The Man Who Forgot His Manners

Picture from

Picture from

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 Β 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 Β 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.


49 thoughts on “The Man Who Forgot His Manners

      1. indeed. I was sitting with a local restuaranty owner on Saturday having a chat and we were discussing the impossible customers. My there are SOME people!!!!!!

  1. Always a dilemma as to what to do with a napkin after it is used for something other than simply wiping your hands or mouth. Bodily fluids are definitely a health risk for someone to handle, but the restaurant staff should have training that ensures that they deal with anything left on a plate in the proper manner.

  2. You poor, poor thing! πŸ™‚ I’m actually starting to wonder if “embarrassing the other half” is core curriculum at school for boys. I reckon it’s something they do when us girls go off to have the “jab” or “THAT talk” !

  3. The Chinese restaurateurs had clearly not heard of Ming the Terrible, from Flash Gordon, before they carelessly named their restaurant. Love the idea of mucus filled damask – every chance that it would be carefully preserved and slipped cunningly into some oysters on your next visit. I think mistreated waiters are very like elephants in the memory department:)

  4. That’s some posh Chinese right there.

    The Browns (my maiden name being so) were famous for inappropriate dinner conversation, and tales of snot and deception would have been right up our mealtime alley. Thanks for the tale, Kate.

  5. Better than having a snotty nose I reckon. Speckled and splashed table cloths are always so embarrassing. But presumably they are there to save the precious walnut veneer from a generous coating of food.
    I have a gift for covering myself with specks of sauce. At lunch with friends yesterday, I caught one of them registering a nano twitch of surprise as I tucked my napkin into the top of my t-shirt. His good manners prevented him from commenting, but his own napkin lay demurely and discreetly across his lap, as did my other friend’s.

  6. I wonder, in a situation like that, if one was charged with theft, whether the claim of “self-decorum” would be accepted as an adequate defense? :mrgreen:

  7. I’m just thinking of how Felix and Maddie must have *loved* that story. πŸ™‚

    And, in a way, Kate, I regret that you didn’t actually perform the slo-mo “Nooooooooooo” as you sent everything on the table flying to prevent Phil’s faux pas!!

    Love Port Isaac. Last time we went there Laurence Llewellyn Bowen owned the Old School and had done it out all mod-nautical.

  8. Too funny, Kate. I will confess to leaving my lipstick (horrors) on a napkin or two, bowing my head it shame as I left a restaurant. Poor Phil. A runny nose sometimes require drastic actions.

    I so enjoyed imagining your lovely family around a good meal in a Chinese restaurant, and it reminded me of the many, many times we would take our girls to the Red Dragon in our old town. Many-a-New Year’s Eve, we would eat there and then take them to a show. Then, on nights when we just needed to eat out. Evenutually, they would be home from college and there we would go. Our Jennifer and her husband now go there, sometimes we meet them. Tom and I will solo, not often, but sometimes when we need to go “home”, for they all greet us like long lost relatives, asking how our girls are, then placing our regular orders, whether we want them or not.

  9. heh heh what a funny story – the poor man had to blow his nose… I haven’t been following you long enough to know whether your Phil reads your blog. How old are your children?

  10. LoL – that sort of behaviour isn’t acceptable even in the transport cafe’s that my cable gangs used to inhabit ! I guess ‘well caught’ is an appropriate phrase – I assume you sent Phil back for reprogramming πŸ˜‰

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