Friday, 09 January 2015

The Lady Guide to Modern Manners: 9 January

A good old-fashioned feud can last for years. But is it worth allowing a personal war to last so long, asks Thomas Blaikie

Written by Thomas Blaikie
Dear Thomas,
I fell out most brutally with quite a close friend about five years ago. I can’t even remember why now. Once we bumped into each other (so I thought) in an art gallery and when I tried at least to be polite, she was very aggressive. It turned out later that she knew I was going to be there, so we didn’t meet by chance from her point of view. With the new year here, I was wondering if it isn’t time for reconciliation.
Dinah Murphy, Sutton Coldfield

Dear Dinah,
Feuds! Of one thing we can be certain – a feud isn’t the end of anything. Refusing to speak, refusing to be in the room with a person: all that is a way of continuing a relationship by other means. Real indifference is something else altogether.

Your friends will tell you, perhaps, to ‘move on’, especially after five years. This is often considered the ‘positive’ thing to be doing. Many, even if they would like to resolve a dispute, would not dream of tackling the other party’s savage determination not to. To some extent, this is self-defence. Nobody wants to get hurt. Eventually it is easier to barricade yourself in with the attitude that the other person is your enemy, vile and horrible beyond imagination.

Poisonous and sad, feuds should end wherever possible and at whatever cost. In our village when I was young, in the early 1960s, there were all sorts of people who hadn’t been on speaking terms for years and died thus, who had fallen out over things that had supposedly been said about them and that had got back to them.

Yet, elsewhere I’ve heard of those who have reconciled after scandalous partner-swapping or after writing nasty reviews of each other’s books or turning down invitations in the most ungracious and insulting fashion. There’s no limit to what can be forgiven and forgotten.

It is never too late to end a feud, but it is often too soon. Always take the risk of trying to make contact, even if you feel that the other person is to blame. But wait until you are not yourself choked up with rage. You might be surprised at your ‘enemy’s’ willingness to make amends. Your call is probably what they’ve been waiting for all these years.

Discussion is best avoided. And you won’t get anywhere if you’re expecting an apology. Ideally both sides should climb down but the sort of people who get into feuds aren’t the sort of people who climb down – at least not overtly. You might have to content yourself with the tiniest gesture. Maybe you can never pick up where you left off before the rupture, but anything is better than being forever at war.

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


In January we are looking for a cause of complaint to pass the time until spring. How about paper cups? I mean the ones with lids from various ubiquitous coffee outlets. Why is it that anyone in an outdoor coat (ie, in transit from home to work) will inevitably be clutching one of those paper cups with a lid? As one of my correspondents put it: ‘Try to act like organised, competent people and drink your coffee at home instead of showing up at the office/class hugging one of those things like a security blanket.’

Well, here’s weaponry for your campaign against incompetent coffee consumption. Germs and toxins! Sixteen billion cups are used in the US each year. Research shows a possibility of poisoning from melamine in them. There’s also a danger of mould and gases when the glue is heated. Worst of all, the lids that we loathe – they’re dirty. Bill Levey of the US has investigated. Previous customers pick them up and put them back in the pile. The ‘barristas’ press them with the flats of their unwashed hands. Avoid.

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