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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Do they mean us?

The hero of Jay McInerney's first novel Bright Lights Big City was a fact checker at one of America's most prestigious magazines, a thinly disguised version of The New Yorker. The job of these salaried pedants is to take the manuscript that says "it was a sunny day" and then check with the meterologists that on the day in question in the place in question the weather could fairly be described as such. But sometimes the search for what New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik calls "passionate specificness" leads them astray. There was a case last year where they said Alan Bennett came from Bradford when in fact he comes from Leeds. Trifling, I know, but they wouldn't make the same mistake if they were dealing with American cities.
Now in the course of a terrific piece about Kate Nash in the current issue, Sasha Frere-Jones describes her home suburb of Harrow as "posh". I like the fact that American publications try to colour in the social background in a way that British titles don't but they can so easily be led astray. Just because it is home to a fearfully posh public school of the same name (which is actually in Harrow On The Hill) doesn't mean Harrow's anything more than a part of the suburban sprawl on North-West London and will be home to a wide variety of socio-economic groups.