Rules for Social Conduct

Manners may be, as teenagers would have you believe, old-fashioned concepts that no-one bothers about nowadays, but they do oil the wheels of social interaction. If we all said exactly what we liked and did whatever we felt like, one shudders to think how awful life would be. Ettiquette is rather an out of date rule of behaviour in our times, but good manners are not, for to be well mannered is to be considerate of other people, which we all certainly appreciate in others.

I amused myself recently by writing out a list of reminders to myself. Have I forgotten anything essential?

Here goes:

Arrive on time.

Stand up when introduced to people.

Be cautious and consider other people’s culture when offering your hand. In some cases you should wait until they offer their hand to you. On the other hand, to refuse to shake someone’s hand is a grave and studied insult.

Do not, on first being introduced, take possession of someone’s name and bandy it about as if it belonged to you.

Eat whatever is put before you with gratitude.

If you have a LONG list of things you dislike/won’t eat/have reactions to, stay at home.

If you Don’t Drink, Don’t Drink quietly. Don’t announce it emphatically as though everyone else is a drunk.

If you do drink, don’t get drunk.

Attend to the serving and needs of your fellow guests at dinner.

Do not begin to eat, or even lift up your cutlery, until your hostess has done so.

Listen with sympathetic attention to what other people are saying.

Exert yourself to be amusing and entertaining but do not hog the limelight,

Be generous and complimentary but only say what you believe to be true. You can always find something to praise.

Do not engage in scurrilous gossip.

Do not flirt unless you are quite sure it will not be misunderstood, or will not upset anyone present.

Be interested in others, but do not ask intrusive or impertinent questions. In particular, do not ask questions which will embarrass others; or any questions designed to reveal wealth or status.

Do not boast. It marks you as irredeemably vulgar.

When you are someone’s guest, avoid subjects which might disrupt or upset the occasion.

At a large gathering, you must bid your host and hostess good-bye before you leave.

If possible, there should be no longer than 5 minutes between the first movement you make to leave and your actual departure.

Send a message of thanks (phone call; email; card; letter) for any hospitality, gift or help received.

Good manners requires that you ignore and draw no attention to, any lapses in manners from anyone else.

Be just amd fair in your judgement and where possible give the benefit of any doubt.

Treat everyone as you would wish to be treated were you in their position.

Treat everyone with respect and caution. They may not be as they appear.

Be respectful and solicitous of elderly persons. You will become one far sooner than you think!

Do not condescend to children, the elderly, the sick, the disabled, the uneducated, the poor, those from other cultures etc. They may have gifts that far surpass yours and even if they do not, they are entitled to our best treatment.

Recognise that whoever appears to be the most important person may not actually be the most powerful.

When you have made a mistake (and if you think ‘I never do’ you have a problem), apologise promptly and do what you can to make amends; but do not expect automatic forgiveness for that is the offended person’s gift.

If you are the offended party however, be fair and generous.

Discharge your debts promptly.

Pay your full share of any joint expenditure and be generous to others in any calculation.

Be generous with tips and with praise for those who give service and do not be over critical.

Treat everyone as if they are of high calibre and good will and as if they behave to the highest standards. Although few people actually do, your giving them this position may encourage them to rise to the challenge.

Examine your own conduct frequently to see where you could have done better.

Do not expect other people to follow your set of personal guidelines. They will have their own.

Do not reveal the whole of your thoughts. Other people can’t stand it.

Be at peace with yourself, because despite the love of those around you, in the end, you walk alone.



I didn’t write last week and my feeble excuse is that I’m still recovering from an exhausting cold; we’ve been in the loft rooting around for stuff of Joanna’s that can now be shifted to her larger accommodation; and I’ve been sewing curtains for her to a deadline when Lawrence came down to receive it.

