Class conscious

We're trying to sell our house, and every viewing is preceded by my wife "styling" the place.

To explain: any sofa advertised in a colour supplement will have a newspaper on it, folded with perfect casualness - this is styling. The paper will always be a broadsheet, no matter what market the sofa is aimed at. It will never be the Daily Star. If ever you do see a sofa advertised with the Daily Star on the armrest, you can be sure that the person responsible for that detail would have been fired shortly after publication of the picture. My wife says that styling is about aesthetics - that a broadsheet is more elegant than a tabloid - but I say it is about class.

Let's look at the things allowed to remain on my desk after the latest styling: a neat pile comprising a Eurostar brochure, my mobile phone and The Rough Guide to Paris. My mobile is usually stashed in a drawer, and that particular book was mouldering on my shelf for years, but they were unearthed to suggest an impeccably middle-class narrative: I had been leafing through the Eurostar brochure, and decided, on a whim, that I fancied using the train, despite the fares usually running to a couple of hundred quid. I had then selected a hotel from the Rough Guide and booked the whole jaunt over the mobile, having disdained use of the landline as too cheap and uncool. The subtext is that I'm sophisticated and prosperous - an OK sort of person to buy a house from.

Let's now move to the master bedroom. On my bedside table, Mojo magazine - with its inappropriate suggestion of dope smoking and arrested adolescence - has been replaced by an enormous book called America's Queen: the life of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis by Sarah Bradford. My wife was delighted to get this for Christmas, because the red and black cover blends superbly with the colour scheme of our duvet. I never have read, and never will read, this book, but it reinforces the "French" display in my study by suggesting a chic, moneyed person with an international outlook.

My hope is that, if I'm subjected to the rigours of my wife's stylings for much longer, I will actually become the person implied by these artefacts.

This article first appeared in the 29 January 2001 issue of the New Statesman, The fall of Mandelson