Mary Killen

Your problems solved | 10 April 2004

Etiquette advice from The Spectator's Miss Manners

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Dear Mary

Q. My dilemma is about male wedding rings. I (born 1927) was brought up to believe they were ‘non-U’, and now I see all sorts of males wearing them. I have to know whether I am right or wrong before I die! I am beginning to wonder whether this is a ‘politically correct’ subject, like so many things today. Please, dear Mary, can you put me straight?

F.B., Helston, Cornwall

A. Traditionally the English gent does not wear jewellery, and even signet rings are considered dodgy. Of course there are exceptions that prove the rule. Flamboyant Duke of Omnium types will wear something generally considered to be vulgar if they feel like i,t and top-of-the-range asylum-seeker Count Adam Zamoyski can be seen at the launch of his latest book, 1812, wearing a glittering diamond ring. But male wedding rings are still definitely non-U and what they are, above all, is American. Nevertheless, a generational blip has seen them being flaunted by the occasional English gent aged roughly between 30 and 43. Factors affecting this age group include the oestrogenisation of the water supply, which has made men more sentimental, an element of PC in showing solidarity with vulgarian practices, a desire to show that one is not gay, and in some cases a smug married triumphalism. Finally, it is a statement of identity which declares, ‘I have travelled globally and take a pick’n’mix attitude to personal style, especially when it might signal to American plutocrats who could be of professional use that I am just like them.’ But do not fret. The under-30s are much less keen on the erosion of this country’s cultural heritage, and in the fullness of time we are likely to see a resumption of traditional practices.

Q. I am a fairly small independent publisher who would like to commission an indolent friend to produce a book for me. I have great faith in this man’s talent but, were I to go ahead with it, how could I get him to deliver the goods on time? The fact that I know the man socially counts against me, as it means he has little or no respect for me as an authority figure. Money is not much of an incentive as he manages to sustain himself on very little. Needless to say, he is charming.

G.N., Tiverton, Devon

A. The answer is to divide the advance into segments of however many chapters the book should be and pay the man cash on delivery, chapter by chapter. This practice has worked well with at least two celebrated yet childish journalists known extremely well to readers of The Spectator. Indeed, the fabulous former publisher Anthony Blond, whose entertaining memoirs Jew Made in England appear this summer, used this very method to extract work from the late Simon Raven.

Q. Following the success of Lucian Freud’s magnificent portrait of Brigadier P.B., I wonder whether slight paunches are now de rigueur?

N.H., London SW3

A. Even without the glory of a ceremonial uniform to lend majesty to a paunch, it is reassuring to see one on a late-middle-aged man. It has been said that you should never trust a man over 40 who has a flat stomach.