You have mixed feelings when you enter your loft. It’s so full of stuff? Who put all this stuff here? Once it goes into your loft, it can never be found (if it is remembered) again, so you may as well throw it out in the first place. There’s some stuff that you look at and think, why ever did I not throw out this old tat rather than cart it up here? There are things that you’ve forgotten all about and are pleased to see again. There are things that you remembered and are pleased to rediscover. And then there are things that you have absolutely no recollection of; you never used them; you never bought them. Then you realise the answer to the riddle – someone else is putting stiff into your loft! (If only…)

Then you have to manoeuvre the stuff out of the loft, past the loft ladder, haul it all out of its container, examine it, decide what to do with it, put it in an appropriate heap, resisting the urge to return it to the loft…

So I’ve been doing that, and my head is full of important issues like whether anyone would like a moth-eaten rug, only very slightly stained; or a coffee table with a wonky leg (perfectly OK if propped against a wall and you walk gently past it.) You do come across some things that are lovely and desirable, but even then you still have to decide to whom you will first offer it.

Apart from that I’ve been sewing soft furnishings for Joanna’s new house. My head is full of measurements. We went to a warehouse of Remnant Kings on the outskirts of Glasgow where there were beautiful materials at prices sometimes as much as two thirds lower than the retail price but of course you can only buy what there is – it can’t be reordered. I make a pair of pale blue cotton curtains for the girls’ room, with red puppies on it and have enough left over to make one large or two small cushions. For the master bedroom Joanna has  chosen a lovely beige silky material with a climbing leaf pattern, like Jack and the beanstalk but without Jack. The pattern has a 19” repeat, so we buy enough for 3 drops. But when I measure it out, the pattern works out exactly, so I don’t lose the 20” and this makes just enough, but not quite enough for 4 drops which would look more luxurious and be easier. I put a false hem on one drop, which doesn’t show, and there we have a 4 drop curtain.

There is a turquoise and cream rug from the loft. My mother had embroidered a beautiful hydrangea embroidery that I had bought in Liberty’s. There is a wide but not long blue flowered curtain that was once in my livingroom, quite rich in colour. Joanna would like a curtain for her front door, which has glass in it. Her hall is large and has a chair in it. With judicious piecing, I alter the short, wide curtain into a long, narrower one, and I mount my mother’s embroidery on cream material, edge it with the blue rich blue, back it with the same, and there’s rather an expensive looking cushion.

This all goes North with Lawrence (apart from the cushion). I have some further projects to undertake. Make the puppy dog cushions. Make cream cushions that go with the Beanstalk without Jack curtains. Finish a black/red/white quilt with birds, for Joanna’s sitting room.

In the loft I found a black and gold velvet material (no idea where it came from) which will make 2 cushions for Elisabeth, plus some gold silk which will make another one. (Milo shows great taste so far as textiles are concerned, his favourite cushions to destroy being made of either silk or Harris tweed.) I found some material that goes in the caravan and can cover pillows with it. Alexandra would like another cape. I have some gorgeous cream cotton with boats embroidered on it to make a baby quilt. No-one is in any way pressing for these, of course.

But you will understand why I can’t offer wise thoughts of chairman annie, or write insightful political analysis – because my head if fully taken up with sundry speculations of Woman with a Loft.

PS Actually Woman with a Loft and a Sewing Machine. Since I bought my new sewing machine a year ago, I have made 1 quilt, l cot quilt, 2 bags, 1 nightdress, 3 pyjama bottoms, 7 pairs of curtains, 4 aprons, 9 cushions, 2 dresses, 2 throws, l floor mat, l child’s kilt, l pair of trousers, 2 tops, l skirt and l tunic. Of these the only abject failure was the dog blanket dress.

I think on that note I’ll retire to my sofa!



John and I, at the end of a long and quite tiring though interesting journey through the UK, were seated in the cafe of Chedwood Roman Villa in the Cotswolds, It had mosaics of better volume than quality, but even so it was of course interesting although it struck me as being the equivalent in Romano British society of what a house owned by Jeffrey Archer might be in ours.

