Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The perfect posh response to a lightbulb in your handbag

I was reminded last night of a good story about perfect posh manners...

A few years ago I took part in a vintage car rally from London to Paris via Reims, where we drank vast amounts of Ruinart champagne. The journey home was on the Orient Express, which would have been wonderful had we not all been suffering hangovers on a scale not seen since the days of Court of Versailles. Well, all of us bar one person. Lady Shawcross, the widow of Lord Shawcross, the chief prosecutor of Nazi leaders in the Nuremberg trials, was one of the drivers. She was a surprising entry (everyone else came from the City, on the whole) but a very welcome one for the spectacle she created. She was small and slightly stout but always beautifully, immaculately dressed, with gloves and a hat and a well-pressed suit. She was accompanied everywhere by a rather quiet paid companion, who sat mutely in the passenger seat while Lady Shawcross drove her ancient Mini at speed.

Most of us were simply content to observe her in awe and amusement but one wag on the trip home thought it would be a good wheeze – and a distraction from the pain of our thick heads and sandpaper tongues – to steal a lightbulb from the train and put it in her handbag when she wasn't looking. This duly done, everyone in the carriage watched her for what felt like the length of long courtroom session until she needed to delve into her bag. At last, she lifted it from the floor to the table. We watched agog. Her hand went in and pulled out the offending and, surely, mysterious, glass object.

"A lightbulb," she said, in Lady Bracknell tones. "How useful." And replaced it into her bag.

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