The Lady Guide to Modern Manners: 8 June

Dear Thomas

First, I really enjoy reading your column in The Lady every week.

My question: is it normal for British people to have a ‘children/parents birthday party’ without letting the neighbourhood know? It is half past eight in the evening. I can’t even hear my own television or read because of the shouting!

I am French and maybe too old-fashioned to accept these manners. I love children (I have two). But a bit of politeness wouldn’t kill the parents!

Sylvie Gesser, Bromley

Dear Sylvie

Very nice to hear from you. Noise nuisance: of course, the first warm day and the neighbours come screaming out of their houses. Have they been storing up their racket all winter long?

I suffer from deep trauma concerning loud music. It comes from 14 years of living near the Portobello Road in London. I thought the faint background of calypso music would be attractive before moving in, but soon they invented something called ‘techno’. It’s basically banging – and specially designed to drive listeners into a crazed state of frenzy.

That was the 1980s. Since then tolerance for noise disruption has lessened and councils are expected to enforce the rules. Thirty years ago young people routinely said it was their ‘right’ to play loud music. I don’t think they’d say that now. Of course, they’ve all got headphones, which helps. Even so, you often hear that councils are not effective, particularly in dealing with rowdy parties at night.

In your case, you don’t mention music, just a penetrating volume from humans at 8.30 at night. So, they probably weren’t breaking any rules. No justification in calling the council. But, of course, you’d have felt differently about the whole thing if they’d asked you beforehand and told you how long the event was going to last, even invited you. The worst of these situations is feeling totally put upon, shown no consideration whatsoever and having no idea how long the torment will have to be endured.

But how often do party-givers trouble to soothe their neighbours in advance of an event? Considering that over 90 per cent of the UK population live in cities, it’s astonishing that the etiquette isn’t more evolved. Nobody’s trying to ban gatherings. All that’s needed is the tiniest bit of recognition that others actually exist; then they’ll be willing to put up with anything – within limits.

Another approach is to join the community association, or, if there isn’t one where you live, form one. These groups can get involved with specific projects, such as gardening, and in general convey that, yes, we live in communities, not in glorious urban isolation. Where there is persistent trouble with noise, the association might get involved.

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

WHAT TO DO ABOUT...Your wedding outfit

Mystery over HRH the Duchess of Cambridge’s Alexander McQueen outfit for the Royal Wedding: was it a dress or a coat? Recycled for the third time? Or, in fact, remade with different stitching and fastening, but otherwise identical to the piece she wore before? Crucially: what colour was it? Lemon yellow, but many thought it was white. Outrage! You can’t wear white at someone else’s wedding! But HM the Queen wore off-white at HRH the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall’s service of blessing for their marriage. Nobody mentioned it. Oprah Winfrey, on the other hand, belatedly realised her dress would look white in photographs, so the Stella McCartney team stayed up all night making another in pink. My theory: the Duchess of Cambridge had to make a last-minute switch, perhaps due to weather? With a new baby and a lack of time, she didn’t have much to choose from. Also, she’s royalty. also, the dress/coat clearly is lemon-yellow compared with the bridal ensemble. Was so sunny – unexpected bleaching effect. Bottom line: she wasn’t wearing white. Nothing’s changed. Don’t wear white unless you’re the bride.