Absent Without Leave

I recognise that this blog has become rather neglected lately, although this was not intentional. After an unfortunate and quite serious car accident at the beginning of February I found myself a little bit preoccupied with other things, and despite having nearly seven weeks off work I wasn’t quite up to doing much. It was a very frustrating and boring couple of months. Anyhow I’m mostly fully healed now and back to my old self. Recently I have had the pleasure of contributing to Etiquipedia, an Etiquette Encyclopaedia which I’m really enjoying. The articles on the blog are so interesting and so varied it’s really great to be able to contribute to it. So at the moment I’m focusing my writing mostly on that but I will get back to bringing Shipshape Etiquette up to date shortly.


The Bluffer’s Guide to Etiquette – A Review


It was with unexpected pleasure that the much anticipated Bluffer’s Guide to Etiquette fell gracefully through my letter box on 11 January, as it was not due to be released until almost a week later. A good half hour later, after getting over the excitement with copious amounts of smelling salts and makeshift fans I then proceeded to spend the morning learning how to bluff my way through many a society affair from a Royal Garden Party to a low-key Baby Shower (the latter is far more needed than the former – I’m due to attend my very first Baby Shower in a few weeks so it is very timely advice indeed).

There are two main reasons why I had been looking forward to this latest etiquette handbook to add to my already overflowing bookshelf. The first reason is that it is a British handbook on etiquette and sadly, such offerings from the Mother Country are hard to come by these days. Unless you want to read a book on Edwardian etiquette (which I love by the way, but it is important to keep with the times).

I love the very first sentence of The Bluffers Guide to Etiquette when debut author William Hanson states, “Etiquette is a product of France, which comes as a great annoyance to the British who would like to be able to claim its invention as their own.” I can’t think of a truer statement. Many people think using the French terms for things is fancier and therefore more “Upper Class” but this is not always the case. The British Upper Classes, being aware of their worldly superiority as it were, have not felt the need to adopt from other nations in order to impress; for instance “toilet” and “serviette” are not entertained in privileged society at all, and a true bluffer is best off expelling such words from his vocabulary at once.

In times gone by the British have led, or believe they have led (the Swiss may have something to say about that), the way in terms of manners, etiquette and good taste. With the advent of modern technology Britain is largely influenced by America, and as modern etiquette guides today are outnumbered by Americans, it is sad that the small details of British etiquette (such as the dessert course really being the fruit course, or laying the pudding cutlery at the sides of the place setting) are being forgotten. Even the leader in British class and sophistication, Debrett’s, often falls victim to the odd Americanism, and it is for this reason why I was so very excited to hear about Mr Hanson’s new book.

The second reason for my anticipation is that it is the debut book of Etiquette Expert William Hanson. Having had the pleasure of being tutored by Mr Hanson in 2012 I was very excited to hear that he was to release his first book. Mr Hanson is the protector and ambassador of true British etiquette; with his sharp wit and dry sense of humour he brings great life to what can otherwise be a dull and dreary subject. What I find so refreshing about the way he teaches and the way he writes is that he doesn’t make any apologies for what he thinks, he speaks his mind and he has conviction, such as when comparing body art to a public lavatory wall, but yet he manages to do it all the while remaining in good humour and a perfect gentleman.

If you want to know how to throw a dinner party, set the table, pass the port, meet the Queen, reply to a wedding invitation, eat fish or whether or not you should wear brown in town, I highly recommend The Bluffer’s Guide to Etiquette, where you’ll find answers to all these questions and more.  My only disappointments with the book are that it is very short (although being pocket-sized means that you can carry it in your handbag so that is pretty cool), that it is fairly basic (although it is a Bluffer’s guide so you can’t really ask for more) and that The Bluffer’s Etiquette Quiz advertised at the back isn’t currently available (EDIT: The quiz is now live. You can view it here: http://bluffers.com/quiz-corner/etiquette-quiz/).

You can purchase The Bluffer’s Guide to Etiquette here and read more from William Hanson here.


Etiquette in the Age of Piracy


I always wanted to be a pirate. Of course, at the time I was about six and didn’t actually know what that meant, but the idea of running away to sea, sailing the high seas and searching for buried treasure massively appealed to my overactive imagination. In fact, my love for tall ship sailing is a direct consequence of this early obsession with pirates. When I was little I went to every fancy dress party as a pirate (no princesses for me, yuck!) and I remember begging and begging my father for the Lego pirate ship which he did eventually give me for Christmas (thanks Dad!).

