Friday, 26 June 2015

The Lady Guide to Modern Manners: 26 June

An invited guest is peeved when you have to leave them on their own one evening. Is this fair? Thomas Blaikie adjudicates

Written by Thomas Blaikie
Dear Thomas,

An old friend, Merle, was coming to stay for a long weekend, but I explained that I had to go out to a dinner party on the Saturday night. Since she knows lots of people in the area, I assumed she’d be perfectly happy just for one evening. But no: all hell broke loose. She said it was too short notice to arrange anything else. Finally she refused to come altogether. Do you think she was being unreasonable?
Jenny Hilton, Bexhill

Dear Jenny,

From a strict etiquette point of view this scenario is very straightforward. If the dinner party was already arranged when you fixed up for Merle to come for the weekend, then all you had to do was tell her about it. She could have said she preferred to come another time or accepted that you would be out for one evening during her stay.

However, if you were asked out to dinner after you’d made your arrangement with Merle, then you should have refused the invitation, explaining that you had a house guest for the weekend. All being well, the dinner-givers would have invited her too. In the country especially, where the social circle might be small, house guests of those invited should always be welcomed unless it is impossible for reasons of space. All the same, some late invitations from the Queen, Graham Norton or bigwigs in the neighbourhood just can’t be resisted, and it’s impossible to say, ‘Can I bring someone?’ In that case you could try to beg forgiveness if your house guest is an old friend. But it wouldn’t be surprising if they felt hurt and excluded.

The facts of your situation aren’t quite clear, Jenny, but maybe something like this was going on. It sounds as if, worrying about how Merle would react, you left it a bit late to tell her you were going out. It’s even possible, since she seems to know people in your area, that she knew the people you were going to dinner with. So her hurt and distress are understandable.

Nevertheless, she appears to have introduced an unnecessary element of drama. After all, she was only being abandoned for one evening. She could have watched TV and enjoyed a luxury ready meal with nobody to bother her. The crucial thing is, she should have come to stay, not cancelled in a fit of pique. Had she actually been in your house and if you were in any way in the wrong, then she would have been completely triumphant, like Britannia with her shield and spear. And there’d have been a far greater chance that both of you could have forgotten about the whole thing sooner rather than later.

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


In 2001, Sir Tim Hunt won the Nobel Prize in physiology for his work on cell division. But a misjudged attempt at comedy at a conference of scientific journalists was enough, at the time of writing, to destroy his career. He said that men and women fall in love when working together in laboratories and women cry when criticised. It was a joke. Now many eminent scientific women are springing to his defence. Tim Hunt isn’t sexist. He made a fool of himself.

The scandal has been whipped up by social media, especially Twitterers (who, exactly?). Before social media none of this would have happened, and important institutions such as the Royal Society wouldn’t have lost their heads. There’s also hypocrisy.

Others in public life have made far worse sexist remarks and got away with it. The treatment of Sir Tim could be called medieval, except in medieval times there was usually rule of law and the Magna Carta established the right to a fair trial. All that was called for in this case was an abject apology, then moving on. I hope amends are made to Sir Tim very soon.

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