Friday, 04 November 2016

The Lady Guide to Modern Manners: 4 November

Is holding a fancy-dress party in a marquee bad form for your 50th? Thomas Blaikie advises the birthday girl

Written by Thomas Blaikie
Dear Thomas,
I would welcome your advice about planning a party for my 50th birthday next year. We live in Lincolnshire and I was thinking of having a marquee in the small paddock at the back of our garden. Guests will be friends and family from all over the country, a mix of city, country, horsey and aviation folk.

I have been informed by my much younger brother in London that my preference for a marquee and fancy dress theme for the evening (possibly tube stations as I was born in London) would be both inappropriate and very unfashionable!

Please help. I like the idea of a marquee. Is this really so bad? What sort of party should I have to appeal to all? Should I have a theme? What sort of food should we be eating? What sort of music should we be listening to? Dare I ask for a disco? I want it to be fun, cool, yet unique and sophisticated without being pretentious and expensive.

Can you help?
Samantha, Lincolnshire

Dear Samantha,
There is nothing wrong with marquees. Your brother is probably thinking of ones lined with nylon ruching in melon or mango shades. You don’t want that. A good plain marquee is the ideal solution. Very few people have room inside their house for everybody they want to invite. The alternative is to hire another venue altogether but this is less personal. Do make sure your marquee isn’t too hot nor too draughty. Anticipate every kind of weather. Fill your marquee with flowers in free, natural but huge arrangements.

Food – the important thing is abundance and variety. Food produced by caterers is often okay but dull. Homemade, well-flavoured, good ingredients, ‘artisanal’ (awful word but still…), a bit rough at the edges is much better than hotel silver-service grandeur.

Fancy dress – I think not. It feels like enforced fun. Tube stations of London? Theydon Bois? Arnos Grove? Piccadilly?

Most important thing: the comfort of guests. Get masses of help, schoolboy waiters, everybody served promptly, no queues. If it is a sit-down dinner, make sure there is still room to move between the tables.

Disco – guests love them, but not too loud, please. Having live music is ideal.

Quirky touch – an ice-cream van? I’ve seen this. These days a lot of enterprising young people are offering unexpected little oddities for parties for not too much money.

Worth looking into.  

Please send your questions to or write to him at The Lady, 39-40 Bedford Street, Londn WC2E 9ER 

WHAT TO DO ABOUT...House Guests has surveyed 1,009 adults on what they find annoying about house guests. The top faux pas was using a phone at table – 89 per cent against. And 77 per cent don’t like to be asked for the house Wi-fi code. Well, yes, but as I’ve often said, let’s not be too rigid about it. The third worst faux pas really is rather flummoxing – 64 per cent objected to their guests wearing shoes on the carpet. I’ve never heard of a dinner party with all the guests in their stockinged feet. Suitable footwear, reasonably clean and not ruinous to flooring, is another matter.

Otherwise those questioned must have some very rude friends. No, guests should not poke about in their host’s bedroom without permission (58 per cent objected), nor help themselves to food without asking (88 per cent against).

Of course, when it comes to pets, it’s another story: while 87 per cent agreed that it was bad-mannered to put your feet on other people’s furniture, an as- tounding 61 per cent said they would be happy for guests to let their dog on the sofa. And only 19 per cent wanted to be asked first before a pet was intro - duced into their home.

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