Class conscious

The story is told (mainly by upper-middle-class Englishmen) of the upper- middle-class Englishman who is asked by an awed foreigner how he makes his lawn so perfect. "Well," drawls this gent, "it's very simple: you just water it, weed it, apply moderate vigilance and common sense . . . for 300 years."

Lawns are an English speciality, and therefore a class thing. Every street has a person who, when not cleaning the car, is watering the lawn, because cars and lawns are among the pre-eminent status symbols of our time - with the consequence, incidentally, that so are hoses, which should ideally terminate in a sort of ray gun. My wife, in a vaguely parodic way, is one of these aspirational waterers. She aspires to be able to see her face in the paintwork of our brand new . . . OK it's a Skoda but the engines are by Volkswagen you know . . . and as for our lawn, her goal is not quite the 300-year-old look, but what, after many years in north London, she has come to call "Jewish grass". (She's Jewish herself, I should mention, so she's allowed to say that.)

Jewish grass, according to her, looks like a bright green carpet; it does not look like grass. By the standards of Jewish grass, most lawns look like a lot of hay.

At the time of writing, however, our grass is far from Jewish. It's got these great bald patches on it, and so, every couple of weeks, I must buy a small packet of grass seed from the garden centre, which involves the slight but ever perceptible humiliation of admitting that I have a small lawn (or "pocket hand- kerchief" garden, as the sales assistants are trained to euphemise it). These packets reinforce lawn snobbery by being covered with a picture of an irritatingly rich man reading a broadsheet newspaper in a landscaped garden about three feet away from a tiny token bald patch, about which he is - not surprisingly - managing to remain totally unflustered.

The grass seed is slow to take, so I don't know what to do. I could persist with it, or I could consider returfing. The question is, which is the least naff option?

Answers on a postcard please.

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Is anyone prepared to solve the NHS funding crisis?

As long as the political taboo on raising taxes endures, the service will be in financial peril. 

It has long been clear that the NHS is in financial ill-health. But today's figures, conveniently delayed until after the Conservative conference, are still stunningly bad. The service ran a deficit of £930m between April and June (greater than the £820m recorded for the whole of the 2014/15 financial year) and is on course for a shortfall of at least £2bn this year - its worst position for a generation. 

Though often described as having been shielded from austerity, owing to its ring-fenced budget, the NHS is enduring the toughest spending settlement in its history. Since 1950, health spending has grown at an average annual rate of 4 per cent, but over the last parliament it rose by just 0.5 per cent. An ageing population, rising treatment costs and the social care crisis all mean that the NHS has to run merely to stand still. The Tories have pledged to provide £10bn more for the service but this still leaves £20bn of efficiency savings required. 

Speculation is now turning to whether George Osborne will provide an emergency injection of funds in the Autumn Statement on 25 November. But the long-term question is whether anyone is prepared to offer a sustainable solution to the crisis. Health experts argue that only a rise in general taxation (income tax, VAT, national insurance), patient charges or a hypothecated "health tax" will secure the future of a universal, high-quality service. But the political taboo against increasing taxes on all but the richest means no politician has ventured into this territory. Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander has today called for the government to "find money urgently to get through the coming winter months". But the bigger question is whether, under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is prepared to go beyond sticking-plaster solutions. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.