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On Being Brought Up
Mulling over, as one does, Theodore's post here at http://www.newenglishreview.org/blog_display.cfm/blog_id/40792 about public displays of affections (or grief, or any other emotion apart from mild pleasure) I was reminded irresistibly of my late grandfather who gave me some useful tips for life.
"First", he said to me, "gentlemen don't manhandle ladies in public; they don't hug them, they don't kiss them and they most certainly do not pat or fondle them. A gentleman upon meeting, or meeting again, a lady merely takes her hand lightly in his and shakes it ever so slightly whilst making the tiniest movement of his hand and head as if to indicate that he would, as in earlier and more courtly times, have kissed her hand had modern manners thought it correct to do so."
He was full of such advice - "Motor cars, like gloves, must be either black or white" was another one of his dictums. "Gentlemen's shoes are black, gentlemen's country shoes may be of another colour as long as it is deep brown verging on black" was another.
A constant stream of his injunctions punctuated my teenage and early adult years ------
"If you are escorting a lady you may take her arm in yours. No other physical contact is necessary unless one is dancing with the lady in question. After dancing she will indicate just how much privacy and how much further contact she desires!"
"One does not wear a belt in order to hold one's trousers up, that is what braces [suspenders] are for. A good belt is purely for ornament and for sundry corrective uses. If you wish to go around looking like a badly tied hessian of potatoes then that is your affair but you will not do so in my company, young man".
"Double-breasted suits should only be worn in town [London], and then only seldom, and never in the country. Only royalty can really carry them off - everyone else just looks like a spiv stuck in a barrel".
"When buttoning your jacket, my boy, just remember it's 'sometimes, always, never'. On a two button jacket one fastens the top button when one stands up. On a three buttoner one fastens the middle button. One never, never, never, never, never, fastens the bottom button on a jacket or a weskit [waistcoat] and one always undoes one's jacket button when seated."
"Only an American man ties his tie with a Shelby knot. A gentleman always ties a full or a half Windsor".
"Good grief boy! What is that thing in your hand? A gentleman wet shaves and achieves a perfect finish - he does not, I repeat he does not, apply spining metal dervishes contained behind some sort of grille to his face and hope for the best!"
"Heavens above! What do you look like? A gentleman wears a French collar [classic straight point], or an HRH [stand-up, very narrow straight point created by Charvet for Edward VII] if they must, or, of course, winged, as needed, in the evenings, but that button down abomination round your neck is only worn by people of uncertain parentage. Get it off at once!".
"What on earth are you wearing? Call that rag a shirt? A gentleman's shirt is white, do you hear me? White, I say."
"A gentleman's tie is either club or discreet. The only excuse for a tie such as you are wearing is that it was a present from either your mother or your wife. No other excuse is acceptable. So, which is it?"
"No, 'mistress' is only acceptable if you are a member of the Royal family".
"Why are you wearing that thing, young man; it is obviously not a weskit but it is a satanic abomination. How often do I have to tell you: white tie means white marcella weskit and black tie, as tonight is, means black barathea weskit. It may be alright for young colonial officers and Americans but we'll have none of that cummerbund nonsense in my house!"
"What is that platypus bill thing upon your head?"
"No, it is not a hat! It is a badge of shared ignorance worn by underprivileged youths who can barely put a sentence together in English. A hat, sir, is a bowler, a trilby, a homburg, a fedora if need be. A hat can be a cap in the country, or a topper or a panama as appropriate but that excrudescence can not, and never will be able to, lay claim to being a hat."
"American men may wear jeans - they suit them. English gentlemen know better".
"A Frenchman is for buying one's wine and one's cologne from not for talking to. It really doesn't do to get friendly with the continental types - they don't know when to stop, you know, and they encroach."
"I like Russia [in 1972]. The servants know their place and don't dare answer back."
"Never, never trust an Arab. It's all that nonsense they believe in. It makes them completely untrustworthy, don't you know."
"All Americans are mealy mouthed - apart, obviously, from your great grandmama, my blessed mother, who could swear like a trooper - so don't swear in front of them. You'll frighten the poor dears if you do and you know how skittish they can be."
"Italians can be wonderful people sometimes. I suppose that one day we'll find out why the good Lord created them."
"All Germans always tell the truth. No English gentleman would dream of being so rude."
"Spaniards are all very well in their own way, I suppose, but what do they actually do?"
"Britain is ghastly - India more so and with insects."
"I am sure that there is something we Englishmen have forgotten about Australia, and I'm equally sure that we had better not remember what it was!"
"South America only exists because it's a warning to the United States about what it could become if it stopped concentrating."
"What did we do in the sight of the Lord that was so wrong he saddled us with Canada?"
"Scotland is great. It's full of targets that don't stand still and great places to shoot from."
"They don't stand still? Which, the people or the animals?"
"People live there?!"