The Lady Guide to Modern Manners: 16 March

Dear Thomas

Isn’t it time for some good news? I’m so dismayed that charities are under attack now. Otherwise, all we ever hear about is people being nasty to each other and getting more and more divisive. Have you anything to offer?

Penny Dewhurst, Cirencester 

Dear Penny

Charities have been much in the news, and not in a good way: firstly the Oxfam scandal, then from 25 May fundraisers will have to get permission from their supporters before they can contact them. There’s been a backlash against charities making what are seen as aggressive demands for our money. All of this is contributing to the idea that we’re growing meaner and more judgemental as a nation. So I was heartened to hear on the BBC of a scheme in Hull to encourage volunteers. They’re to be rewarded with something called a Hullcoin, which isn’t a coin at all. Really more of a voucher. Many local businesses are participating by offering discretionary discounts to those in possession of Hullcoins.

And hold on before you say, ‘Oh, but volunteers shouldn’t have to be rewarded.’ This is a cheering story: one particular volunteer featured on the BBC was unemployed. He was turning his bad luck to the benefit of others. I always thought volunteers were monied or semi-monied people like Linda Snell in The Archers. Rather more inspiring than that charity dinner which made the headlines in January, don’t you think? You know, the one hosted by the Presidents Club at the Dorchester Hotel in London – where the waitresses were instructed to delight the all-male attendees with revealing attire.

So, what I found out was that volunteers might well be in need of a Hullcoin or two. Of course they don’t have to accept them. The scheme also means that local businesses are making their contribution and recognising the efforts of volunteers. So from the community point of view, you couldn’t do better.

In any case, it’s not really true that charity workers and donors aren’t somehow ‘rewarded’. The wealthy ones get grand dinners with celebrity guests (or waitresses in alluring black foundation garments), they enjoy the prestige of trusteeships. They don’t actually do any washing-up or sorting of jumble. At the lesser level, there are barbecues, or even just a packet of digestives on the park bench in the break from community gardening. There are always treats. If volunteers are unrewarded they might give up. Volunteering is more fraught than you might think: established volunteers resent newcomers, there’s usually a bossy know-all like Linda Snell without whom nothing would ever happen but who is nevertheless resented by everybody else. It’s human life, after all.

So let there be Hullcoins. Which yield perhaps a 15 per cent discount in a pie shop. Let there be no carping. Just rejoice, as Mrs Thatcher once commanded in another context.

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

WHAT TO DO ABOUT...Labels Showing

Fascinating follow-up from Jo Robertson of a certain Essex seaside town re: my story (12 January) of a random stranger bowling up to me at the theatre and tucking in the label of my jacket, which was sticking out. This was while I was wearing it, you understand. Jo tried a similar thing years ago when she worked at a private college in London. ‘I was fairly new to the staff and a bit shy in the staff room. One day I noticed a senior member of staff who appeared to have her jumper on inside-out. I tapped her on the shoulder and rather timidly tried to explain. The reply I got was somewhat hostile, with a “how dare you!” tone. Apparently the label was to show that she could afford such an expensive item! How do you think I felt?’ I’m sure you were distressed. What fools people make of themselves if they feel they’ve been wrong-footed. How absurd to claim the label was intended as a display of grandeur. Not even Katie Price would stoop so low. She put her jumper on inside-out. End of.