Monday, 30 November -0001

The Lady Guide to Modern Manners: 12 October

Having a party? What is the most suitable form of written invitation? Thomas Blaikie advises

Written by Thomas Blaikie
Dear Thomas,
I'm in a quandary. What's the best form of invitation for a large party? I'm considering a number of options but they all seem either too formal or too informal. I'd be grateful for your help.
Vera Whittle, Ringwood

Dear Vera,
I assume that you're thinking of some kind of written invitation and that the occasion is tending to the formal (or, should I say, 'special'). Much depends on your age. If you're young (ie, under 40), you might use whacky graphics and not at all self-effacing wording: 'Kat "Cup Cake" Morrison presents THE Bonfire Party: sparkling white or you're dead!' If not electronically transmitted, such a beckoning might be photocopied extensively on to A4 paper for distribution.

There's nothing wrong with any of this. It's just that if you're late youth (ie, 40 and upwards), you'll have to think of something else.

In some quarters, the written invitation has been declared dead. Text or email is the only way. Don't listen. The invitation you can hold in your hand is irreplaceable and cannot fail to elevate the occasion it announces...

Or can it? How about 'Lucy's going to be 40 (Gasp!!! Horror!!!) Help!... Help! PLEASE come to her party.' Exhausting. An invitation should be inviting, not desperate or cajoling. Besides, too much fever worked up in advance might not have the desired effect.

I've never known an invitation that aims at wit and jollity to succeed. Quiet dignity is what we want. What's wrong with the time-honoured 'requests the pleasure of your company'? Truly courteous, both humble and warm, if you stop to think what it means. Don't bother with pointless variations such as 'would like the pleasure of your company' or 'takes pleasure in requesting...'

'You are invited...' is a supposedly more up-to-date alternative but is too abrupt. 'So and so would like to invite you...' is perfectly all right but rather New English Bible – plain and boring.

Or, what about the At Home card? I've just had one summoning me to a 30th birthday dinner (going against the grain of the above; maybe the young are changing). You can scrawl little personal notes on them. They can be used to invite to a wide range of occasions. You just write in the space provided as relevant: 'shooting lunch' 'drinks' 'garden party' 'fork luncheon, then knitting' 'tea followed by charabanc excursion'.

'Requests the pleasure...' invitation cards and At Home cards can be bought in. The less fancy the better, ideally the size of a postcard, white or cream.

Self-designed cards must be decently done, not photocopied at the office. Often over-looked: remember the invitation must inform precisely as to the nature of the occasion, duration, dress, time of start and, ideally, finish.

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 ABOUT... If you're interrupted

Maybe I'm growing dull, but interrupting seems to me to be on the increase. I'm almost always interrupted. We're told
over and over to put our phones away and pay attention to our friends actually in the room. But what is the point if they're not listening?

I blame texting and email (which rather takes me round in a circle, doesn't it?). We've all acquired the attention span of some very minimal creature. So many messages, more and more all the time, but less and less chance that we'll be able to make any sense of them.

Interrupting can take the form of cutting someone off before they've finished speaking, or changing the subject completely. Sometimes people interrupt because the conversation is getting too interesting and they're somehow threatened or they're bored or they'd rather be talking themselves or they really are listening to you but have gone off on some maddening tangent.

The interruption might be a hint that you've gone on long enough or your subject is somehow repellent. Otherwise,
you can try: 'As I was saying...' Like graffiti, interrupting, once begun, tends to proliferate. You might need to bring your listeners firmly to heel.


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