Sir David Tang, founder of ICorrect, globetrotter, and the man about too many towns to mention, divides his time between homes in Hong Kong, mainland China and London. Here he invites readers’ queries for his advice on property, interiors, etiquette at home (wherever you live), parties and anything else that may be bothering you.
How much of a tan is decent in a middle-aged Londoner returning from Provence? On EasyJet yesterday, I had to endure the orange glow of a shockingly well-known English MP beside me – he sweated indecently, oozing eau de Ambre Solaire.
It is unnatural for a middle-aged Londoner of pale complexion to return to London looking like a badly made-up dancer from The Black and White Minstrel Show. The idea that you have to show off your tan among your friends is such a cross-Atlantic cliché and pointlessly narcissistic. Even more ridiculous are those who go off to a sunbed in London in order to sustain the evidence of a blissful holiday – when in fact, the entire time is taken up by the tedium of lying doggedly under a scorching sun, dreaming of the moment of return when someone is supposed to ask in apparent envy, “God, you look well! Where have you been?” I would, however, ask a question like “Which tannery did you go to? The one outside Tangiers or Marrakesh?” Much more effective is if you bleach your face and claim that you have been to a place like Tierra del Fuego, which would make Provence as dull as dishwater. For your neighbouring MP on EasyJet, I am certain that his colouring was more like a lobster than an orange. Only Chinese, with our yellow base, go orange in a tan, and there isn’t a Chinese MP yet!
I am a diesel mechanic and always wore coveralls, as diesel mechanics tend to get a little dirty. Now that I am retired and 76 years old, I would like to put on my bespoke suits and dress up. But where do you go to get away from people wearing jeans and shower clogs and not be out of place? It seems that other than trying to impress a waiter at a fancy restaurant, which makes no sense, there must be a place to go and appreciate other people’s clothes and conversation.
I once worked in a garage as a trainee mechanic, and remember getting my fingers and nails very black from all the oil and muck, and having to scrub my hands with a special jelly for 20 minutes before being clean, and even then, not really. So make sure your nails and fingers are free from grime before you don your smart suits, which will not hide them. But don’t go to smart restaurants that are full of vacuous people. They will not look at you nor give you the kind of conversation you are looking for.
Instead, go to any normal pub or café, but dress up smartly, and soon you will meet old-fashioned and decent people who will respect you for being dressed properly, and strike up conversations with you. These are people you do not have to show off to but who will give you a sense of respect, which is what you secretly want. I miss the days when, irrespective of class, people dressed properly. Remember the café scene from Brief Encounter with Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson? At the train station, every passenger and even the nosy-looking woman behind the counter was wearing proper clothes.
Our FT arrives early on Saturday mornings, delivered to the gate! My wife goes immediately to the business section, I to House & Home. Your column sets me up chuckling over my coffee! The FT has a column, “Out to lunch”. I notice the word “cover charge” used at the top of the food bill. Am I correct in thinking that it should be “cuve” charge? Another one that has puzzled me is the use of a small “f” in the word used for the door to the terrace – “french window”. If that is correct what is the explanation?
The first thing you must do is train your wife to read the House & Home section. Do this by hoarding the business section first thing. I am afraid you are wrong about a “cuve” charge. You might have confused this with a “cuvée” charge, which is the equivalent of corkage in English. But that has nothing to do with a “cover charge”, which is just an excuse for desperate restaurateurs to smuggle in more income. You are, however, right that the French window ought to be written with a capital “F”. Like the French kiss (a myth of sexual prowess) and the French letter (standard provision in France of British soldiers in the first world war) it has its origin in France, where they wanted to let as much light as possible into their homes.
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