Monday, 30 November -0001

The Lady Guide to Modern Manners: 16 January

Singing at a house party can be a real joy. But how to pull the plug when your guests outstay their welcome? Thomas Blaikie advises

Written by Thomas Blaikie
Dear Thomas,
I have a delightful and erudite friend who occasionally travels up from Usk for dinner parties. It is always wonderful to see him. There’s just one thing: he does tend to commandeer the piano for extensive recitals of favourites by Sir Elton John, Queen and Abba. While impressed with his sublime Mamma Mia, accompanied by thumping of the piano keys, I fear our neighbours might not appreciate such talent. Short of removing the piano, how can I persuade my friend to stick to The Shooting Of Dan McGrew before saying farewell at midnight?
John McEntee, Fulham

Dear John,
I am reminded of Pride And Prejudice’s Mr Bennet. ‘You have delighted us long enough,’ he said, cutting off his daughter Mary’s intolerable song recital at the Philips’s. Yet, I’m sure readers will be seeking, in the quiet winter months, a little gracious homemade entertainment at social gatherings, provided it does not go on too long. The late Princess Margaret often got carried away with her singing and because protocol required that nobody could leave before she did, hosts grew adept at ushering out guests while her back was turned between songs. She did not notice the mysteriously dwindling audience.

I love home entertainment but one must not expect international standards of performance. That’s part of the point. Everyone who wants to can have a go – within reason. A QC gave a marvellous party for me one Easter at which an elderly gentleman sang from the Noël Coward songbook, including a number written for or about Grace Kelly, I forget which. He turned out to be an immensely distinguished Harvard law professor – with an interest in singing from the Noël Coward songbook.

The vital thing is that someone is in charge, either the host or a person appointed by the host. Agree a programme in advance with equal and modest shares for all. If the audience demands encores it could get nasty if some performers are favoured over others. Keep a limit on encores. A spontaneous, unplanned eruption of live music, as occurred in your case, is a more dangerous aff air. Best to avoid by hemming your piano in with immovable items, locking it and losing the key. Or you could drape your instrument to resemble the tomb of a great Wagnerian soprano.

The Queen Mother liked singing My Old Man’s A Dustman with Noël Coward in person after dinner. Parlour games are also enjoyed by the Royal Family. You may suggest these to galvanise torpid guests, especially in January and February.

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… BREASTFEEDING

Apologies for dragging up the pre- Christmas story of the woman who was humiliated at Claridge’s by a waiter throwing a cloth over her as she attempted to breastfeed her baby at teatime. Nigel Farage, the Ukip leader, then put his foot in it by suggesting that nursing mothers should sit in a corner. But I do wonder if we are not in other and more general ways growing into a less and less tolerant society, so perhaps the story lives on.

The issue was seen in black and white. Anybody not supporting the woman risked ostracism. Yet it is possible to envisage public situations in which many women would prefer not to be feeding their babies – while presiding as a High Court judge, for instance. Equally there is at least the possibility of a certain strident or even aggressive type of public breastfeeding intended to provoke. This issue has been live at least since the 1970s, yet I am rarely aware of women feeding their babies in cafes and restaurants, even though these and other public spaces must be full of them.


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