The Lady Guide to Modern Manners: 14 December

Dear Thomas

Over last year’s festive season, I attended a luncheon held for guests at my husband’s social club. No sooner had I walked through the door than I was approached by a fellow guest who is a volunteer at a local museum. She handed me a publicity leaflet for this establishment and proceeded to press me to visit. Unfortunately, we also shared a table and throughout the meal I was repeatedly subjected to requests to visit and unwelcome, incessant information. The leaflets stayed in a pile on the table. I didn’t dissuade her as my husband was new to the club and I was reluctant to start off on the wrong foot.

However, with Christmas looming, I dread the same thing happening again. Am I being unfair in resenting this intrusion, albeit for a local cause, on what should have been a private social occasion?

I have to add that I am a member of a walking group and could have harangued fellow guests about that. But I didn’t.

Your usual wise comments would be appreciated. Thank you, Thomas.

Patricia, Hampshire

Dear Patricia

Yes indeed – all over the festive season, from before Christmas right through to New Year’s Eve, we’re all at risk of a difficult encounter with a crashing bore. And, to be fair, of being crashing bores ourselves. You don’t necessarily have to be going on about the local museum – it could be anything. Why is this? Well, in one way and another, over this joyous time, we’re going to be meeting people we don’t know at all, or very well, or see very often. Out of nervousness and desperation we’ll get hold of a topic and wring it for all it’s worth (or not worth) to the last bitter drop. Or, in this specific case, get carried away with our pet enthusiasm and drive everybody else mad.

It’s not very polite, nor indeed effective, to hound people at a social occasion, especially at this time of year, into spending money, just as it’s inconsiderate to drone on about anything if others aren’t interested. The challenge is what to do about it. How do you stop them? The great inhibitor is guilt and fear of hurting the bore’s feelings. You remember how distressed poor, boring Miss Bates was when Emma thought she was being so clever snubbing her at Box Hill. There it was Emma who was at fault, as Mr Knightley was only too ready to point out to her later.

The vital thing is: don’t get too cross with the bore but be sure to put a stop to them. With the right mental attitude anything you do will be all right. Try saying: ‘I’m all admiration for your volunteering. We must meet to talk about it on another occasion. What I’m wondering is: do you have time for anything else?’

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

WHAT TO DO ABOUT...The overuse of 'lonely' 

We’re always hearing about New Year’s Eve, but what about New Year’s day? My parents used to get up out of bed to ‘see in the New Year’ with a glass of sloe gin. Then they went straight back to sleep. That left New Year’s day free to be the special day it is supposed to be, of recuperation and new beginning.

In my experience, it never rains on New Year’s Day and the sky is always wide and open. You’ll have got through the Christmas leftovers. so how about a kind of Sunday plus lunch with houseguests or friends or neighbours? Afterwards you can take a big walk, with dogs if you have them.

And there’s exciting news just out. The Queen’s Swan Marker has issued a statement, endorsed by professor Christopher Perrins of the Department of Zoology at Oxford University. Contrary to recent publicity, it’s okay to feed bread to swans. And probably other waterfowl as well. They need it in the winter. Happy Christmas and New Year to you all.