our local primary school who only watched Blue Peter (never ITV rival Magpie), played with wholesome Sindy and Sasha dolls, wore Startrite shoes and never ate of food in a package. Mum had a titanic struggle with her best feelings when the Morecambe and Wise Show moved from Beeb to ITV in 1978, but eventually relented. After all, these were exceptional circumstances.

Over the years, I’ve seen social tastes shift or pirouette completely – like the tongue-in-cheek home decor trend that declares that everything 1970s, including shag carpets, is suddenly desirable – and I tried to deprogram myself, with mixed results. The fear of being found downgraded runs so deep that it can defy my own will. The year before Kate Middleton married Prince William, my Agent friend Clare and I dreamed up a book we intended to call Glad to Meet You (a horribly non-U greeting, as everyone knows. Mitford fans). Our inspiration was the chorus of snobbish commentary that took aim at the Middleton family; half of the UK appeared to be having a steam fit when Carole Middleton was spotted chewing gum and there were somber comments about the socially escalating ‘Wisteria sisters’ – showing just how frequency the only thing revealed by snobbery is the person who sneers. bad evaluation. We spent happy hours dissecting what was now acceptable and what was not. I was particularly impressed with Clare’s confident statement that “all purebred cats are common except Siamese, while purebred dogs are always fine.” We both agreed that the “creme dream” home furnishings were a false attempt at sophistication, ditto spas “except in Scandinavia, or invited to share one with Snoop Dogg in Los Angeles.”

Needless to say, no publisher wanted our masterpiece. Why would they when everyone knows the self-proclaimed arbiter of modern vulgarity is Nicky Haslam. His regular lists of things deemed inadmissible are notorious for driving chatter classes out into hives – what tradition, institution or cherished pastime will he point his spear next, showing devotees in all their needy yearnings? In 2019, he had a thing for signet rings, Henley Regatta, sherbets, hedge funds, mindfulness and palms. Wheezing proved so effective that he collected a few prime targets on a tea towel, including: cufflinks, James Bond, polo shirts, and uneasiness. Haslam knows very well that the desire of the British middle classes to self-flagellate for the cause of social insecurity should never be underestimated. Meanwhile, the upper and lower classes, who don’t care, consider it a spectator sport to watch others writhe. A friend whose close relatives include a Dowager Duchess says she likes to say “toilet” to make visitors squirm.

I’m not above squirming, but I’ve at least managed to raise two sons who are oblivious to petty social signifiers and class shackles. They even consider my attempt to prevent them from pronouncing “th” as “f” as a kind of tyranny à la Tatler. YouTube, TikTok, and rap music are great levelers. Even so, I never let a spoonful of Angel Delight pass their lips, just in case…


What was considered mud in your household? Let us know in the comments below…

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