December 16, 2011 10:08 pm

Sex, secrets and papal shoes

What is the meaning of life? Why are we here? What is this all about? The meaning of life is that we live it. We are here because we are here

Sir David Tang, founder of ICorrect, globetrotter and the man about too many towns to mention, divides his time between homes in Hong Kong, mainland China and London. Here he invites readers’ queries for his advice on property, interiors, etiquette at home (wherever you live), parties and anything else that may be bothering you.

What is the meaning of life? Why are we here? What is this all about?

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The meaning of life is that we live it. We are here because we are here. And who knows for certain what it is all about?

Some 30 years ago, Bryan Magee, an academic philosopher turned member of parliament, wanted to demystify the whole subject of philosophy and persuaded the BBC to present a programme based on his book, which contained interviews with the leading philosophers of our time. I remember a distinct frisson, as I had just read philosophy at university and was none the wiser about the meaning of life. In the first programme, Magee interviewed Professor David Hare from Cambridge University. His first question was: “Why should we be moral?” The sagacious professor answered: “It depends on what you mean by ‘why’.” Absolutely hopeless!

What is your method of admonishing friends who regularly round-robin one in email format links to sexually explicit videos?

You should not dish out any admonishment, as they would simply attract more attention or make you a prude. My rule is not ever to be embarrassed by anything going through my office, and to regard my PAs and secretaries as unshockable. My principle follows the theory of vaccination. In other words, we build up our immune system by subjecting ourselves to small doses of whatever it is that we are supposed to be adverse to. So we should not mind these usually crude sex videos passing through the internet like brown envelopes, and we should remain totally nonchalant. Sooner or later, they will become boring or unnoticeable. Occasionally, there would be funny ones, and they would even be treated as bonuses for the day. The secret here is not to take ourselves too seriously, and to maintain at all times a maximum sense of humour.

What are your views on the keeping of secrets – when one tells someone with the opening gambit “please do not tell anyone” is that a code that I am unaware of for “please spread this around your friends”? I am sure there is a Chinese way of dealing with this perplexing subject.

Unless you are naive or stupid, or both, the answer must be entirely dependent on whom you tell the secret to. If it was the tabloid sheikh who entrapped the poor Countess of Wessex and Duchess of York, then it wouldn’t matter what you say because you will certainly read everything said in the newspaper that weekend. At the other extreme, if you were confiding in, say, Oskar Schindler or Sydney Carton, you would find death before they sneak. In between, there are always circumstances which override our promise to be discreet and therefore you must choose your confidant(e) very carefully.

I was rather surprised to observe on television recently a young presenter dressed in a very smart dark suit but wearing a pair of brown shoes. This was followed by two other presenters, again in dark suits sporting brown shoes. I was under the impression that such a combination was very taboo. Perhaps I am out of touch. I would very much welcome your views please.

I really don’t think you should fret over the colour of shoes worn by others! It is true that for the English, brown shoes are rather frowned upon. For the consummate snob, even at a shoot, black shoes rather than brown shoes should be worn, and certainly no Englishman would ever wear brown shoes during the week in the city. But just remember what Deng Xiaoping said: “It doesn’t matter about the colour of the cat as long as it catches mice.” So my view is that it doesn’t matter about the colour of the shoes as long as they are good for walking in. I once bribed my way to the papal cobbler in Rome who made me a couple of pairs of shoes similar to those worn by the Pope – in orange and yellow. They are absolutely splendid. But I have yet to wear them on television.

Email questions to david.tang@ft.com

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