A gym with a view

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

I won’t be so foolish as to challenge your spelling of “laderhausen” – still, I’d be curious how you arrived at it. For the moment, it adds a human touch to your formidably entertaining column. PS – I just learnt through Google that the word “laderhausen” can, indeed, be found in Silesian dialect. But I cannot imagine that you would mix up your German idioms.

I have not, since I began this column, received as many letters of complaint as I have on the typo of “lederhosen”. My only mitigation is that I have always dictated my answers, and sometimes my Chinese eyes are not as open as they ought to be on spelling mistakes. My Chinese secretary, the Lara Croft of dictation who types everything up, is usually very reliable but occasionally she must be excused for not getting foreign words right. Of course one can blame my editors or even typesetters. But I feel I should take the ultimate responsibility. So I take this opportunity to thank all my readers, especially the Rhineland fraternity, who pulled me up on the spelling of a garment that looks so ridiculous and unsightly in the lower half that I think it almost ought to be deliberately misspelt!

PS – I am delighted with your discovery that the word “laderhausen” is found in the Silesian dialect about which I know something – because I went to a Silesian school that was taught by Silesian priests and, therefore, can claim some Silesian locus standi!

What do you think about the trend of houses having a gym in them? And what do you think of their decorations? How do they compare with commercial gyms, especially the expensive ones requiring membership, that have sprung up in London and other capitals?

I have, indeed, noticed that a gym is now almost de rigueur in large houses. But what is extraordinary is that they are invariably built in the smallest room of the house, and in the basement with no window – just a giant television screen in front of an unappetising looking treadmill with which Sisyphus might have been content. This is a complete misunderstanding of what a gym ought to be. If I had a mansion in London, I would have a gym with a wonderful view, preferably with French windows that could be opened on to a terrace or a garden.

The best exercises are done outdoors, not in a subterranean space with white lighting and mirrors all round, which are now standard decorations. Commercial gyms are worse because they all look identical, with rows and rows of machines set out to resemble a military installation, filled with people who either have strata of fat or egotistical muscles, which are even more unsightly.

I also think it a bad idea to be watching television on any exercise machine because the whole point of exercise is to clear one’s mind by allowing time to think without distractions. But then there are the few of us who are fortunate enough to be a member of Mark Birley’s “gym”, whose secrets are, thankfully, intact. That’s why I can’t tell you how things ought to be done, not even in this column.

I recently read in the FT a description of the interior of Downton Abbey, aka Highclere Castle, that made reference to the “saloon” in the house. What is the difference between a “saloon” and a “salon”? And why do the English pronounce the word “drawing” as if there was an “r” in the middle of the word?

I have never heard the word “saloon” used in any of the houses, great or small, that I have stayed in. But presumably it means a drawing room. The word “salon” could also be used as a drawing room, although its origin from 17th-century France is a room in which artists exhibited their works.

Nowadays I don’t like either of these words – “saloon” is often used to refer to a four-door car; and “salon” is a place where hairdressers work. These common references do not somehow have the right ring for a grand house such as Highclere. As for your question on spelling, there are umpteen English words that are pronounced differently from the way they are spelt. “Working” is one, and “salmon” another. But it might be equally strange if each English word were to be pronounced exactly the way it is spelt. Remember George Bernard Shaw, who supposedly contrived the spelling of “fish” as “ghoti” (“gh” as in rough; “o” as in women; “ti” as in intention).

Email questions to david.tang@ft.com

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