The Lady Guide to Modern Manners: 12 January

Dear Thomas

Over Christmas I was ticked off by a younger member of my family. Apparently, I ought to be more enthusiastic about returning stray footballs – or indeed any kind of ball – that either comes into my garden or even crosses my path in a public place. I wonder what you think.

Colin Hammond, Nantwich

Dear Colin

It’s a funny thing when you think about it – the number of balls and other items such as frisbees flying about in the world, kicked or thrown by our fellow humans, usually in the earlier stages of life.

They’ve always been there – in my lifetime at least – and sooner or later they will inevitably bound across any self-appointed boundary, either into a space that is out of bounds or out of reach to those whose idea it was to play with the ball in the first place. What is to be done? Would it help if balls were not round? Does the world divide into those who will mate-ily return the ball, often with a display of valuable ball skills while they are about it, and those who are furious and wish to stamp on, puncture and destroy the ball?

Timothy Godwin, my prep school friend, guest at my home for a Sunday exeat, opened the visit by driving a golf ball straight through a large pane of glass in our front door. My mother was remarkably cheerful about it. Some will disagree, but balls are pro-life. I’m for them. Their transgressions should be treated with humour and forbearance.

For many years, children have played football outside the home of my friend, Peter Parker. The ‘goal’ is a metal shutter making a fearsome racket every time it is struck, but Peter has grown to absolutely relish the din. It is the sound of home.

The ball shot into your garden rarely does any serious harm. Why not toss it back, saying you hope they’re enjoying their game? The seventh or eighth time, perhaps you could hint that an improvement in skill appears to be a little overdue. As for a missile shot in your direction in a public place, the right thing is to show willing. If you’re wearing a tiara and a ball gown, and your Louboutins make it quite impossible to execute a perfect pass, you can still make a helpless gesture of despair towards the ball, indicating that if only you could, you would do anything in order to help out. The same applies if you are elderly.

Obviously, no risks must be taken, but there’s no excuse for a haughty, superior attitude. It’s much more fun suddenly to be a ball boy or girl, or in the role of those people who run up and down the edges of football pitches fetching balls that have gone ‘out’. It’s called joining in.

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


As a Christmas treat, I went to the ballet at Sadler's Wells. In the interval, somebody bowled up to me and assaulted my person. She said, ‘Your label’s sticking out.’ She seized my collar and tucked it in for me. Although friendly, she plainly wasn’t going to stand any nonsense. I thought she was one of our party but she wasn’t. It was a random member of the public, possibly one of the ones who thinks I’m Robert Peston – which is quite a few. All the same, I quite like this idea that suddenly a nanny figure will appear out of nowhere and deal with wardrobe malfunctions on the spot – maybe administer a good brushing, or some dabitoff. The other day I walked all round Prague with the shop label still attached to some new jeans. Why didn’t someone say or do anything? At least it said ‘skinny fit’. At the Chelsea Flower Show last year, I pointed out to two men on one of the stands that they hadn’t removed those conspicuous white stitches you find in the back flaps of men’s jackets when you get them from the shop. ‘At least it shows they’re new,’ I said to them encouragingly.