Mr M likes to be appropriately dressed for every occasion. So when we were invited to a shoot dinner recently, he asked me what the dress code was. I have seen everything at shoot dinners, from black tie to jeans and open-neck shirts. But on this occasion, the host had thoughtfully advised us ahead of time that he would be wearing his smoking jacket.
Oh dear. Mr M may like to be suitably attired, but that does not extend to possessing a smoking jacket. I imported my husband from Australia when he was in his early thirties and his dress preferences certainly did not include all the dressing-up clothes that are a staple in the UK. It is possible to spend an entire lifetime in Australia without owning a morning suit, for instance, and Mr M now has two. He even has a full dress kilt. But I cannot imagine what he would say were I to suggest he buy a smoking jacket. I was slightly dismayed to learn that Debrett’s has no advice on what might constitute an acceptable alternative when one’s host is wearing a smoking jacket. (David Tang, where are you when I need you?)
But wardrobe quandaries are not the only challenge of the shooting season. The logistics of getting me to and from shoots as well as everywhere else I need to be is presenting Longsuffering Lily with her greatest trial yet. Last week, she had to get me from a pheasant shoot in deepest Wiltshire to dinner with George Osborne in Birmingham. No dress code had been stipulated, but I suspected arriving in my shooting clothes and, more crucially, with my gun, might not be appropriate.
The event was the Tory party conference’s annual business dinner. I’m not a member of the party, but, as a business owner, I am affected by policies politicians dream up, so I always check out, or have my staff check out, the conferences. I managed to get changed out of my shooting breeks into a dress, but the gun was more of a challenge. What to do? Getting into the conference involves getting past more security than at Heathrow. So I took the gun apart, stowed the stock and the barrels in different bags in the car, and took the lock in with me, something that did not trouble the X-ray machine. I suspect I was the only person at dinner with George with part of a gun stashed in their handbag.
Perhaps I should say in the vicinity of George, as I was seated between two random businessmen. The gentleman on my left ran a company that managed 350 public toilets. This turned out to be more interesting than it sounds, especially when he told me about the Jubiloo, which was erected this year near the London Eye and has been coining it ever since. One of my colleagues subsequently told me that she has personally visited this establishment, which apparently is decorated with pictures of the Queen! Is nothing sacred? The seat is cleaned after every visit, apparently, and it only costs 50p. Who knew?
From dinner George and I progressed (not together, you understand) to the must-attend party of the night, hosted by The Spectator in Hall 9. No dress code here, although it seemed to me there might have been a covert ban on cabinet members accessorising with a glass of champagne. No such restriction for me, but since I do have 10 years on the chancellor of the exchequer, I peaked somewhat early and had to leave before him, even though he was the one who was due in Japan for an IMF meeting the following day.
I doubt George Osborne has to trouble himself with negotiating the detail of dress codes, though I suspect he would have known instinctively how to deal with the smoking jacket issue. As for Mr M, he wore his blue cashmere blazer. But I have since found a great shop in Lower Sloane Street that will make smoking jackets with photographic linings. Pictures of the children? The dogs? George Osborne? That would be a talking point at a shoot dinner.