The Lady Guide to Modern Manners: 26 January

Dear Thomas

Should we be more generous when older people say something politically incorrect and haven’t caught on as quickly as those younger?

Samuel Barclay , Eastbourne

Dear Samuel

There was an awful row on Celebrity Big Brother (have any of you been watching? It’s on now, with Rachel Johnson, our former editor – if she hasn’t been ejected by the time this goes to press). Back on 5 January, Amanda Barrie, 82, former Corrie star, several times ‘misgendered’ fellow inmate, India Willoughby, a trans woman newsreader. She used ‘he’ and not ‘she’. ‘I’m 82,’ Amanda protested, attempting to apologise, which wasn’t accepted.

In the 20-minute segment of the show I watched, it was clear that the inmates were panicked by India’s fury. The ‘misgendering’ spread like wildfire. Which is perhaps the place to start: an aggressive response to a PC slip-up is likely to make things worse – whatever the age of the culprit.

In other respects, the PC debate has always been dominated by an obsession with terminology, as if insisting on different words will change what we really feel. Some years ago, there was a move to outlaw ‘deaf’ or ‘blind’ as discriminatory. You were supposed to say ‘hearing-impaired’. But this seems to have been dropped. ‘mixed race’, though, has been replaced by ‘dual heritage’ – just in case you didn’t know.

The changes are often daft and, yes, difficult to keep up with. Also apparently imposed by some unseen authority that almost seems to want to brand us all racist, sexist, transphobic, etc. It’s as if there’s no escape. All of which is inclined to bring out the codger in the best of us. To hell with it, I’ll say what I like.

But really, it’s like spelling or even grammar. Just because you can’t spell ‘accommodation’ doesn’t mean you’re stupid. But that impression might be given. We have to go along with it and do our best to keep up.

The classic response from someone who has been told off for using an unfortunate term is: ‘But I’m not a racist/sexist, etc.’ No, you’re probably not. We’re sensitive. The British, on the whole, are wound up in knots desperately trying not to say the wrong thing. Reprimands should always be gentle and of the words used, not the person. I wish sometimes there was more tolerance.

No, I don’t think exceptions should be made for older people. My mother, who as you know is nearly 94, heard a radio programme which said that older people’s brains are not slower, they just have more information to sort through. So I get to the end and still… what about the real bigots and racists who want to harm and oppress women and gays and trans people and non-whites?

Please send your questions to thomas.blaikie@lady.co.uk or write to him at The Lady, 39-40 Bedford Street, London WC2E 9ER


WHAT TO DO ABOUT....Veganuary 

It’s the latest thing. Have you heard? Go vegan for Jan and Feb. Why? Something to do in the darkest months, instead of marmalade-making? Well, I think it’s supposed to be a way to lose weight, which you will, provided you avoid coconut products, which many vegans rely on for creaminess. But I wonder if it’s in the best of taste. Vegans are greatly troubled by the welfare of animals. Going vegan for a month because you’ve read in a magazine that it’s a marvelous, fun diet might upset a real vegan. Except I don’t know if it’s your experience but it’s certainly been mine – I’ve never known vegans and vegetarians to be aggressive. They never attack the rest of us as we saw through steaks or dismantle an entire fish. Quietly they sit at the table with their food choice. It’s those with allergies, or, even worse, ‘food intolerances’ such as ‘swelling and bloating’ caused by wheat, who give bad reviews on Amazon – even though all I said in my book was that if you’ve got an allergy, it’s your job to tell your hosts about it beforehand, when invited for dinner.

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