Monday, 30 November -0001

The Lady Guide to Modern Manners: 12 June

An incongruous display of Ascot finery begs the question: are racegoers posh or common? Thomas Blaikie places his bets

Written by Thomas Blaikie
Dear Thomas,
Do you agree that it’s tacky to do the 8am school run already dressed for Royal Ascot (especially when Car Park No 1 is only one hour away)?
Anon, Oxfordshire

Dear Anon,
The first thing to say is that it is pronounced Asc’t, not Ascot. But I’m sure you know that. So, immediately the thorny subject of class appears. There’s a widely held view that the races in general are quite common, despite the frequent presence of royalty. Ladies attending Ladies Day at Aintree have attracted ridicule for their skimpy frocks in April and tendency to swig champagne straight from the bottle. This year, course officials clamped down on photographers recording their antics.

But Aintree and the Grand National are steeplechasing, which is deemed a rough sport. The late Queen Mother was considered novel for her enthusiasm for it, and always wore a sturdy wool coat at Lingfield, not least because the meetings occur in the depths of winter. Flat racing, we are told, is something else altogether – competitive hat-wearing, matching dress and coat, impossible heels, jewels and clutch bag. Classy.

Windsor evening races and Newbury are my only experiences of flat racing. I’ve never been to Ascot, but I doubt it is so different, despite the Royal Procession and Royal Enclosure. I doubt it is as posh as all that. On the racecourse, I found a rather strange underworld, dressed up as if for a wedding, true, but much devoted to heavy gambling.

So perhaps this person decked out for Ascot on the school run has got the wrong end of the stick. Maybe they’ve never been to Ascot before. Whatever the case, they wish to advertise their presence there beyond the confines of the course itself. I am reminded of Mr Pooter of The Diary Of A Nobody, that glorious late-Victorian chronicle of social mishaps, who found his name had been omitted from the list of those attending the Mansion House Ball in the Blackfriars Bi-weekly News. Eventually this announcement appeared: ‘We have received two letters from Mr and Mrs Charles Pewter, requesting us to announce the important fact that they were at the Mansion House Ball.’

What’s more, how on earth does one keep an Ascot outfit going from 8am until the races begin? Remember Eve Pollard, doing TV commentary on Ascot races many years ago: ‘Royalty are marvellous: they never crease or stain.’

So in every way this very early Ascot manifestation is not so much tacky as tragic. Let’s hope they will learn and not repeat their mistake.

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… bad manners

Today Susan King writes, wondering if manners are going downhill overall in the modern world. She finds table manners in particular in a poor state, with people rendered incomprehensible from talking with their mouths full. Also she is troubled by the practice of coughing without placing the hand over the mouth.

It is natural to wish to describe and explain the world in which we live. Many believe that manners aren’t what they were. Statistics confirm that fewer and fewer families eat together on a regular basis, so it would make sense that table manners have declined. Nor is it unreasonable to feel that with overcrowding, giant supermarkets and more and bigger roads, the world has become more impersonal and less friendly.

Yet there are many opposite trends: in education there is less emphasis on competition and more on cooperation and group work. In society in general, community action groups and organised social activities are on the increase. So really we must keep an open mind. The worst thing is to turn sour against the world, but we don’t want to be sugary and relentlessly sunny either.


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