September 28, 2012 9:13 pm

May I have your attention?

Waving frantically is undignified but the other day I was treated to something we could call the napkin approach
An illustration by James Ferguson©James Ferguson

How do you attract someone’s attention? I do a great deal of eating and drinking in various establishments and, invariably, just as I really need to get someone to take an order or get the bill, I seem to become invisible. This particularly haunts me in the grand, Piccadilly-based café-cum-restaurant The Wolseley, when I am power-breakfasting and need to get the bill in a hurry, so that I can get to my next appointment. Waving frantically is so very undignified and all sorts of people will see me.

If I am getting nowhere, I occasionally resort to leaving my seat and going to find someone, which is not much more ladylike than frantic waving. But the other day I was treated to a whole new idea – something I think we could call the napkin approach.

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Mrs Moneypenny

While I was sitting with a (female) client in a wine bar (where we were both abstemiously drinking sparkling water), a man who had been sitting alone on the other side of the room approached. He didn’t say anything other than “Excuse me”, then placed a paper napkin on the table in front of me and walked back to his seat.

I looked at the napkin. Written on it in Biro were the words “You have a very beautiful face”, and next to it was a scribbled smiley. Was this intended for me? (The client is both younger and prettier.) What was the correct response? More to the point, what was the correct response in front of the client? The note carried no phone number or any clue to the man’s identity. He was sitting alone again. Should I go and thank him?

I decided that the best thing to do was to put the napkin in my bag and leave the bar with the client at the end of our meeting, without any acknowledgement. I kept it because it would have been rude to screw it up into a ball and leave it on the table, plus not many people tell me I am beautiful these days. It remained in my bag for almost a week until Cost Centre #2 needed to blow his nose halfway through a rugby match, and even then I just gave him half the two-ply napkin.

Attracting and keeping people’s attention gets harder and harder as our channels of communication proliferate. One email that did catch my eye recently was from my Glamorous Single Girlfriend, entitled simply “partridge disease”. Referring to a day’s shooting that she was due to host this week, she informed her guests that: “Disaster has struck, the birds have been infected by a lethal parasite which causes Hexamitiasis, a disease which can lead to up to 50 per cent mortality if untreated.” Apparently, the treatment needed has a 28-day withdrawal period, so no partridge there for at least a month.

My thoughts were first and foremost with the estate, for which this must be an economic disaster. But then I also thought about the 50 per cent mortality statistic: would the partridge have faced much better – or worse – odds if we had all turned up to shoot?

I remain the only woman on the line at most of the shoots that I attend, and next year will run another programme aimed at getting more women into shooting. I organise a day of clay shooting, then a simulated day and finally a game day – all women-only – although, crucially, I don’t believe in single-sex shooting. Life, as someone once said to me, is co-educational.

Before then, however, I am lending my effort to an initiative to get more women to participate in another male-dominated sport: cricket. I am to be the after-dinner speaker at an event organised by Chance to Shine, an organisation campaigning to bring the game back into state schools, at the Mansion House on November 21.

I have never before spoken at the Mansion House, and I have certainly never spoken on the subject of sport. Cricket lovers, of either sex, come and support me! With people such as Sir Tim Rice and Sir Mervyn King in the audience, I may have even more trouble than usual in attracting people’s attention.

mrsmoneypenny@ft.com

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