Right beside us at the next table were seated two elderly Englishmen and the wife of one of them, having a discussion on the result of the Scottish referendum. They were frankly exultant about the defeat of the movement for Independence. They hailed Gordon Brown as the hero of the hour. Alastair Darling was severely criticised for not having made a better defence for the No campaign. I can’t repeat here what they said about Alex Salmond. They were jealous of the concessions made to the Scots and did not wish them to be honoured. I heard the word ‘parasites’ being used of the Scots. John, listening to them but watching me, said, ‘They are having a private conversation.’ I replied, ‘You’d better get me out of here, then.’ As we prepared to go, the least pre-possessing of the unlovely triad declared, ‘I must say I’m relieved we’ve won. Thank God it’s all over and we can go back to normal.’ John’s hand was firmly in the small of my back as he ushered me out.

It was wonderful being in Scotland in the lead up to the referendum. The vote was the single topic everywhere and everyone spoke to everybody expressing a range of views but it was all polite and good-humoured. Given the level of engagement – there was an 85% turnout – we were surprised that we did not see more Yes and No flags, but the Scots seemed to take the view that everyone’s vote was his own business.

It has never been entirely clear to me that Alex Salmond’s ultimate goal was actually full independence. That he has Scotland’s best interests (as he sees them) at heart I have no doubt, but I have wondered if he said Independence because then Devo Max would be a relief instead, since you were unlikely to get the whole of what you asked for. (He has of course denied this.) But if I can contemplate ostensibly pursuing one goal while actually manoeuvring for another, you can be certain that the much cleverer Alex Salmond can do so also. I do not suggest of course that he was not disappointed in the result, but I do not think he was surprised.

In the event 45% of Scots voters said Yes, but I do not believe they all actually wanted Independence. Some of them had done, but others had voted thus as the only way of jolting the Westminster government to listen to the desire for change of at least some of its citizens. 55% of the vote was No, and again although some had said No and meant it, some had been Yes voters influenced by the Devo Max package offered at the last provided they voted No.

I felt low in the days following the event, though John was proud that his city, Glasgow, had stuck to its guns throughout. I felt that the cause was just, the leader true, but we had failed to be the people. But I had also felt very sad in the days leading up to the 18th at the potential loss of our fellow nationals, and part of me was relieved that we did not face immediate drastic action.

So, where do we stand now?

The SNP’s membership has increased since the vote (without any appeal by them) by 50,000 persons up to yesterday and they are now the third largest party in the whole of the UK. Alex Salmond will resign, as is fitting, but he is not going anywhere. He’ll still be there, the most capable politician, wily strategist and powerful speaker we presently have in the UK.

So if the Scots have any sense – and I believe they do – they will return as many SNP MPs to both Edinburgh and Westminster parliaments as possible. Meanwhile the SNP, heartened no doubt both by this unanticipated show of support and the boost to its finances, will regroup and it will watch and wait to see if Westminster delivers as promised. It will accept anything given, but will continue to apply pressure for the whole of what was offered. In my view, Cameron, or whoever else may be in power, will find it impossible to deliver what they said they would. Someone said (was it Dr Johnson?) that it was not difficult to distinguish between a ray of sunshine and a Scotsman with a grievance, and I think we may see evidence of the truth of this in the months to come. Another potential flashpoint would be if there were a referendum on EU membership and the English voted to leave.

So contrary to the hopeful view of our apology-for-an-Englishman sitting in the second rate Roman ruin, the ‘war’ is not over. That was a preliminary skirmish; perhaps the first round.

One of the things that has given me greatest comfort throughout this whole process has been that there has been not a whiff of anti English sentiment in Scotland; and since the result and our return over the border, we have been greeted only with warmth and kindness.

I believe it will be in all our interests to renegotiate our system of government. We need to recognise the aspirations of three of our nationhoods for greater control of their own affairs in a new system which also recognises the rights of the English nation. We need to progress carefully towards a new position, discussing these matters between us with kindness and consideration for one another. We have been fellow countrymen for a long time, and there is no reason why we should not continue to be so; although it will need to be on a different basis. There are many difficult decisions ahead of us. But as for the bellicose sentiments of our ignorant Englishman at the next table, he is wholly misinformed. Firstly, this is not a war and we should all of us do everything in our power to make sure it doesn’t become one. It is a long and delicate negotiation. There is no going back to ‘normal’. What he pleases to regard as normal has gone forever, swept away.

Stands Scotland where it did? Not exactly. But one thing is certain. We’re still standing.