The Lady Guide to Modern Manners: 4 July

How do you survive the World Cup when you have no knowledge of football and even less interest? Thomas Blaikie advises
Dear Thomas,
It is not done to touch the ball with one’s hands – this is the extent of my knowledge of association football. My appreciation of the ‘professional game’ is even slighter. Now we find ourselves plunged into the midst of another World Cup. Can you suggest how I might politely rebuff enquiries as to how I enjoyed the game? I’m also living in dread of being asked to view the World Cup final at a ‘get together’ in someone’s home.
Ian Stewart, Skelmorlie

Dear Ian,
Like you, I do not take football, rather as one might not take prawns or kidneys. I have tried it but I couldn’t see the ball at all, just stick-men in different colours running around with a lot of space in between them (unless some of them have collided, in which case there’s a crisis). I think you have to be excessively brainy to really understand what’s happening and to possess a very big television so you can see who is who.

I write in advance so I do not know how our various nations will fare in this present World Cup. Once, years ago, one of those great championships between countries was in progress, possibly the World Cup itself. It was eerily quiet in my street but every now and again there was a tremendous roar with a strange booming quality, unlike any other sound ever heard. You will hear it again now in this present World Cup. It is partly singing, I think, this sound of people watching a tense match in which their nation is playing. In the end, I switched on my own set. I was drawn in and awfully thrilled, although I remember little about it now.

So it is rather a shame when people are insistently non-football. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that people have a duty to participate if their national team is playing, but I don’t encourage this underscored refusal of interest.

A World Cup victory, even a heroic penalty shoot-out in a quarter-„final, is woven into the fabric of a nation’s history, like Waterloo, the Defenestration of Prague or Bannockburn.

If you’re lucky enough to be invited to a World Cup-„final party, you should de„finitely go. It will be a new experience. One sits in a row on a sofa in a prime viewing position. Drinks are from cans and pizza is biked in. You must take a ‘six-pack’.

The atmosphere is intense, even if your nation is not playing. Lewd comments from ladies about the players’ physiques are not welcome, nor is ignorance. You have to concentrate very hard. Don’t let on if you’re bemused. Keep mouth shut. But you might learn something.

Who knows – next time, if there is a match of suŒfficient prestige, perhaps you will view it voluntarily.

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


Just suppose you had found yourself at her court. Was she not a capricious ‘off-with-his-or-her-head’ type of empress? Would it be a challenge to keep your head? Well, it seems we’ve got it all wrong about Catherine the Great.

She was a perfect dear, or at least a figure of the Enlightenment, and thoughtfully drew up a list of 10 rules for her dinner guests. This was reproduced in the dining room of the Viking River Cruise I took on the River Elbe in Germany. So thank you, Viking.

Her rules: swords and hats, as well as rank, to be left at the door. Ditto parochialism and ambition. No shouting or taking over the conversation. Do not barrack any entertainment suggested by others and argue only in a calm, rational manner. Eat and drink by all means, but be able to leave the room unassisted. Don’t be nosy and don’t wash your dirty linen in public. On the whole, mind your own business. Sighing and yawning are not encouraged. Above all, be joyful but try not to damage, break or gnaw at anything.

Very enlightened, don’t you think?