Peers, poodles and Peru

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

What is the protocol if somebody were to be taken suddenly ill round a dinner table? Obviously one would have to attend to the patient. But overall, should one then simply carry on stoically or make a big fuss and call an early end to the dinner?

Sangfroid, although a French word, is one of the English characteristics I most admire. So I’d say, generally, carry on as if nothing has happened. I was once at a dinner in the middle of which a peer of the realm suddenly collapsed with a heart attack. There was a moment of absolute panic. Having mastered first aid as part of my Duke of Edinburgh’s Award while at school, I went straight over to give the old man mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. It was not a pleasant experience, but I managed to revive him – and took him back to his home round the corner, telling the host to carry on. A week later, the surviving peer wrote to me and thanked me for saving his life. He offered me tea at his home. I replied by asking him what I would have to do to get lunch.

At age 88, I enjoyed your FT column concerning the grand piano and the poodle (December 1). I agree with you. But you spoiled the piece with the last sentence: “It’s like the worst of Essex.” That pronouncement does not add anything to the already well expressed sentiment. Essex is just getting too maligned.

My wife is from Essex. She is never maligned! Out of loyalty to her, I am openly in favour of her county. But I am also an observer who speaks the truth, and the truth is that in many corners of your Essex, there exist very questionable decorations, a lot of which is identified by the colour white. When I see white mansions or white pianos or white poodles or white cars, I immediately think of Essex. I am equally critical of other home counties like Surrey which consists of dubious towns such as Woking and Kingston; or nondescript counties such as Hertfordshire and Herefordshire. So I don’t victimise Essex. At the end of the day, we defend our place of birth mainly because of accident, which is not the purest form of logic. So you might as well just love Essex for itself and ignore those who poke fun at it. That’s what I tell my mother-in-law, if only to entrench her belief that she should spend most of her time staying at home.

Here’s a new poser for you. I was told by my late Edwardian-era uncle that it is incorrect to wear a tie plus a breast pocket handkerchief, “an unfortunate habit affected by cads and well-dressed savages”. He proclaimed that a handkerchief in the top pocket is acceptable with a sports jacket or blazer with open neck shirt. The real art, sadly forgotten by me, is wearing a hanky up your sleeve; pulling the handkerchief out with a flourish to mop up a spill or tearful dinner partner. You may be the only person who knows the trick of keeping the aforesaid linen or silk up the sleeve so it’s available but won’t in the normal course of events, fall out.

You cannot nowadays go round tucking your handkerchief up your sleeve as if you were Oscar Wilde. It is a fashionable affectation well past its sell-by date. It’s like wearing a cravat with an open-neck shirt or having a sawtooth pocket handkerchief without being Prince Philip. As for your Edwardian uncle, he might have been more correct to observe that a tie and a breast pocket handkerchief should never match. There are those who put on matching sets and I imagine pulling the handkerchief out of their breast pocket to find its end attached to the tie! Study the Prince of Wales. He always wears a tie plus a breast-pocket handkerchief, but of course always different and never matching! Would your pompous uncle have called him a cad or a savage? I rather think not.

An apology was called for after your ignorant, stupid attack on Peruvian cooking – but in response you write you may have been “over-hasty”. What does it take for you to apologise?

In fact I have just had Peruvian cooking for the second time in a week. Since then, I have changed my mind back to my original estimation on Peruvian cooking. It is, I am afraid to say, questionable after all. Far from apologising, I ought to declare that my previous impartiality on Peruvian cuisine stands! You should apologise for Peruvian food!

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