The Lady Guide to Modern Manners: 1 June

Dear Thomas

What are the rules of etiquette for visiting the homes of friends? I thought I knew. But, now that I am in my 60s, it seems that when I leave the lounge to collect the coffee, guests feel free to open my glass cabinet and touch my ornaments for their entertainment.

Even my own family can’t be trusted. They fiddle with my Meissen figurines. Someone who shall be nameless placed a stray paperclip in the hands of the shepherdess and thought it uproariously funny that she was about to throw a javelin. Needless to say, this person was well brought up – by me!

Another time, after the visit of a couple in their 60s, I discovered they’d broken the neck of my glass swan. The pieces were just left there on the shelf! These people are well spoken and well educated and live in their own nice home.

Another woman, who I thought was a friend, actually stole a lovely polished fossil! This is a professional person with a husband. I’m now searching the UK for a suitable lock to keep the hands of meddling adults off my souvenirs.

I’m waiting for return invitations so I can rummage through their possessions – which I presume is the modern way to visit. Joanna Cooper, via email

Dear Joanna

Oh dear! I can see that you feel quite besieged in your own home. Three- year-olds would be better behaved. You might as well have let a herd of goats into your lounge.

I once turned a lamp on in my grandmother’s friend, Mrs B’s, sitting room. It was Boxing Day and getting dark. But my grandmother said it was rude to interfere with other people’s lighting arrangements. Otherwise it was terror, in my childhood, of breaking something. Or spillages. Or damage. In those days, you couldn’t get another one on eBay.

That’s the trouble with these marauders. They haven’t been sufficiently terrorised, or if they have, they’ve forgotten it. And you must take some of the blame, since it’s your own offspring who are being frivolous with your Meissen. I bet those people who broke the swan’s neck feel awful. Really they should have owned up. For their own good. They probably saw how fragile it was and had some perverse urge to meddle with it.

As for the person who actually stole the fossil – well, are you sure? I thought I was missing a knife the other day but it had fallen down the back of the drawer.

Of course, your guests may think they’re just making themselves at home. They may not mean as much harm as they cause – but they’d be better off keeping their hands to themselves. You’re right. Lock up your ornaments and hide the key. It’s the only hope.

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

WHAT TO DO ABOUT...A vacant seat

The other day, I was at the Chelsea Flower Show press day. I was dismayed at first but once my friend, Wesley Kerr, arrived things picked up. As trustee of the Royal Parks, former Chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund and a TV presenter, he knows everybody. and if he doesn’t, he hails them anyway. Sophie Haworth was delighted to see Wesley beside the wonderful trail- finders South African Wine estate garden, which was robbed of a Gold medal and Best in Show. The Chairman of the National Trust we found beside a display of lawnmowers, and the Chairman of the Royal Historic Palaces was near the gin garden. There was quite a set-to about a fountain at Hampton Court. But I digress with name-dropping and over-excitement. Earlier I’d stopped for coffee. A woman asked if the other seats at my table were vacant. I said, ‘Yes.’ but before she’d even sat down a separate table became free. She’d rather have that, of course, but was embarrassed, thinking I’d feel snubbed. When the same thing happened to me a while ago, the person said, ‘don’t think I’m being rude’ before going off, which was nice.