The Lady Guide to Modern Manners: 6 April

Dear Thomas

What do you do if someone keeps on inviting you and just doesn’t get the message that really you don’t want to go? An acquaintance is now asking, ‘Have you got any windows for October?’ It’s all too much. What am I to do? 

Stephen Barnard, Truro 

Dear Stephen

Oh dear, I see quite a mish-mash of complications here. Why don’t you want to go exactly? Are these people really so terrible? Do you fear a ghastly repast? Awful decor? Well, maybe you could examine your motives, just to be sure you’re not being mean or unwelcoming to new experiences and so on. On the whole, I always say, ‘For Heaven’s sake, go! It’ll all be part of life’s rich tapestry, however awful.’ But if they are prominent in a local criminal gang or regularly hold up their guests with breadknives, it’s another matter. Accepting one invitation doesn’t have to mean you’ll be stuck with them forever. You’ve always got the power of not inviting back. You may feel guilty about that, but there’s no need.

These would-be hosts are in the wrong, though, for persistent inviting. I can understand that you feel hammered into a corner. They’re going to get you, come what may. It’s probably all they think of, night and day. The more you refuse, the more they drive on with their nagging never-ending dates. There’s only one way to stop the hideous machine, and that’s to accept one of them. So we get back to where we started. Really, you’ve got to go.

I’m also dead against ‘diarising’, as it’s called, months in advance, or even weeks. Not for a little dinner or supper. Or a bridge evening. A big event is another matter. People who over-plan – here’s my earth-shattering theory – are insecure. They think that nobody likes them and a gloriously full diary is a wonderful comfort, especially when they’re able to say, ‘Oh no, I haven’t got an evening free for six weeks.’ Which has precisely the effect they dreaded in the first place – of alienating all the people who might have been their friends.

Only when you stop diarising do you find that you’re not as alone as you feared. Just this morning I whizzed to an art exhibition with a friend – arranged last minute, last night. On Saturday another friend appeared spontaneously for coffee after lunch. Thank goodness I wasn’t busy with a schedule. And the dreariness of having it all mapped out. And the expectations. If the dinner is planned six weeks ahead, it’s almost inevitable the actual event will be a let-down. So much easier on the hosts as well. Once I did a dinner for eight at one hour’s notice. Same effect as if planned for weeks, but one per cent of the stress.

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

WHAT TO DO ABOUT...Cream tea

Oh dear! Here we go again. The national trust have put their foot in it with their posters for a Mother’s Day tea at the Victorian country house Lanhydrock. There’s the scone with the jam on top and the cream underneath. But Lanhydrock is in Cornwall. Cornwall! What a blunder! In Cornwall, the cream goes on top and the jam underneath. Only in loathsome Devon, so the Cornish think, is it the other way round. Absolute fury ensued. Terrible tweets, threats of boycott. The trust produced a statement: ‘the member of staff responsible has been reprimanded and marched back over the Tamar... our catering team would never make such a heinous mistake… our jam and cream are usually served in little pots, so the order of their application is not subject to such appalling error. Rest assured, your mothers are safe here.’ Well, actually, there’s a sly solution. Do it yourself, how you like. But HM the Queen has intervened. According to a former chef, she favours the Cornish way. Who dares argue with the Queen? This fearful dispute that has raged for 1,000 years is surely at an end. Don’t you believe it.