Listen to this article
David Tang, entrepreneur and founder of ICorrect, offers advice on questions about property, interiors – and modern manners for globetrotters
Even though Britain consists of an island and miles of coastline, images of what is quintessentially a British home are usually exemplified by a country house inland, without involving the coast. Indeed, we foreigners who visit Britain seem to concentrate on London and the home counties and hardly come near the sea. Am I wrong to think that although Britons have a strong tradition of being islanders, they are not demonstrably so?
I must confess there seems to be a paradox about the immediate relationship between the sea and the land for the British. It’s almost a wrestling match between fish and chips! When one depicts a typical British home, the decorations are not immediately about the sea, unless one counts those appalling flying seagulls that are sometimes found ascending the wall of a semi-bijou residence. A typical British decorative style would not evoke a nation of islanders. Great country estates like Chatsworth or Castle Howard are all inland and their grounds are represented by rolling greens rather than rugged coastlines.
Even in music, “Greensleeves”, “Nimrod” and “Jerusalem”, which deeply define the core of the British mood, do not refer to the sea. Trailing far behind are “A Sea Symphony” and perhaps “Tintagel”. My impression is there are two types of Brits: those who are very conscious about the sea, and those who are not. I once introduced my friend Joan Rivers, who is definitely uber-urbanite, to the great Dame Ellen MacArthur. She had no idea who the sailor was and asked in disbelief: “You went round the world in this?”, pointing to the modest trimaran in which Dame Ellen completed her circumnavigation. Then turning to me, the comedienne half whispered in further incredulity: “How the hell did she put on her mascara with all the white horses?”
I have developed a few responses to unsolicited calls, which invariably arrive while I am trying to have lunch. I often answer “Border Agency”, which usually results in the phone call ending abruptly.
The cunning lie should be used positively. I once bet someone that I would be able to get connected immediately on the telephone to Li Ka-shing, the richest man in Asia, who is always surrounded by security and personal assistants. After the bet was taken, I telephoned on a speaker phone and said, in a solemnly didactic tone, that I was an inspector from the ICAC, the Independent Commission Against Corruption, and needed to speak personally to the tycoon on a highly confidential matter. Obviously this was a cruel joke to play on an outstanding businessman – but also an entertaining one. Li not only came to the phone straightaway, but sounded particularly courteous. At which point I quickly put down the phone – and claimed my wager.
Equally amusing is a card trick I do. I offer the deck to someone to cut and then produce, face up, the ensuing 11 cards which I fix beforehand. The secret is that I fix this sequence of cards to be the same as the telephone number of Buckingham Palace (020 7930 4832), with all picture cards counting as 0. Assuming these numbers to be random, my victim dials the numbers on a speaker phone. If all goes to plan, an operator will then answer by announcing “Buckingham Palace”, inducing immediate hilarity.
During a recent company visit, I found the uninviting entrance hall and waiting room to be a perfect reflection of the director’s superficiality and lack of style. Are there any elements you consider essential in designing these spaces?
The reception of an office is important because it sends an immediate impression. At the law firm at which I served my articles as a young man, there were two attractive girls behind a pair of matching mahogany tables with a couple of Chinoiserie lamps in silk shades. The whole arrangement exuded a distinct but understated sense of style and authority. I would not scatter round old magazines, although in my reception I do leave two well-thumbed copies of Playgirl and Penthouse, which completely throw those waiting into half-embarrassment. It is marvellous to watch the contortions on their faces.
Note from Ed: (Q&A1) Intransigent Tang refuses to mention one of the most beautiful pieces in the history of music, Britten’s Peter Grimes, which references the sea throughout
Email questions to email@example.com
Letter in response to this column:
Get alerts on House & Home when a new story is published