Peas and Queues: The Minefield of Modern Manners
by Sandi Toksvig
I have already written a note on Sandi Toksvig for ‘Valentine Grey’ so I shall here only note that she has turned out 20 books in 20 years while maintaining a high public profile in entertainment and agitation for social change.
I have read a complaint about this book that it was ‘Drawn out and boring’. While I accept that these are dangers for anything in the Emily Post school of thought, I think Sandi does well to pretty much avoid them. Yes, this is not a short book, but there is a lot to cover including a range of contemporary issues including phone and smart appliance use, workplace bullying, dining out and bratty children, Facebook and Twitter. I certainly don’t think it is boring. It is peppered with her wry sense of humour and some good quotes including this one
‘My favourite loo story (oddly, I have several) concerns American actress Tallulah Bankhead (who died in 1968). She was in a cubicle in a public loo with no paper, so asked the woman next door if she had any. The woman didn’t. Tallulah then asked if she had any tissues. The woman did not. Finally Tallulah inquired, “My dear, have you two fives for a ten?’
This is a needed book in a fast changing world that often seems to leave consideration for others lost in the dust of self-obsessive behaviour. Her mantra to which she returns regularly is that good manners are based on ‘Common sense, Comfort, Context and Consideration’. Historically, there have been a number of books of this genre ranging from Lord Rochester’s advice to his son through the Victorian age with its obsession with book titles such as ‘How to ……… by a member of the Aristocracy’, to Emily Post and newspaper agony columns. She wisely appeals to both self- and others- interestedness as key motivators.
The book is structured around the notion that she wants something to hand to her now 8-year old daughter to prepare her when she matures for the world she will inhabit. However, it is clearly intended for adults and reads well at that level.
Topics covered include At home, Table Manners (Eating in and out), Communication, Out and About, Travel, Shoulder to the Grindstone, Having Relations, Little ones, Breaking up is hard to do and Buying the farm.
I am sure that most people feel that their manners are good enough, but an occasional brush-up and self-check as this can do no harm and may lead to improved understanding