Friday, 26 February 2016

The Lady Guide to Modern Manners: 26 February

What to do when you meet someone who thinks rules and regulations are only there to be got round? Thomas Blaikie advises

Written by Thomas Blaikie
Dear Thomas,
If your neighbour wants to carry out work on the party wall between your two properties and insists that his builder can be trusted to proceed without any formal agreement, is it being fussy to refuse to co-operate?
Amber Carrington, Cardiff

Dear Amber,
The answer to this is simple: the Party Wall etc Act 1996 – of which more later. But there’s a certain sort of person, whom all of us will encounter in life at some stage, who thinks that so-called rules and regulations are to be treated with hostility and suspicion and wherever possible got round.

They treat with contempt anybody who thinks otherwise. They don’t want to be bothered with lawyers or professional advice. They will probably lend money or rent out property or land (if they have any) without a proper written agreement. They like to think that they are more trusting and generous than any fellow human being who wouldn’t dream of doing such a thing. But when it all goes horribly wrong and they find that their ‘tenants’ aren’t paying any rent or their best friend has walked off with £3,000 of their money, there’s nothing they can do about it. My father was a lawyer and always said that the purpose of the law is to cater for the worst-case scenario. It’s inherently pessimistic but only someone who wasn’t to be trusted would refuse a legally binding arrangement.

Anyway – back to the Party Wall etc Act 1996. This governs all issues concerning party walls in this country. An explanatory booklet is available – at www.planningportal. – and the Act is specifically designed for anybody to be able to use without expert help and is straightforward and clear. Your neighbour is wrong to suggest that you agree informally for him to proceed. No such option exists under the Act. If he carries out the work without a proper agreement with you, you can get a court injunction to stop it (very costly and rarely applied in a domestic situation) and can pursue him for any damage caused. Without an advance agreement, he would not be able to claim that the wall on your side was damaged previously.

You should explain to your neighbour that it will take him about 10 minutes to find out online how to proceed under the Act, that the costs involved are minimal (you have the right to appoint a surveyor) and, above all, reaching a proper legal agreement protects him as well as you. People who want to cut corners over something like this convey a selfish, untrustworthy aroma of sublime foolishness.

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

What to do about… rucksacks

You may recall that I show a preoccupation that might well be a ‘prelude to insanity’, in Evelyn Waugh’s words, with the time I was attacked by a TV programme called The Culture Show. This television show maintained that everybody is perfectly polite, so why all this fuss about manners – which was missing the point about as often as possible. People do not plough into one another in public places but they don’t exactly get out of the way either. Often one has a near miss.

A human body is one thing, but what about bulky items that might be attached to it, in particular to its back? The rucksack or knapsack (do we know the difference?) is the latest hazard. Many now carry them: I saw someone who looked like a certain former female MP with one recently. I am biffed at least once a week by a rucksack. It’s possible that the human nervous system will adapt over time to include the back protuberance but it hasn’t happened yet. So the rest of us just have to watch out and campaign for no back luggage indoors or in crowded places.

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