I still love pirates. One of my all-time favourite films from my childhood is “The Muppet Treasure Island”, oh how many hours did I while away singing, “Shiver Me Timbers” and “Professional Pirate”, not to mention “The Princess Bride”, which I watched so many times I can still almost quote the whole movie word for word. Currently I’m even playing “Assassins Creed IV: Black Flag”. I’m not much of a gamer but I really do enjoy the AC games and this is by far my favourite. It brings back that spirit of adventure that had so enchanted me as a child.


It may seem kind of strange to some, this supporter of good manners and respect being so taken in by the Age of Piracy, but you see, it’s not all crazy because pirates had a code too: they had a Pirate Code of Honour, a Pirate Code of Conduct. Granted, if you didn’t adhere to it you were pretty much dead. Good bye to you, say hello to Davy Jones. But even so, they still understood the need for some sort of order, some understanding of civility and brotherhood.

The Code was written by the very famous Buccaneer, Bartholomew Roberts, and he actually made his crew swear on a bible that they would uphold the Code. The Code was designed so that there would be a better understanding of what was expected of each other and so they could potentially work together with a lesser fear that their shipmates were going to do the dirty on them. It was the pirate’s version of promoting team work.

Pirate Code of Conduct, Shipboard Articles 1721

ARTICLE I – Every man shall have an equal vote in affairs of moment. He shall have an equal title to the fresh provisions or strong liquors at any time seized, and shall use them at pleasure unless a scarcity may make it necessary for the common good that a retrenchment may be voted.

Democracy and equality will be exercised

ARTICLE II – Every man shall be called fairly in turn by the list on board of prizes because over and above their proper share, they are allowed a shift of clothes. But if they defraud the company to the value of even one dollar in plate, jewels or money, they shall be marooned. If any man rob another he shall have his nose and ears slit, and be put ashore where he shall be sure to encounter hardships.

Do not steal or commit fraud against your fellow shipmates

ARTICLE III – None shall game for money either with dice or cards.

Gambling is forbidden

ARTICLE IV – The lights and candles should be put out at eight at night and if any of the crew desire to drink after that hour they shall sit upon the open deck without lights.

Respect others when they are trying to sleep

ARTICLE V – Each man shall keep his piece, cutlass and pistols at all times clean and ready for action.

Every man is responsible for ensuring his own weapons are clean and ready for action

ARTICLE VI – No boy or woman to be allowed amongst them. If any man shall be found seducing any of the latter sex and carrying her to sea in disguise he shall suffer death.

No boys or women allowed on board

ARTICLE VII – He that shall desert the ship or his quarters in time of battle shall be punished by death or marooning.

Disloyalty and desertion will be punished

ARTICLE VIII – None shall strike another on board the ship, but every man’s quarrel shall be ended on shore by sword or pistol in this manner. At the word of command from the quartermaster, each man being previously placed back to back, shall turn and fire immediately. If any man do not, the quartermaster shall knock the piece out of his hand. If both miss their aim they shall take to their cutlasses, and he that draweth first blood shall be declared the victor.

No fighting allowed on board, but any disagreements may be settled through a duel on land

ARTICLE IX – No man shall talk of breaking up their way of living till each has a share of l,000. Every man who shall become a cripple or lose a limb in the service shall have 800 pieces of eight from the common stock and for lesser hurts proportionately.

Every man will receive an equal share of gold. We look after men injured in the line of duty and they will receive compensation.

ARTICLE X – The captain and the quartermaster shall each receive two shares of a prize, the master gunner and boatswain, one and one half shares, all other officers one and one quarter, and private gentlemen of fortune one share each.

They will share the prize proportionate to each man’s rank

Well, we don’t have to worry about duels anymore but many of these articles can certainly be adhered to in real life such as, “respect others when they are trying to sleep” or “do not steal or commit fraud.”


