Monday, 30 November -0001

The Lady Guide to Modern Manners: 20 February

Different domestic standards can lead to a quarrel with friends or a family rift. Thomas Blaikie advises

Written by Thomas Blaikie
Dear Thomas,
I notice that an awful lot of people complain about the domestic standards of others. They lend their house to someone or have guests staying but it always seems to end in tears and arguments about whether the bath was cleaned properly or how Auntie Jean’s priceless cup and saucer got chipped. We have a lot of trouble over a holiday cottage that various members of our family can use at different times.
Christine Preston, Newcastle

Dear Christine,
I think you’re right. Maybe the world is divided into two halves, with one half finding the other very untidy and nasty as to domestic habits. The young are much afflicted in flat shares and on compact holidays where they might be four to a room in a skiing hut or whatever. So where are the boundaries? Some house guests of mine, occupying while I was away, left all the china they’d broken on the worktop (neatly arranged) without comment. There was something accusatory about this, as if it were all my fault.

The trouble is that the nondomestic half of the world has just as much contempt for what it considers to be the fussy, obsessive carryon of the other. But there have to be some limits and awareness that not everybody is the same. Taking absolutely no trouble whatsoever and damaging possessions when the smallest bit of care could have avoided it, is going too far.

Misunderstandings arise from what a brainy friend of mine calls the Theory of Misattribution. We humans tend to ascribe motives to the actions of others where there are none. So we assume that our friend (or notfriend) deliberately scattered crumbs all over the sofa or left their co„ffee mug in the drawing room just to wound us. But they didn’t. They were only muddling along in the usual way. Equally, domestic o„ffenders of this type will assume that anyone wielding a vacuum cleaner, clearing up after them, is making a pointed accusation.

There’s room for give and take on both sides, certainly. But quite a few people really are a bit manic about cleanliness and order in the home. My own mother said to me recently, ‘Do you realise a home is to be lived in?’ ‘Up to a point,’ I said. Sadly one has to recognise that through use, polished surfaces will get marked and scratched within reason. My mother has proudly scratched her new Aga tops by putting saucepans on them to dry. Also, cleaning is quite a skill and some just aren’t very good at it, however hard they try. Even the most zealous will miss a crumb or a water spot. Do try not to fall out over a hair in the shower. If it really isn’t clean enough, do it yourself.

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


Many of you have been telling me that you book a restaurant, perhaps some time in advance, then the day before you’re due to go you find a voicemail asking you to confirm the booking. So you have to listen to the message several times before you can write down the number you’re to call them on, which isn’t the one they called you on. Then you’ve got to phone them up, all the time worrying that it might be too late and even though you booked ages ago and never knew you had to confirm, the reservation has nevertheless been summarily abolished.

I appreciate that restaurants, especially small ones, lose out if people book and don’t show, but there must be a better way of managing the situation than this cumbersome phoning up and having to phone back. In some cases, establishments are hoist with the petard of their self-nurtured reputation for being impossible to get into. They don’t want anybody thinking it’ll be all right to turn up on the spur of the moment. The effrontery! One place I knew had a notice on the door: ‘No walk-ins’.

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