Being a Guest in a Private House – Part Two

Tuesday, November 10th, 2015

Part one brought us to the cocktail hour, which has become a standard fixture before dinner.  Fans of Downton Abbey will recall the introduction of this ritual in the 1920s and it is rare to see sherry served with the soup course nowadays.

If your host or the butler, when offering a drink, suggests a particular cocktail, it is because they are prepared to serve it (e.g., whiskey sours or mojitos).  If you do not care for that particular cocktail, ask for a glass of champagne or wine or a mixed drink.  Do not ask for a different cocktail as it is unlikely the ingredients will be at hand and this is not your opportunity to teach your host’s staff the recipe for your favourite cocktail.  Again, remember, this is not a hotel.


If you have been pressed to a second drink, (perhaps dinner is delayed), best not to finish it and in no circumstances should you take it through to dinner with you. Depending on the size of the party, the butler may have circulated through the room with the dinner board showing each guest in advance where they will be seated in the dining room.  The seating board will in any case be displayed in the dining room and the butler will assist you finding your seat.  Although there are many traditional rituals about what order guests enter the dining room and with whom, it is quite usual nowadays for guests to proceed in no particular order although the hostess will go in first and the host last. Take your seat promptly and engage in conversation with those seated next to you until dinner is served when traditional dinner party rituals come in effect.  (Another blog.)

Whether shooting or other country pursuits, it is incumbent on house guests to “get with the programme.” Guns come down to breakfast at the appointed time.  Married ladies who are not shooting are traditionally given the option of having breakfast sent up to their rooms.  If this offends your politically correct or liberated sensibilities, just get up and get dressed and go down to breakfast.  Note that men and single women are not offered breakfast trays so please don’t ask (although “wake-up” calling trays with tea or coffee are offered to all).

It is sporting for those not participating in arranged activities to show an interest and be an enthusiastic observer. Speak to the butler about joining the shoot for elevenses, for example, and in any case join the shoot lunch. But if you prefer to curl up with your current book, or sit by the fire on a miserable day, this of course is your prerogative and house staff will be pleased to make you comfortable tending the fire, providing tea and so forth. But they can’t read your mind so please just tell the butler what your plans are.

By now you have the idea. A staffed house is not a hotel and private house staff do not report to you. They are the embodiment of your hosts’ hospitality and will go to great lengths to ensure that hospitality is provided with grace and style. To abuse the hospitality or the staff is to abuse your hosts.

Oddly, it is entirely appropriate to leave a tip for house staff when you have been a resident guest.  This can be handed to the butler and regular guests normally pen a few appreciative words and hand the butler an envelope or visit the staff wing in person. Otherwise, give it directly to your hostess and there is often a discreet tip box in an obvious place provided for your convenience. This is only for your convenience and absolutely no tip is required or expected.  But be assured that all staff members have been in “high gear” for a house party involving time away from their families and a heavier workload. A token of acknowledgment will be greatly appreciated.

Naturally, what *is* required and expected is the thank you letter to your hostess mailed within a few days of your return home.

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Women’s Wear Trends for Autumn/Winter 2015

Monday, October 12th, 2015

The cooler weather will soon be upon us, so it’s time to think about buying some key pieces to update your wardrobe for Autumn/Winter. The catwalks for this season had a distinct retro feel, with many garments rooted in 60’s and 70’s nostalgia, reinterpreted with a modern twist. The good news is: there’s something for every woman, whatever your age, size or shape.

Patterned Coat

One of the must-haves of the season is a patterned coat with designs embracing spots, animal prints and graphic designs. Look for animal prints in unusual colours such as this leopard design in coral and cream. To make your ‘statement coat’ stand out, always wear it over plain, solid colours such as this cream sweater teamed with a mustard skirt. This semi-fitted streamline style suits a tapered figure.

Wear your patterned coat over plain, solid colours to really make it stand out

Wear your patterned coat over plain, solid colours to really make it stand out

Belted Trench

The trench coat has been a classic staple of the female and male wardrobe for many fashion decades, but this season sees it re-invented in new and refreshing fabrics. In keeping with the 70’s vibe, this calf-length trench coat comes in soft, tan suede, with wide lapels and deep, patch pockets. A paisley print dress with long sleeves and deep cuffs, in warm, muted shades continues the retro theme. This cinched in style suits a curved body shape, although other body shapes could tie it loosely at the back.

