Monday, 04 January 2016

The Lady Guide to Modern Manners: 1 January

Is there real benefit in making New Year’s resolutions –or is it a rather neurotic exercise? Thomas Blaikie advises

Written by Thomas Blaikie
Dear Thomas,
Happy New Year to you! I have always been slack about making New Year’s resolutions, but I wonder if this year perhaps I should reconsider. What are your views on the subject?
Jan Coulson, Bristol

Dear Jan,
Happy New Year to you too! As some readers might know, I’m not too keen on programmed behaviour of any kind. There might be something a bit neurotic and calculating about the making and ruthless carrying out of New Year’s resolutions. ‘Live each day as it comes,’ a friend of mine said when I quizzed him on the subject.

Sometimes people make the wrong resolutions: to cut certain people out of their lives or concrete over their front garden. There can be a self-punishing element – to deny yourself something you enjoy and which really does you no harm, such as the occasional Magnum or a lie-down after lunch. Or the resolution, especially if it is anything to do with diets and losing weight, is never going to be kept. People are setting themselves up for disappointment.

Nor do we want you to be someone you aren’t: if you cause outraged amusement with your plain speaking, nobody will believe you if suddenly you’re all creaking smiles and horrendous niceness.

On the other hand, another friend made a New Year’s resolution last year to buy a particular bus designed in 1952 and restore it to full working order. Just before Christmas he was showing me photographs on his phone of the finished result – and very shiny and wonderful it looked too. Quite what he is going to do with the bus now isn’t clear, but never mind.

The trick is to get the balance right. We all need purpose in our lives; a plan is fine as long as there’s room for the unexpected and the spontaneous. You remember that friend of my Aunt June who refused last-minute Wimbledon tickets because Thursday was her day for cleaning the brass…

New Year’s resolutions should be specific – such as acquiring an old bus, or making a pond in the garden, or learning basketweaving. Vague isn’t any good: ‘Be nicer to people’ won’t get you very far. How about: ‘I’ll do something substantial (for at least one day) that I’ve never done before.’ Or ‘I’ll do something that nobody would expect me to do’ – something perfectly proper, of course.

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

What To Do About… New Year’s Greetings?

‘Happy New Year’ is one of the happiest greetings. It can be said to anybody you meet regardless of whether you know them, and crosses all barriers of culture and religion. Don’t get me started on ‘Happy Holidays’, which you have to say in America nowadays and elsewhere in case ‘Christmas’ causes offence. The name of the festival is Christmas. In my experience many non-Christians are only too happy to join in with tinsel and presents and turkey. Why shouldn’t they have a ‘Happy Christmas’?

But with ‘Happy New Year’ you can’t go wrong. However, when do you stop saying it? For at least the first 48 hours of the New Year, you should say ‘Happy New Year’ in shops, to bus drivers, waiters etc – absolutely everybody. Spread happiness and good wishes far and wide. After that, for at least a week greet friends and acquaintances on first seeing them or hearing from them with ‘Happy New Year’. After a week, a rider is needed if you come across more people to greet: ‘I know it’s a bit late but…’ By mid-January it really is too late.

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