The Lady Guide to Modern Manners: 24 August

Dear Thomas

I’m getting more and more fed up with venues that over-charge for sub-standard food and drink while hardly encouraging you to bring your own. Not exactly welcoming. Is it really so wrong to take a picnic to the theatre, or a concert?

Imogen Walsh, Leeds

Dear Imogen

I couldn’t agree more. The Royal Albert Hall please note – £4 for a medium-size glass of lemonade in boiling-hot weather? It’s cruel.

How to solve the problem? The fashionable view is that it’s common and awful to eat before a show. You might be mistaken for a Northerner having Northern ‘tea’. Real grandeur is to behave as if one were still some person of infinite leisure and wealth from a bygone era and dine afterwards – an experience that is rarely rewarding. Even the best restaurants seem to have ‘gawn awff’ after 10pm. They’re winding down. They’ve had their ‘jus’ on the boil for hours. And really it’s just too late for dining.

So you are flung into the hands of the rip-off catering outlets that operate within entertainment venues. Often they offer – well, nothing: a packet of peanuts and really horrid wine such as you never find anywhere else these days, and, if you’re lucky, a filling-station standard of sandwich. Plus nowhere to sit down and eat the muck. In places where the provision is remotely acceptable, it’s madly expensive. Some perfectly well- heeled people opt for starvation to save money. But it’s neither wise nor nice to be faint with hunger all through the performance.

By all means bring a modest picnic, provided it is tidy food you can eat standing up that won’t drip. Just something ‘decorative and nutritious’, as Barbara Cartland would have said, for sustenance and pleasure. They probably won’t let you bring in big bottles of any kind of drink, and certainly not alcohol (you have to buy theirs), but ‘single- use’ drink bottles will be okay. I do this all the time. At the Royal Albert Hall there’s a corridor behind the auditorium with a convenient shelf running the entire length, which is perfect for picnicking. Nobody’s ever tried to stop me.

All the same, there’s always the sense of a covert operation. Not everybody will feel comfortable. Other options are: complain, complain, complain. A friend of mine wrote to a London theatre after having awful wine in the interval, at tremendous cost. Do the same if the selection of food is limited and unimaginative. We live in the age of the tasty snack. There’s no excuse.

Or, dreadful thought but we must face it – is it really so awful to ‘have a bite’ beforehand? You can get good deals in some chain eateries, which are greatly improved from what they used to be. Do try the 6.30pm supper if you haven’t already. You soon get used to it

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

 WHAT TO DO ABOUT...Curtseying

Poor old Mrs May, our Prime Minister – she just can’t win. At the service of commemoration for 100 years since the Battle of Amiens at Amiens Cathedral on Wednesday 8 August, she executed a deep, low curtsey to HRH Prince William, incidentally while wearing a strange pre-War nanny hat, what was known as a ‘cram-on’ hat in its day.

As a curtsey it was remarkable and must have taken some athleticism for the apparently arthritic PM to bring off. Lucky she didn’t topple over. But the public was unimpressed by her obeisance. It was overdone and ridiculous, they said. I wonder whether the Prime Minister really has to curtsey at all to the Heir Presumptive to the Throne. It certainly goes against the grain to see the elected leader of the government sinking to the ground in the presence of royalty. If commoners don’t like it, neither do the royal family, who were always supposed to think Mrs. Thatcher’sextravagantt dropping to the floor in their presence quite a joke. Really, a light bob would have been quite sufficient or even, for true equality, a simple bow such as a man would offer royalty.