The Lady Guide to Modern Manners: 6 July

Dear Thomas,

I was so taken aback by your response (25 May) to the Suffolk couple asking how to handle friends/relatives’ requests for their holiday property that I decided to write to you just to quit thinking about it.

The thing that struck me was your solution: ‘Lie. Just say it’s booked.’ Granted, I’m a transplanted American in the UK, so haven’t been raised with this mindset. But lying always seems to be the go-to response, because you can make up whatever is best in the situation.

The result is that nobody’s word means anything. Nobody is trustworthy – not even to themselves. It’s a huge price to pay to ‘avoid awkwardness’, isn’t it? There is always an acceptable way to tell the truth. It doesn’t have to be ALL the truth, but whatever is said should be true.

I’m a new reader of The Lady, so I might be missing some ironic intent in your column. But I saw it as sincere advice, so maybe this is an idea to consider.

Anyway, all the best,

Rhonda Boone, via email

Dear Rhonda,

I do hope, being a new reader of The Lady, you won’t be driven away. As mendacious politicians and public relations people always say, I think my choice of words was unfortunate. It would have been better to suggest that the couple said to their somewhat grasping relations that the cottage ‘wasn’t available’ – which would have met with your criteria: ‘It doesn’t have to be ALL the truth.’ Also, to be fair, I didn’t directly tell them to ‘lie’.

Your letter got me thinking about telling the truth and the difficulties arising therefrom – which you implicitly acknowledge. Not telling ‘ALL the truth’ is... well, borderline lying of a kind, manipulating, selecting. There’s a poem by Sylvia Plath, which I’ve mentioned before, called Mirror. In it, the mirror speaks. ‘I am silver and exact,’ it proclaims. It sees things exactly as they are. It tells the truth, ‘unmisted by love or dislike’. But soon it turns out it has no heart. It is a ‘little god’. So with people – those who think they know what the truth is can be dangerous and destructive, tyrants even and bullies. Is your friend’s new dress really so horrible? It’s just your opinion. What is the truth? How well do you know the truth about what your friend might be able to stand in terms of being told ‘the truth’?

A couple I know retired to a remote part of France in their early 40s and hated it. They had to come back. ‘If only you’d told us beforehand it was a bad idea,’ they said to their friends. Which would never have worked. Many had their doubts but the pair would have been upset if anybody had tried to say anything. And would almost certainly have gone anyway.

Please write to Thomas at the usual Bedford Street address or email manners@lady.co.uk


WHAT TO DO ABOUT...Hypocrisy.

Last week on this page I had a go at those not joining in properly on a group holiday. Don’t fly business class when everybody else is in economy.

But what about my own conduct on a recent weekend visit to friends in Norfolk? On the Sunday morning, I announced: ‘I’m going to Raynham Hall. The Marquess and Marchioness will receive me.’

‘Are we coming?’ One of the hosts enquired.

It was rather awful, but I was hell-bent on seeing Raynham Hall alone, and I couldn’t very well turn up with a gang of hangers-on. That would have been rude too. I think it might have been all right if I’d warned my hosts in advance about the possibility of this solo mission. If you happen to be in Norfolk this coming Wednesday 11 July, the delightful Marquess and Marchioness Townshend will conduct you themselves round their hidden gem of a country house, a rare example of an early 17th-century mansion, later remodelled by William Kent. The Marchioness re-painted the red saloon herself.

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