Who but society interior designer Nicky Haslam would dare even use the word ‘common’ these days, let alone turn his ambitious decrees into a bestselling tea towel? Here, he explains why we love to fall foul of his pet hates
I must make myself cut-crystal clear. This is not about ‘common’ in the hackneyed U and non-U sense. Nothing to do with whether one says toilet or mirror or mantelpiece… though a few words – ‘meal’, for instance, or ‘pardon’ and ‘serviettes’ – do, I fear, carry the stigma, to which I would add going ‘bless you’ when someone sneezes.
Nor has it anything to do with class, a subject the British (never ‘Brits’) are singularly obsessed by. It is far more about pretensions, attitudes and beliefs that irritate, and the things that have become clichéd.
Embracing fads without analysis, being over-woke and, au fond, taking the latest dicta too literally is the trap. ‘Mindfulness’ is no more than dear old ‘do as you would be done by’ – ie thinking of other people – as well as navel-gazing, though I see that ‘self-regard’ is twinned with before-a-fall ‘pride’ in my thesaurus, and thus dangerously close to ‘loving oneself’, the new version of ‘I’m all right, Jack’. I can’t think of one reason why I should love, or even like, myself.
I’m pleased if something I do turns out well, and happy if something I say pleases; but liking, and loving, goes towards one’s friends. And the current vogue for ‘self-pity’ is the fastest way to bore those friends rigid.
A couple of the above are listed on my latest tea towel (itself a term common as muck, should be ‘drying-up clawth’, as a duchess’s daughter Instagrammed). Along with Woman’s Hour and its non-stop fixation with lady gardens (I’m tempted to put all those lady gardeners on the next one) and, worse, anyone who is intensely private, they tick my irritation box.
Others fall under cliché. ‘Love’ on cushions (Union Jacks, too) for example, or The Proms, and art fairs. Some take a bit of working out. Washing hands after the loo put many backs up, but the point is that very few people don’t, therefore doing it is (thank heavens and Mr Dyson) common.
Ditto Uber and cash machines… though counting the notes is a bit off… But saying ‘Bon appétit’ is unforgivable, as is all that sniffing of wine. Others are any sights that jar… Coloured wellingtons (should actually be ‘gumboots’) or scarves tied in that loop-knot, and conservatories.
Many are personal gripes. Pronouncing the last ‘t’ in ‘trait’ – it’s a French word, as is ‘furore’, so don’t stress the ‘e’, which newsreaders invariably do, who also say Argentinians. They aren’t; they are Argentines. And they mind. As to the others on the list… think about them. I bet you’ll find there’s meaning in the message.
How vulgar are you? Take this quiz and find out...
How many of these do you like, own, experience or use?
- Scented candles
- Film stars
- Celebrity chefs
- Bottled water
- Not eat carbs
- Love your parents
- Jet lag
- Being ill
- Coloured bath towels
- Vodka tonic
- Say ‘bye-bye’
- Use dog walkers
- Organic food
If you have ticked…
According to Nicky Haslam, you are very common
You are quite common
You are not common at all
The Impatient Pen: Curated Writings of Nicky Haslam is published on 5 April (Zuleika, £22.99).
Buy Nicky’s latest tea towel at nh-design.co.uk, £18