The Lady Guide to Modern Manners: 20 July

Dear Thomas,

I decided to get rid of my net curtains some time ago, but now that my husband has retired he has started complaining that people are peering in at him as they go by and it’s spoiling his retirement. He wants the nets back. I don’t. Apart from being one more item to wash, I’m led to believe they’re, well, not quite the thing. What do you advise?

Sabrina Clifton, Melton Mowbray

Dear Sabrina,

You’re quite right. Forty years or so ago, the middle classes declared nets to be, as Nancy Mitford would have put it, non-U. It wasn’t just that they make a room pallid and deathly, other more terrible connotations could not be escaped. Nets imply a certain fussiness and paranoia: people are said either to be twitching their nets or hiding behind them. So out they went. Look at us, the middle classes appeared to screech, our décor is the very latest and our lives are peerless. We’ve got nothing to hide.

I suppose it’s not helpful to ask why your husband has retired to your front room in full view of the street. Could he not conduct his retirement elsewhere in the house? Passersby will gawp. They can’t help it. Last week I visited Bruern Abbey in the Cotswolds, where the garden was open under the National Garden Scheme for one afternoon only. I was absolutely furious that the windows of the Palladian mansion were too high off the ground. You couldn’t see in without leaping. The owner of Bruern is worth £260m and has recently restored the place, so it was a desperate situation.

And did you hear about those England fans during the penalty shoot-out against Colombia? A great gang of about 40 assembled in the street outside a random house, where it just so happened there was an enormous TV readily visible. History does not relate whether the owners handed out tranquillisers through the window rather as Mrs Tittlemouse supplied Mr Jackson with acorn cupfuls of honeydew, although that was to stop him getting in and making a mess.

A possible solution might be for your husband to sit conspicuously in the window, glaring back at anyone staring in. A kind of challenge. This could keep him occupied, as well as encouraging those on the street to hurry by. In our village, when I was a child, Mr Mudge sat all day in his window. Simply terrifying. As far as I know he never went out. The house was called Pretoria.

But really, nets are horrid. Do resist them. A compromise might be to have the lower panes of your windows replaced with sand-blasted glass. The trouble is, in full view, people will glance into your residence and wonder about you. But shrouded in nets or behind frosted glass, their speculations will be even more frenzied and wild.

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



Please note: I write before the World Cup semi-final, let alone the final. After the glorious victory over Sweden in the quarter-finals, Harry Maguire, England defender and heroic goal-scorer in that match, tweeted, ‘Can you ask the neighbours to put the bins out on Monday? We’re not coming home just yet.’ So, not only a wonderful footballer but also excellent home knowledge, knowing which day the bins should go out. The England team were not on holiday and holidaymakers this summer are unlikely to be detained abroad because of miraculous unexpected progress in an international sporting tournament. but – a sudden crisis with water or electricity, or maybe you just forgot to put the bins out. You might need to ask your neighbours for help while you’re on holiday this summer. I often have – usually the burglar alarm. And they’ve called on me. Feeding those Bengal tiger cats was quite a thing. It’s what neighbours are for. Evidence suggests people like to be asked a favour. They like to feel they can help. And everybody is reassured that someone is looking out for their property while they’re away.