This calf-length trench coat in tan suede suits both a curved body shape best

This calf-length trench coat in tan suede suits both a curved body shape best

Capes and Wraps

A great alternative to the coat this season is a soft, woollen cape or wrap with deep fringing or tassels, in the 70’s style. So versatile, they can be worn over casual, smart or evening outfits – especially if they are unpatterned and in a neutral colour. The style shown here, worn with a pussycat bow blouse (left undone) and loose trousers, is perfect for a fuller figure who likes to wear the Loose Line Style.

A soft woollen cape or wrap is a very versatile choice this season

A soft woollen cape or wrap is a very versatile choice this season

Crombie Style

The Crombie Overcoat was a real fashion-favourite of the male 60’s wardrobe but this season sees it re-imagined for the female form, in softer shades and textures. Its rectangular shape and double-breasted style is perfect for the straight up style of figure, which looks best without waist emphasis. Polo neck sweaters are having a huge revival this season and look superb with the Crombie Coat. Liven up this outfit with slim leg, graphic print trousers; notice how they are worn above the ankle this season, with loafers or lace-up brogues.

Once it was only for a man's wardrobe but a crombie style overcoat has now been re-invented for ladies

Once it was only for a man’s wardrobe but a crombie style overcoat has now been re-invented for ladies


all photographs are credited to Marks and Spencer via

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The Etiquette of Personal Space: Don’t’ Stand Too Close To Me!

Monday, October 5th, 2015

I am lucky enough to live in the English countryside and although I am frequently in London for meetings or travelling worldwide for The English Manner, I suppose it is not often nowadays that I am standing in a large crowd of people or waiting in anything other than an orderly, still very British, queue at a checkout or in line for service.

It struck me yesterday evening, whilst waiting for my daughter and her friend to return from a travelling vacation in India, how those who live and work in this country appear to have lost their awareness of the etiquette of personal space. Yes, there is an etiquette for it!

The world is getting smaller and more crowded and the closer our paths cross with others the more important it must become to ensure that we feel safe and respected. That could be on a pavement or in an airport concourse, moving through doorways and in and out of buses, trains, lifts and any public space.

When teaching people to enter a room and network, my first rule is ‘stop look and listen’. Be aware of the people around you, yet last night not one person waiting for their colleagues or loved ones seemed to be aware of anyone else in the same situation. People were oblivious to the fact that by waving their name card in the air straight into my face or at the back of my head, that they were not only standing too close but were actually being a menace! I am only 5’6” tall and fairly slight, but am I really that insignificant? Don’t I command any thought that perhaps I too needed to see across the barrier and crowd to be able to identify the girls coming through? The so called etiquette expert was in a dilemma, having leaned away as far as I could and shifted position several times, I wondered if I should just come right out and say something, but wary of making a scene and having to explain why I needed more space to peer into the revolving doors without having my head knocked off by their arms, I instead retreated, cowed, to another position further along the line.

Then of course the usual bug bear of earphones and obsessive checking of mobiles kicked in – too easy now for us to be totally absorbed in checking emails and texts whilst being unaware of anyone around us and also where we are standing or worse still walking with heads down! Stop it, please!

If walking in a crocodile or a line, we were always taught to keep up just as we are told when driving to keep up with the traffic.   A good rule to follow and again, the mobile phone users take note: don’t suddenly stop in the street or in a crowded area and check your damn phone! Move to one side and be aware of your surroundings. When on the phone give yourself space. Apart from the safety aspect, do we all really need to listen to you telling your friend what you are having for dinner?

Allow others to come through a door or exit a taxi or a lift before you try to get in. Hold a lift door or a heavy door instead of pretending not to notice or perhaps even worse, not noticing. If you are standing near a lift button, ask your fellow travellers which floor they need instead of making them squeeze past you to press the required button.

Personal space is a term used to define the physical distance between two people in a social, family or business environment. It is an invisible shield, formed around you to create a distance, and is important not only for privacy and security, but for our own feeling of personal safety now too. Years ago I was mugged on my way back from the office to home just a mile or so away on foot; since I was approached from behind and held at knifepoint, I have been highly aware of anyone coming up close behind me from that day. I realise that has perhaps made me a bit paranoid, but the rule of thumb applies: the comfort zone is a few feet unless you know someone exceptionally well. So everyone, let’s try to keep a distance of 3-10 feet for public spaces and if crowds allow, 4-12 feet is best. And, whilst we are on the subject, don’t tailgate on the airport slip road either; we all want to get home too!

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We Celebrate Our Queen’s Achievement This Week

Thursday, September 10th, 2015

I am going to indulge myself a little this month and hark back to my career roots in The Royal Household of Her Majesty The Queen.  This month marks the spectacular achievement of Her Majesty’s tenure as the longest reigning monarch in our history, and The English Manner offers every congratulation to The Queen.

