Experimental feature

Listen to this article

00:00
00:00
Experimental feature

David Tang, entrepreneur and founder of ICorrect, offers advice on questions about property, interiors – and modern manners for globetrotters

About airport security (like the shoe incident): I hope nobody will try to blow up a plane using explosive underwear, otherwise it will become very difficult and embarrassing for all of us.

But have you been living on Mars? Someone did try to smuggle on board explosives hidden in his underpants! He was a Nigerian suicide bomber on a plane that was about to land in Detroit. He had stuffed his underpants with plastic explosives and tried to detonate them with a syringe of acid. But, luckily for the passengers, the underpants failed to explode and, unluckily for the terrorist, he only managed to set fire to his own groin.

Thankfully, this major incident has not led to the standard procedure of air travellers having to take off their underwear through security. Imagine the chaos this would cause: airports would turn into artificial beaches, with changing rooms or cabanas through which each of us would have to be strip-searched. There would be screams of “ough” or even moans of ecstasy. Thank God the utter pandemonium that would ensue has kept our knickers on.

But knickers have historically been a secret weapon in China. For the Confucian Imperial examinations, that underpinned the entire Chinese civil service for 1,300 years, candidates were put into huts for up to three days to write out their answers and some of them would use their underpants as crib sheets, with the Classics, which needed regurgitation, copied on to them. I was once shown by a collector a pair of underpants dating from the Ming dynasty that had been an astonishingly compact crib sheet. The cheat must have been a cool dude as all the tiniest characters, which would have dissolved at the slightest sign of sweat, remained meticulously clear.

Visitors’ books – surely they should be filled in with name alone rather than penmanship of obsequiousness verging on the nauseating?

Of course name only. It is highly infra dig to write hyperbolic tripe in a visitors’ book. The Duke of Marlborough considers this habit so “irritating” that at Blenheim, he has put up a notice next to the book asking guests NOT to write “comments”, although this slightly raises the question of the kind of people who stay there. Americans mostly, I shouldn’t imagine.

I myself have, however, on a couple of occasions written above my name extra words, but only ever “Quoth the raven,” which is of course a reference to Edgar Allan Poe’s famous poetic refrain of “Nevermore”. Blunt honesty is sometimes best concealed behind a purdah of erudition.

As your weekly column is, I believe, focused primarily on all things “interior”, perhaps I could ask you some key questions that I am struggling with:

1. House plants – surely these triffids, bringing the aura of bell bottoms and patchouli, are outdated and unacceptable (unless they are, of course, blowsy blossoms brought in for weekends from a vast greenhouse).

Somehow, I have always immediately associated house plants with university digs, and I can almost see them in my mind’s eye by the window sills of every female undergraduate room. When the cheap curtains are drawn, the small struggling plant is always in focus as one lies in bed smoking a mindless cigarette. I would remember a line or two from my favourite Irish poet Louis MacNeice: “ . . . The first train passes and the windows groan . . .”

But you mention the triffids that are, of course, a fictional plant invented by John Wyndham. As a young boy, I read with trepidation The Day of the Triffids and innocently asked to see them on my first visit to Kew because I thought only a large greenhouse like that would have been able to accommodate their height.

2. Enormous televisions displayed as a Stubbs would be – in my opinion this takes preening to the level of owning more than one Birkin bag and shouting about it.

I abhor large television screens put on walls. They are, for me, either a screaming symbol of suburbia or a tedious ostentation of nouveaux riches. Comparable with a Stubbs? Tell that to Lord Halifax who has the best collection of Stubbses and you will be horsewhipped!

Email questions to david.tang@ft.com

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2018. All rights reserved.