Tonight we were having a small family celebration. Phil and I, Maddie and Felix repaired to Ming’s, a rather magnificent Chinese Restaurant just down the road from Wentworth golf course.
It was the first time the children have accompanied us, and it was an unexpected pleasure. After the first course -finger-food with satay and plum sauces- Phil and I looked at the places out plates had been, and sighed deeply. Because the white damask tablecloth was covered with reminders of the course; a dob of Satay there, a smudge of chilli there. It looked like Jackson Pollock had passed through and lent a hand.
The children giggled delightedly to think we had conducted ourselves so, and waited to see what the inscrutable Chinese waiters and waitresses would make of it.
But they were just that: inscrutable. There was no hint of reproach, though we may have been the talk of the kitchens, with waiters laughing like drains behind closed doors.
Each napkin, too, was heavy damask.
I looked at the table settings and grinned wickedly at the children. “That’s nothing,” I told them “Did I ever tell you about the time Daddy and I went out to dinner one night in Cornwall?”
Their eyes grew wide and they leant inwards. They love a good story.
And this is what I told them.
Port Isaac in Cornwall has a lovely school. It sits above the village on the hill, overlooking the Atlantic, a modern building. But there was a time when the school perched on the harbour along with all the other little buildings, a large beautiful white building above the crab pot pens.
These days, it has become a hotel and restaurant. They have some spectacular rooms, gazing out on the harbour. And while we were living near the village, and I was head teacher at the school, Phil and I decided to go there for a meal, taking my brother who was staying with us.
The old school hall was divided then, into little alcoves where one could eat comfortably with friends. And we passed a very happy evening, swapping stories, drinking good wine, eating good food, close to the endless ebb and flow of the tide in the little village harbour.
We ate a great deal. Replete, we sat back nursing what felt like pot bellies. I’m stuffed, we told each other, embracing the uncouth with glee.
We asked the attentive waitress for the bill and calculated a generous tip.
And then something happened which I have never forgotten: and it seemed to happen in slow motion.
I turned to see one of the pristine damask napkins making its way to my husband’s nose. With matter-of-fact absent-mindedness he was about to blow his nose on it. No paper hanky, this, but high-class, top-notch linen.
This was a place of manners. Of decorum. They had silver cutlery and porcelain.
There is a limit to what one can do in a split second. I could have thrown myself across the table scattering crockery and cutlery and decorating myself in leftovers. Or I could have startled diners with a staccato ‘NO!” which would have left the entire staff executing Heimlich manoeuvres on their customers.
Instead, I just froze. And the instant slipped by. The next noise I heard was a loud trumpet-blast as Phil blew his nose.
Horrors. Should we leave it there, for the waitress to cope with? Or slip it into a bag and melt away?
Furtively I slipped it into my bag. It was destined for a contraband laundering and later, I would try desperately to be anonymous as I slipped it onto the desk at the plush venue’s reception.
There are some situations when good manners require extreme measures.
Written in response to Side View’s weekend theme: Manners, which you can find here.