A quite remarkable woman, as a former employee I have only warm and happy memories of my time in the Household and having the honour to interact with the Royal Family; and as a subject of the United Kingdom, I have the utmost admiration and respect for our Queen.

Her Majesty has never put a foot wrong and, as someone put it on the wireless today, her reign has seen the invention of the Mini, the internet, Facebook, numerous terrible conflicts and too many changes of Government to mention, but The Queen remains a constant and whether a Republican or a Royalist, one has to admire that tenacity and durability.  This monarch has without doubt given us tremendous stability in times of worldwide strife.

Her Majesty became the longest reigning British Monarch on 9th September 2015

Her Majesty became the longest reigning British   Monarch on 9th September 2015

We have been fortunate enough this year to lead cultural learning experiences for guests from China and America as well as some from other parts of the world.  As part of these programmes we have shown the power of the British Monarchy in tourism and it is without doubt one of our greatest exports!  We have enjoyed exclusive private tours of Kensington Palace, The Crown Jewels and the Tower of London, The Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace and indeed, Buckingham Palace itself.  This year’s exhibit of the arrangements for a State Banquet are absolutely superb and I am sure the wonderful late Master of the Household Sir Peter Ashmore would be thrilled to see how it has been laid out to show visitors how it is done.

For our part, as we consistently teach to British Royal Standards, I am delighted that we have been able to showcase table settings and placements, and decorations the way we have been alluding to for years!  A truly super exhibit, and for those who have not yet seen it, I urge a visit before it closes on 27th September.

We have once again this year been to Sandringham House, and I hosted a very special group at that most beloved Scottish castle, Balmoral.  Remodelled extensively by Queen Victoria, I was struck this time by the restoration of the gardens and the new visitor centre facilities.  It must be 25 years since my last visit, and memories of the Summer Court and long stays as the nights drew in were abundant as we arrived in glorious warm sunshine to be greeted by a guide who remembered my time there in the 1980s!

The beautiful cottage where we Household girls stayed boasts a new kitchen but looked pretty much the same otherwise, and I will always remember the wonderfully kind Housekeeper taking pity on me as I shivered on the Highland evenings and allowed me a two bar electric fire in my room to keep me warm as well as the must have dram of whisky!

Sandringham House

Sandringham House

A journey to Balmoral is quite a long one from most parts of the country, but it is well worth the visit.  The Royal Whisky Distillery at Lochnagar is a superb tour; a more commercial one than the smallest distillery at Edradour (worth visiting en route at Pitlochry to see the difference between the two) and there are wonderful walks around the Estate itself.  Not open to visitors whilst Her Majesty is there over the summer months, but certainly one to head up the list for 2016 if you have a chance.

The visitor centre at Balmoral is superb, and if you peep inside the church at Crathie Kirk, you will see remnants of generations of the real Royal Family; a real live family, of grandparents, children, grandchildren and friends, who gather together with the occasional official visit from the Prime Minister or others, on their summer holidays, worshipping each Sunday in their local church.

Balmoral Castle

Balmoral Castle

As the summer, such as we have seen it, draws to a close and the nights and mornings darken, we wish Her Majesty many more years on the throne, and a very happy summer holiday at Balmoral!

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Not very jolly but often necessary – the importance of Death Notices

Thursday, September 3rd, 2015

A death notice should simply state the facts.  Sentimentality and gushing tributes are not correct here.

Pared down, a notice should read:

PARKER – On 4th May, Ruth Iona.

However you can also include a little bit of factual information, such as key relatives and the time and place of the funeral:

PARKER – On 4th May at home. Ruth Iona, beloved wife of Michael.  Funeral service at St Mark’s Church, Church Road, Bristol, Wednesday 15th May at 11am.  Private family committal afterwards.

It was once practice to include the deceased’s address but common sense has stopped this as, inevitably, enterprising thieves were scouring the newspapers for ideas for their next heist.  What is important now is to give enough information that readers who may have known the deceased can identify their friends & family.


In Britain, it is still thought the smartest people die in The Times or the Daily Telegraph.  However, in today’s society the death notice should be placed in the newspaper that is read by the majority of the deceased’s peers.  For example, if the deceased was a big figure locally then an announcement in the local newspaper is wise – especially as national newspapers charge an extortionate and distasteful amount for such notices.

An obituary is at the discretion of a newspaper editor.   They cannot be bought, unlike the above death notices, and usually only appear if the deceased has been of notable prominence during their lifetime.  The best obituaries are mini-biographies that present the facts of the life just lost.

Finally, remember that a person is not socially dead until the funeral has happened.  That is when they become ‘the late X’.

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