Thursday, 01 November 2012

The Lady Guide to Modern Manners: 2 November

Drinks, dinner parties and house guests. When is the best moment to depart? Timing is all, advises Thomas Blaikie

Written by Thomas Blaikie
Dear Thomas,
I'm developing quite a complex about departure. Either I seem to be leaving parties far too early or guests in my own home never go away. Oh dear – that sounds dreadful. I don't mean to be unwelcoming. Do you have any suggestions?
Lynne Diver, Taunton

Dear Lynne,
As a matter of fact, I do. Just the other day I went to a glorious gathering. Luckily, I left before midnight because I heard that later (much later) the host boiled over and bulldozed the remaining guests on to the street, saying something along the lines of: 'You vampires have been here for quite long enough.'

In the 1980s, I attempted to interview the Queen Mother's Private Secretary at Clarence House. Afterwards, he offered a friendly gin and tonic. The signal to leave was him snatching the half-finished beverage out of my hand.

Many complain that on weekend visits to friends in the country, there's a sudden sense of unwelcome at some point during the Sunday. The hosts go to bed at 2pm or remark pointedly that they never have Sunday lunch.

A butler or maid can be useful. You ring for them and announce that your guest is leaving – which is the first your visitor has heard of it.

Attractive for their brutality as these procedures might be, we're too sensitive and thoughtful ever to carry them out. You just can't invite people into your home and then make them feel unwelcome. On the other hand, they can't stay for ever. It's a delicate matter. Equally, for a guest, departure can be a source of awkwardness.

As far as weekend visits are concerned, surely if you know people well enough to have them to stay, you can all do your own thing quite happily? If you want to switch off on Sunday afternoon, what's stopping you? Why do your guests have to leave?

With a larger party, it's just a fact of life that there will be stragglers. It's no good getting cross. You might not be able to help falling asleep in your chair and there's a chance the hangerson will get the message.

At smaller occasions, especially midweek suppers, you do rather need to be in bed in good time. If you're a couple, one of you can retire while the other implores the guests to stay. Then they'll go. Otherwise say: 'I'm supposed to be in Milan for breakfast. I suppose I should get to bed at some point.' Avoid any sense of hurry, of a ruthless timetable.

If, as a guest, you find it difficult to leave, for fear of causing offence in some unspecifi ed way, then try to be rational. Rid yourself of guilt. You are not wounding your hosts irrecoverably. It's just time to go home.

Please send your questions to Thomas.blaikie@lady.co.uk or write to him at The Lady, 39-40 Bedford Street, London WC2E 9ER

WHAT TO DO... when people talk during concerts

Ian Williams writes from Usk to complain of a disruptive couple expressing too much enthusiasm recently at the Royal Albert Hall. We've touched on this before and I've been wondering if the whole subject isn't a little more complicated than might appear.

At classical music concerts and highbrow theatre, the tiniest disruption will be ferociously shushed at once. Absolute rules are effectively enforced by the mysterious power of the audience. Presumably at pop concerts it's the other way round: the person not shouting and waving their arms around is likely to be cajoled into conformity by everyone else.

But at a performance of Beethoven the other day, the person in front of me was emailing on his iPhone some way
into the fi rst movement. But no one else noticed. Only me, all wound up about manners.

So, this couple talking at the Royal Albert Hall – why did no one shush them? If the audience didn't like them, it would have said so. I do just a little resent the shushers. Wouldn't it be wonderful if the rapt, still, unmoving condition of an audience was induced by the power of the performance, rather than the rules of etiquette?


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