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David Tang, entrepreneur and founder of ICorrect, offers advice on questions about property, interiors – and modern manners for globetrotters
You express your distaste for those who, inappropriately, wear brown shoes in the City. I am wondering what you think of the Duke of Cambridge sporting brown shoes upon leaving the hospital in the middle of London with his newborn (I happened to notice this while watching CNN). Perhaps he should be excused due to the circumstances but I don’t know, hence I am asking you.
If you were heir to the heir to the throne, holding an heir to the heir to the heir to the throne, you should be allowed to wear whatever colour shoes you like! The present heir, the Prince of Wales, was also sporting brown, but very dark brown, shoes when he visited the nascent Prince. They were visibly well worn and highly polished. I’d say having highly polished shoes is much more important than choosing their colour.
The main problem with Continentals who seem to love brown shoes, of the light tone persuasion, is that they do not grasp the importance of spit polish. The British army and the police do – their shoes are brilliantly shiny, attained by the perpetual application of polish and rubbing. The result of this Sisyphean approach is that all the pores of the leather surface are filled, thereby obtaining a smooth surface on which light can be properly reflected, instead of the millions of pores acting like universal black holes sucking in all the light. I, offered a place to read physics at university, have always believed this to be a scientific explanation to the brilliant shine of the spit polish.
But at the end of the day, who really cares about the colour of the shoes one wears? Isn’t the soul more important? Mother Teresa, who wore sandals, will certainly agree. I am only fastidious with my yellow shoes bespoken in Rome by the papal cobblers, who initially refused to make me a pair, claiming papal exclusivity. Their resolution was, however, soon shattered by a suitable earthly incentive on my part, in line with what I regarded as a way of life among the Romans.
The resulting pair of splendid shoes, in yellow with matching yellow ribbons as laces, is particularly fetching and entirely appropriate for the confessional or benediction, that most beautiful of evening services in the quietude of a church, or accompanied by some heavenly singing of the psalms, filled with the divine scent of incense.
What is the correct etiquette when it comes to “celebrating the recently departed”? Is wearing black still expected and is this only at funerals but not at memorials? Should one send flowers to the church where they are appreciated for a nanosecond or to the wake where they are really useful/needed?
Wearing black is de rigueur at funerals and memorials, although I have noticed it has also become the standard uniform of shop assistants and waiters in “trendy” establishments. It is rather disconcerting to feel one is shopping or eating in a funeral parlour which, for me, is always decorated and presented in utter misery.
First, there is the usual irritating organ arrangement of Bach on a G-string; followed by “directors” who, invariably dressed in ill-fitting suits with oleaginous manners, talk in whispers, supposedly to induce an air of decorum and respect. Then there are the ghastly arrangements of flowers, especially of gladioli (because they last long), and the faux-leather Chesterfield or cheap chintzy armchairs with antimacassars. It is high time for funeral directors not to be deadbeat and modernise their reception rooms. I am thinking minimalistic, with Rothko-like paintings or mini-scale Serra sculptures, all abstract and conceptual, to evoke a reflective mood. The idea is to allow the mourners to meditate in an environment that comforts them into believing their departed kin or friend is floating around in ether in our Milky Way, in some state of nirvana that we ourselves would not mind getting into. So get rid all of those semi-bijou decorations and go avant garde; and if unsure, just watch 2001: A Space Odyssey and copy its rooms in science-fiction mode. Off with the Bach and get some Schoenberg or Berg going, although Strauss’s Also sprach, used in the film, should be resisted on grounds of cliché. But Orff’s ridiculous Carmina Burana could be an inspired choice for pagan mourners, especially those who wouldn’t appreciate Salome or Wozzeck.
And don’t send flowers, as they are common, and certainly not on the day. Send whatever else the day before to the bereaved. I often settle for an old volume of poetry, but probably not Sylvia Plath, and I would recommend David Owen’s anthology that cleverly follows Shakespeare’s seven ages of man. Or to cheer things up, a bunch of old Mad magazines, still the funniest with Alfred E Neuman and Don Martin. Laughter is vital at wakes.
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