Monday, 30 November -0001

The Lady Guide to Modern Manners: 23 January

Snobbery is alive and well in modern Britain, but how best to deal with it? Thomas Blaikie advises

Written by Thomas Blaikie
Dear Thomas,
I called on some friends recently, a husband and wife, who come from a more privileged background than I do and went to better universities. I wanted to deliver some hyacinths I’ve been growing for them but they were out. As it happened, their neighbours were just coming out of their house and actually offered to take in the bulbs without even being asked. Just imagine my horror when my friends phoned in the evening and the wife said, ‘I do hope you remembered that Lady Hardy doesn’t care at all to be addressed as Beryl.’ She was talking about her nice neighbours. I was terribly upset. I always try so hard to do the right thing. What do you suggest?
Geraldine Tims, Chichester

Dear Geraldine,
I must say that I’m speechless. Didn’t your friends even thank you for the bulbs? Hyacinths are just the nicest present, especially when you’ve grown them yourself, which I know from experience, involves a lot of work.

You say they’re better educated and out of a more top drawer than you, but from the sound of it, they’re jumped up and desperate to impress their supposedly posh neighbours. Truly classy people wouldn’t worry about such things. Nor should people who bear titles be bothered as to how they are addressed. The neighbour, Sir Hardy, is only a knight, I should imagine. Vita SackvilleWest used to blush if called ‘Lady Nicolson’ after her husband was knighted. She thought it dreadfully middleclass when she was herself a baron’s daughter of ancient lineage. If Her Ladyship Hardy thinks Beryl is beneath her, then good luck to her. But my guess is all this sensitivity comes from your friends.

On the other hand, is it possible that the whole thing’s a joke? Maybe your friend is winding you up, which isn’t awfully nice of her, but at least slightly alleviating, don’t you think? I notice that the first thing you mention is how inferior you feel to these people, both socially and in terms of education. Well, it’s easy for me to say, ‘Be more confident and don’t worry about things that don’t matter.’ The reality is that a lot of people in this country feel more sharply than might be imagined that in origin and upbringing they are inadequate. It’s deeprooted and like all irrational feelings, hard to eradicate.

It may comfort you to know that Cecil Beaton noticed even the Queen Mother glancing nervously to see which knife and fork to use. Scratch beneath the surface and most people are nothing like as poised and secure as they appear – your friends included, perhaps.

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


Maybe I am oversensitive at the moment, having just been awarded a special engraved disc on a key ring by a certain leading and highly desirable supermarket chain. This is a reward for long service and means I don’t have to remember to bring a £1 coin to release a trolley from the chain gang where they are stored. Perhaps for this reason I am alert to the state of the chariots (as they call them in France).

It is not that they are wonky. Not for years have I had a wonky trolley, that, when pushed forward, veers to the left or right, causing total impossibility of doing any shopping. What is distressing are the shopping lists and little plastic bags left by previous users. How do I know where this litter has been? I don’t want other people’s litter in my facility. I want it pristine. Some of these shopping lists suggest a shrivelled life when all they say is ‘Granny Smiths’ and ‘Pencils for Eileen’. We must start a campaign to get the supermarket staff who regroup and marshal the trolleys in the trolley park to also cleanse them.

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