Friday, 19 June 2015

The Lady Guide to Modern Manners: 19 June

When someone criticizes the cakes made for charity, should you bite your tongue? Thomas Blaikie slices up the options

Written by Thomas Blaikie
Dear Thomas,
Do you think it’s okay to criticise the cakes that are donated to charity? When I helped out at the vicarage on village open day a man bought a slice of my lemon cake but said it needed  five more minutes in the oven, and where was the lemon favour?
Norma Cartwright, near Stratford-upon-Avon

Dear Norma,
No, I don’t. People who do this just have to get their oar in. Their main object is to make it clear that they know best. More often their ‘feedback’ is of little value and they seem to have a bizarre need to undermine the efforts of those who raise money for charity through voluntary work. I’m sure there was nothing wrong with your lemon cake and that it’s been appreciated in your village for a long time, rather like the lemon cake made by Mrs B for my grandmother’s over- 60s club Christmas tea.

Miss Yeabsley, a stalwart of the club, once had a dream in which the last piece of Mrs B’s lemon cake was forever out of reach. I’m sure too that the majority of visitors to your village event were most appreciative of your cake and all the others and probably took the trouble to say so. It’s only a minority that picks holes. 

People who open their gardens to the public for charity have a similar experience. If you have 200 visitors, two will be horrid. They go about it in snide ways: ‘There’ll be quite a lot out in a few weeks,’ they say (ie, there’s nothing now) or ‘Your foxgloves are rather past their best.’ Pause: ‘Very much past their best.’ Maybe it’s just clumsiness or a case of the mouth going without knowing what it’s saying? Whatever, there’s the question of whether to answer back or not. Usually the rudeness is so stunning one is nonplussed and only afterwards regrets not launching a wipeout response. Except it probably wouldn’t work, especially if these people are so thick-skinned. Restrained dignity might be best but it’s thrilling if you can think of a brilliant killer putdown, delivered with un appable charm. Or you can respond as if the person has made a faux pas: ‘I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that.’

On the whole, the two or three criticisers only serve to demonstrate the sincerity of the hundreds who appreciate. If absolutely everybody gushed with praise, one might be suspicious. Plainly, if the garden is a nettle patch or the cakes past the sell-by date from a little-known wholesale outlet, then there is cause for complaint. But amateurs making efforts for charity should be judged accordingly. Generosity and encouragement are called for. Out of nothing, nothing will come, but praise is an infallible fertiliser.

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


Mrs Glenn Abbassi writes to ask if napkins should be folded neatly or left crumpled when fi nished with. She and her late mother favour the crumpled option. You’d think there would be a simple answer but there isn’t. My late uncle believed that cloth napkins should be renewed for each meal (never say ‘meal’). Mrs Abbassi, I suspect, thinks the same.

If this is your practice or you are a guest for only one ‘meal’(!), the napkin should not be folded but left anyhow. Which begs the question: Did you unfold it in the first place at the start of the repast? If not, you should have.

However, in many perhaps more old-fashioned establishments, cloth napkins are not replaced after each attendance in the dining room (I’m going round the long way not to say ‘meal’) and paper napkins are despised. The napkin is therefore folded and even placed in one’s personal silver napkin ring for re-use at the next eating event.

BUT: if you are a visitor and taking your last ‘meal’ (I give up) in that home, it is bad luck to fold your napkin and put it in a ring. If you do that, then you will never visit that place again.

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