Monday, 30 November -0001

The Lady Guide to Modern Manners: 5 June

How to react when someone greets you with enthusiasm but you haven’t a clue who they are? Thomas Blaikie explains

Written by Thomas Blaikie
Dear Thomas,
When I visited the Chelsea Flower Show someone bowled up to me excitedly, greeted me by name and was surprised and delighted to see me, etc. Just one problem: I didn’t have a clue who they were. Sometimes you know the face but can’t think of the name. What should you do?
Beverley Childs, Wrexham

Dear Beverley,
The same thing happened to me recently. The person turned out to be a newly discovered relation whom I’ve met before. Oh dear, why does this happen? Is it a fundamental failure of connection, a manifestation of raving egomania or a random collapse of memory? One always feels so guilty. Perhaps the discombobulating effect of bumping into an acquaintance in some new context explains these fatal lapses. Whatever the case, these incidents are harrowing. However rigid with panic you may feel, do try not to let on that you’ve no idea who they are. Even if it’s hideously obvious, it’s better than baldly saying, ‘I’m so sorry. You’re going to have to remind me.’

However unreasonably, people are highly likely to take offence that their existence has so dismally failed to register, especially if they’ve remembered you. Launch into conversation and hope that, with a few judicious questions, their identity will emerge. In the case of my recently revealed relation, this happened. She mentioned the mutual friend with whom we’d had dinner and I was able to get a grip. Strategic questions might help, but can go wrong. Sir Thomas Beecham couldn’t quite place a lady who mentioned that her brother had recently not been well. ‘Oh yes, your brother,’ Sir Thomas said. ‘And what’s he doing these days?’

‘He’s still King,’ the lady replied.

This was rather bad luck. Best is to pluck something from the place where the awkward encounter is occurring. So at a flower show you could say, ‘Have you seen anything you’d think of growing yourself?’ Maybe they’ll let slip where their garden is, if they’ve got a garden, and that could lead to you working out who they are. It’s more tricky if you know them but can’t recall their name. Maybe it won’t show. It’s important not to be crushed by your guilty secret. If they’ve got someone with them, you could say to that person, ‘Did you travel together?’ With luck, they might reply, ‘I met Shirley at Hazlemere station and we came on from there.’

Sometimes kind people sense your confusion and remind you of their name themselves. Then you need to be especially alert: ‘Of course I remember you, Vera (or Ann or Barry),’ you must say at once.

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… train announcements

I don’t think I’m alone in eagerly anticipating a train journey as a time of merciful suspension from real life. The railway carriage is a haven and the rest of the world becomes merely a comfortable spectacle as it whizzes by. Except that the ‘train manager’ is obliged to make announcements. Before and after every stop (and there are more stops these days than there used to be) ‘customers’ must be bid farewell or welcomed. Some employees like to depart from the script. In fact they’re auditioning for their own television show.

Going up to Manchester from London the other day, the announcements were made by an assistant who harped on about the train manager’s heroic efforts in managing by himself, which was why there was no food, etc. She was sure we’d all be eternally grateful. It was like a funeral oration, so extended and high flown was it.

Then, returning from Manchester the next day, a different train manager launched into a bizarre spiel about how we would all rather be with our wives and children or maybe we would ‘meet someone later’. What is the world coming to?


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