When Nancy Mitford set out the rules for being U (upper class) in 1955, she might have expected them – like most things relating to the English aristocracy – to stand the test of time. But a pandemic can turn even the strictest rules on their heads. Once, proclaiming oneself ‘sick’ (as opposed to the U-appropriate ‘ill’), and talking of ‘homes’ rather than ‘houses’, could send one’s social stock plummeting.
Reassuringly some nuances still exist: ‘toilet’ will never pass muster; those who have taken to the lockdown trend for two wheels would be expected to ‘bike’, never ‘cycle’; and asking friends to take off their shoes inside is intolerable, no matter what the Sage experts say.
But as our vocabulary has morphed to focus more on social distancing than social climbing, subtle new rules have emerged. Gavin Rankin, proprietor of U-bolthole Bellamy’s, the Queen’s favourite dining spot, expects ‘a resurgence of the fan as a sort of face mask’ in the restaurant, complete with age-old flirting techniques. He also predicts ‘air-kissing, only from a greater distance’, but table-hopping ‘will be out, thank goodness’.
Elaborate ‘tablescapes’ are still non-U, trumped by the family silver; but don’t be surprised if opera gloves – both hygienic and glamorous – have a renaissance. Live-in staff are now practically a prerequisite for the much-dreaded second wave, particularly if they also happen to be trained hairdressers. Dogs on the bed, however, are out (just don’t tell Lady Annabel Goldsmith’s legion of hounds).
For the first time, being health-conscious is smart, in both senses of the word. That means less sharing of lipsticks, cigarettes and spouses – but if you must, remember Matt Hancock’s golden rule and, for goodness’ sake, do it outdoors.
A chest freezer
Pictures of your children volunteering
Having a driver
Doing your own nails
Zoom-calling your therapist
Waving in the street
Open windows, all year
Bowing instead of shaking hands
Dressing for dinner
Owning a bike
Holidaying in the British Isles
Having a pen pal
Paying for a new hospital wing
The private room – or booking every room
Knowing someone who’s working on the vaccine
Investing in Learjet
Crowded drinks parties
A dirty kitchen
Hugging your parents
Complaining about travel
Leaning in at dinner
Being late for a reservation
Dogs on the bed
‘Festivals’ in your garden
Using a hanky, not a tissue
Hot tubs on skiing holidays
The phrase ‘the new normal’
Bringing a surprise plus-one (or plus-five)
Discussing your antibody test
Homemade masks in floral fabric