John Morgan has made a career out of cultivated fogeyishness and keeping the rest of us informed about comme il faut as his waspish problem column Modern Manners in The Times on Saturdays shows. Now his pearls of behavioural wisdom are gathered into what the Victorians would have called an etiquette book.
The advice, laid out like Morgan's column in a question and answer format, is clearly aimed at people who want to get it right in the face of changing habits and practices. Is it good manners to say thank you for a birthday present by e-mail? (No) Or to take a call on your mobile phone when you're a guest in someone else's house? (No) Should you answer condolence letters? (Yes) From whom, when or how should you accept the now ubiquitous social kiss? (Tricky)
And how do you juggle the champagne glass, the canapé, the conversation and the applause at a stand-up function with toasts and speeches? "The secret", Morgan rather Heath-Robinson-ishly tells the enquirer seeking security, discretion and elegance "is to nestle your left arm closely to your side and cradle the bulb of your glass in the crook your elbow while resting the base on your hip bone." It must take practice.
The Times Book of Modern Manners is entertaining as well as informative. Did you know that it's bad form to write "Dear George" on a correspondence card? (Just write your message without salutation.) Or that if you happen accidentally upon the milkman when you're stark naked first thing in the morning good manners demand that you pretend that nothing is amiss and greet him cheerily? The cartoons are good too. --Susan Elkin