The Lady Guide to Modern Manners: 10 August

Dear Thomas

What happens to manners in this heatwave? So many people have brought out their granny’s fan. But is it okay to use it in the theatre and other public places? What about little children running about in the street with no clothes on? Or adults with very few clothes on?

Jenny Wrightman, Royal Leamington Spa

Dear Jenny

Speaking as a gardener and one concerned with rural affairs, this blasting run of hot weather is no joke. But on the lighter side, I ran into an old friend at the height of the London sizzler. He was biking back from his rather grand bank in what could only be described as ‘former’ business attire: ie, he’d not only removed his tie but had undone his shirt both at the top and the bottom. In fact, only one button was securing the ensemble. On seeing me he tried hastily to correct his attire. It was quite amusing.

I suppose the trouble is we’re not set up for extreme heat. There’s no summer mufti for office workers, particularly men. Where have all those crisp white shorts favoured by the men of Empire gone? We’ve all been most concerned about the guardsmen at Buckingham Palace in their thick woollen uniforms in 90 degrees of heat. Where is their summer ceremonial dress? Answer: it doesn’t exist.

Another thing: we’ve become less tolerant of discomfort. HM The Queen is famous for her endurance of heat, never creasing or wilting. On the Coronation Tour in 1953, Pamela Mountbatten, accompanying The Queen, was given a room in the palace at Tonga (in fact a modest bungalow) in full view of hundreds of tribesmen set to guard the Royal party. Her choice was: windows shut for privacy but boil alive, or windows open, no privacy. Naturally she boiled alive but still emerged in perfect lady-in-waiting condition. Nobody had even heard of air con.

Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby gives the best advice on hot weather ever: don’t think about it. And don’t move – which is less challenging if you’re very rich. All the same, we can take our cue from her: cultivate a Buddhist air of calm.

I do think fans are uncalled for, particularly when flapped by members of an audience: distracting for everybody else, and don’t they just make the person hotter? Can also be noisy. Naked small children are perfectly all right. I suppose you mean when they jump about in public water fountains. Lucky them. They probably don’t have their swimming costumes with them, or it’s easier not to bother. Dress need not be violently immodest: shorts can be smart, but the legs should be fit to be seen. Arms are another danger area: a long sleeve in a light fabric might be advisable in certain cases. Also a good hat to keep you cool.

Please write to Thomas at the usual Bedford Street address or email

 WHAT TO DO ABOUT...Waistcoats 

A slightly different take on that annual national trauma: the terrible example set by British holidaymakers. airports have launched one too many campaigns aimed at those who prepare for boarding by drinking to excess. This follows a 50 percent increase in arrests of drunken fliers. posters at airports including Manchester and Gatwick warn of the dire consequences: travel denied, severe punishment for mid-air disruption, including a £5,000 fine or even a jail sentence of up to two years. All this in the wake of outrage at Royal Ascot, where posh racegoers were being breathalysed at the turnstiles and dogs sniffed for drugs. Bookies commented that fine ladies and gentlemen started ‘roaring round the royal enclosure like wild animals at the merest whiff of a prosecco cork’. Prosecco? Drunken brawls were breaking out on a regular basis. We’ve heard it all before: like litter, the troubled drinking habits of the British is a problem that never goes away. For a lot of people, drinking is an end in itself. But why all the violence? Are the British otherwise too polite and repressed? I don’t think so. they just drink too much.