Q. I am an artist living in the UK and was charmed to be invited by a fellow artist, a member of the Chelsea Arts Club, to join her and her uncle for lunch there. After paying by card, my hostess went to leave some bank notes on the table and I was surprised when her uncle, a distinguished gentleman, told her to put the money away. ‘You never tip in a club,’ he said. I am hoping to join this club myself so would like this protocol confirmed, since I cannot see the logic behind it.
— P.E., London SW3
A. In clubland, a member does not tip. Instead he or she contributes to what is called a Christmas ‘box’ which is shared among relevant personnel. The logic is that clubs exist to make their members feel comfortable, and direct tipping makes most people feel uncomfortable… Of course the waiters in clubs want their salaries topped up, but this reward comes at the end of the year and, being at one remove and less excruciatingly personal, it suits both sides better. It allows daily interchanges to be free of fawning or hypocrisy and solely based on professionalism. By the way, another protocol is that club members and their guests do not publicise any aspect of what goes on behind those closed doors… be warned.
Q. I would like to invite a very old friend to come for a weekend. My problem is that he has recently been remarried (to a much younger and comely young bride), and I have heard through the grapevine that this is what the French call a mariage blanc. My dear friend is a man who very much likes to keep up appearances, so how can I tactfully make it clear that they can have two separate bedrooms without suggesting that I suspect all may not be what it seems? I fear that otherwise the secret dread of sharing a bedroom means they may make an excuse to turn down my invitation.
— Name and address withheld
A. There is no need for you to be precious about this alleged mariage blanc. Even in many a mariage bonk couples request a ‘snoring room’ alongside their bedroom so that one can retreat in the night if the other is keeping them awake. Make it clear that you can offer this facility.
Q. May I pass on a tip to readers who, like me, have been in the habit of suffering the agony of high heels at formal events? I attended an awards ceremony recently and, like Dame Emma Thompson, I wore trainers. Unlike Dame Emma, however, mine were stack-heeled and I hid them under a floor-length dress. No one could see what shoes I had on but they meant I could glide about gracefully, five inches taller than usual, and stay for hours. It made all the difference.
— P.G.M., London SW8
A. Thank you for this tip. The key, of course, is that the hem should be long enough to screen off the inelegance completely.