Friday, 18 August 2017

The Lady Guide to Modern Manners: 18 August

Thomas Blaikie advises on the perils and pitfalls of a shared villa holiday with friends

Dear Thomas
A few years ago you ruled that men should not be topless at mealtimes on a villa holiday with family and friends. But, if recent experience is anything to go by, the challenge these days is getting men, or indeed women, to come to the table at all – and, once there, to stay in their seats until the meal is over. We’re just back from Italy, where our friends either ‘weren’t that bothered’ or ‘had eaten something earlier’. On the rare occasions they sat down to eat with us, they tended to wander off before the finish or take one look at what I’d prepared and say they’d rather have something else from the kitchen. Wasn’t this quite rude? Brenda King, Ipswich

Dear Brenda
Oh dear! Casual, casual, casual. Those ‘friends’ are probably thinking you’re a fusspot and you’re thinking: How unfriendly! So who’s right? I must say I’ve never heard of a villa holiday where you don’t cook and eat together. It’s one of the pleasures of such an arrangement – exploring the local markets and local cuisine, then long, lovely afternoons and evenings out of doors relishing the fruits of your labours. In this way, you can put on quite a lot of weight. Kitchen tensions arise: once, on one of my early villa parties, the knives were almost out near Siena over risotto- cooking methods. Ideal is to have a professional chef on board who insists on doing all the cooking themselves. You just have to insist that meals are on time. At my most recent villa gathering, there was almost a revolt among the villa-ites as rumours flew around that octopus was on the menu for dinner. But if anyone had refused to come to the table, they’d have been sent home.

On the other hand, you can’t go on a villa holiday with people then make them do things they don’t want to do, regardless of who’s paying. It does seem unsociable not to eat together but that’s your friends’ way. It’s probably best to accept it. You went on holiday with the wrong friends. Food is a great bonding force, I find. I don’t have any friends who aren’t interested in it and all that goes with it.

As for this business of diners not staying at the table, well, it’s not quite the same issue perhaps but I notice a curious contradiction – more and more big life events are marked with a sit-down meal rather than a stand-up reception, and so the unwillingness to remain seated rises in direct relation. The fraying begins at the early stages. Even before the main course, your neighbours have flitted away. You have to move yourself to have someone to talk to. You end up eating someone else’s food or some of it. Those who have flown never come back. Extraordinary.

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

WHAT TO DO ABOUT...Declining standards

Transport for London is dropping ‘ladies and gentlemen’ in station announcements in favour of ‘gender- neutral’ language, such as ‘hello everyone’. But I could swear I haven’t heard ‘ladies and gentlemen’ on the tube for years. Usually you get one of those guards let loose with a microphone and apparently auditioning for a role as TV chat-show host. They certainly don’t say, ‘ladies and gentlemen’. Then to top it all, Speaker Bercow has said that MPs don’t need to wear ties in the House of Commons – nor even possibly jackets.

Well, this is just Westminster catching up with everybody else, isn’t it? The swashbuckling tie-less look is a fashion as much as anything else. A glamourpuss such as Nick Clegg embraced it the minute he got the chance (ie, kicked out of office). Now Sylvie Gesser writes to me from Bomley complaining that taxi drivers call her ‘darling’ and ‘love’, which is particularly hard when, as a French-Italian, she has tried to learn Shakespeare’s English. But taxi drivers have been doing this for years as well. standards haven’t declined. They’ve stayed the same. Oh… and the governo general of Canada touched the Queen. But if he hadn’t she might have fallen down the steps.

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