Monday, 30 November -0001

The Lady Guide to Modern Manners: 22 May

We all love receiving a letter. But what if we’re left to pick up the bill? Thomas Blaikie plays last post for unfranked mail

Written by Thomas Blaikie
Dear Thomas,
Last year, a friend was kind enough to send me a birthday card but it was unfranked. I had to pay £1.50 (50p for the stamp plus £1 service charge) before it was released to me under a new system whereby you either pay online or stick the sum owed in stamps on a card, which you then put in the post. I said nothing at the time to my friend.

But the same thing has happened again this year, only now with the recent stamp price increase it has cost me £1.54 to liberate my birthday greetings, which are of course several days late by the time I have sorted out this palaver. Should I say something? And if so, what?
Cicely Douglas, Ayrshire

Dear Cicely,
There used to be much strictly observed etiquette to do with postal services that now seems to have gone. My grandmother told me that her grandmother, who was born in the time of Napoleon, always insisted that stamps must be stuck on absolutely straight – otherwise it was an insult to Queen Victoria. If your stamp was crooked you should steam it off and start again. Also if you got lucky and received a letter whose stamp had not been franked it was bad form to save it for reuse. By the same token, I always thought people who put items in the post without stamps would do the decent thing and shoot themselves.

As you say, the recipient has to pay extra to gain possession. It’s the equivalent of reversing the charges as one used to merrily do when calling one’s parents from a telephone kiosk years ago – at astronomical expense. At least the request could be refused and the person making it would know. But the sender of unfranked mail might be blissfully unaware of the consequences.

These days, so little mail is sent, maybe your friend has simply lost the art of placing the stamp on the envelope. To have done it twice looks like more than carelessness. Perhaps she is like Victoria Wood in her parody of Brief Encounter, pretending to be a wartime Celia Johnson in the station buff et: ‘It was so long since I’d had a mince pie I’d quite forgotten how to eat one.’ So she shoves it in her eye and a wonderful romance begins – ‘Excuse me, I’m a doctor.’

I’m evading the crucial question: what to do about it? Revenge? Lob an unfranked item at your friend and see if it learns him or her? Give them a book of stamps for Christmas? Maybe a gracious mention: ‘I’m sure it was an oversight, but if you had put a stamp on it, I’d have got it on time.’ Or give them one more chance.

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


There has been much discussion recently, as summer comes in, concerning the embarrassing issue of knickers on the line. Claudia Connell, writing in the Daily Mail, looked out of her window and found that she alone of all her neighbours was drying undergarments in her garden. So many are against this practice, she says. Blocks of flats with communal washing lines ban knickers. Somebody posting on Mumsnet said that she got a ferocious note from her neighbours saying that the spectacle of her foundation garments was ruining their meal times. But Claudia wants to liberate pants for general view. We all wear them, she says. What’s so terrible about them hanging out to dry?

You’ll be intrigued to hear that 55 per cent of the population doesn’t own a tumble drier. So perhaps it’s surprising there isn’t more underwear on outdoor washing lines. For which I’m glad. I’d rather be spared the sight, just as I don’t expect to see people in their pants in the supermarket. Undies can easily be draped with, say, a tablecloth in a light fabric, if you must peg them out.

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