Etiquette and manners can sometimes be seen as a strict code of rules but that is not how they are intended, especially not in the twenty-first century. As Barbossa said in Pirates of the Caribbean, “the Code is more what you’d call guidelines than actual rules,” and that is exactly how etiquette should be seen. Yes, there are certain rules that would probably be best if you stick to them such as, “chewing with your mouth closed” – nobody likes to see a mouth full of slushy food – but it is important to be able to adapt to the situations you find yourself in as no situation will ever be completely the same.

It is best to know the rules first so that you can adapt to any situation appropriately but if you’re ever unsure your best chance of success is by showing kindness, graciousness and class.

Disclaimer: I do not advocate or endorse any acts of piracy, modern or historical. Theft, murder, torture, pillaging and plundering are not good manners and have no place in our society.


Modern Manners: Tools to Take You to the Top


Today I received my copy of “Modern Manners: Tools to Take You to the Top” by Dorothea Johnson and Liv Tyler. When I first heard about this new book several months ago I was very excited and couldn’t wait to receive it. The book is written in a modern, engaging style and is designed to give the advice from the points of view of two generations. As Johnson gives plenty of advice on everything from meeting and greeting, electronic etiquette, dining skills and even youtube etiquette, Tyler is on hand to provide helpful hints, tips, ideas and anecdotes in a very informative and entertaining way.

I’m a great admirer of Dorothea Johnson, founder of the Protocol School of Washington, and already own several of her books such as my personal favourite “Tea and Etiquette: Taking Tea for Business or Pleasure”, “Children’s Tea and Etiquette”, and “The Little Book of Etiquette”, a lovely pocket sized book I actually gave to a colleague last year for Secret Santa at the office.

She wrote her latest etiquette guide with the help of her grand-daughter, award winning actress Liv Tyler, who I am sure, needs no introduction. I have always enjoyed Liv Tyler’s work, one of my favourite films as a teenager being Empire Records, and of course who cannot admire her outstanding performance in Lord of the Rings as the elf Arwen.

In a recent interview I watched with Johnson and Tyler promoting the book, Tyler said “It’s a good foundation, it has those basic values [...] there are so many lessons in the book but the thing I always walk away from it is [Dorothea] always said to me is in any situation to just stop and look and listen, when you’re nervous, when you’re excited, when you’re overwhelmed, and really take everything in and just remember those basic, kindness [...]”.

The book is beautiful. I prefer hard cover books so I am pleased about that; it is a perfect size and the pages are of a high quality. There are lovely drawings dotting the pages and it is very easy to dip into and take out snippets of advice.

Some do’s and don’t’s to online networking, Modern Manners: Tools to Take You to the Top by Dorothea Johnson and Liv Tyler, pg. 103.

  • Do present a true reflection of yourself
  • Don’t be offended if people don’t reply to a “friend” request
  • Do choose a professional profile picture
  • Don’t use friending as a way of keeping score of your popularity
  • Do reserve friending for those you’re sincerely interested in

I have yet to read the book in its entirety but there are so many treasures waiting within these pages and you can find them all out for yourselves by purchasing the book here.


Hero by Superchick

This is a really powerful anti-bullying song by one of my favourite music groups, Superchick.

It is quite distressing because this is a reality our society deals with every day, and as the song puts it, “This is our problem. This is just one of the daily scenarios which we choose to close our eyes instead of doing the right thing. If we make the choice and be the voice of those who won’t speak up for themselves, how many lives would be saved, changed, rearranged?”


Downton Abbey Joy


Has anyone else noticed how some people win prizes almost every competition they enter while others never do? My best friend is one of the former. Ever since we were children she has won prizes as grand as mountain bikes while I never so much as won a bubble gum stick. Okay, so maybe I’m exaggerating by saying “some people win prizes almost every competition they enter” but honestly I’ve often thought about just asking my friend to enter competitions on my behalf so I might have half a chance at winning.

Anyhow, imagine my surprise when out of the blue I receive an email a few weeks ago from a lovely lady at NiceGirlsTV.com telling me I’d won their Downton Abbey Book Giveaway. I must admit, for a moment there I actually didn’t remember entering the competition but after a few minutes of quiet reflection I recalled entering my details distractedly, not ever expecting to actually win anything.

But lo and behold my name obviously appeared out of a sea of hundreds; it was a worldwide competition which makes it even more astonishing. NiceGirlsTV.com is actually an American-based website that discusses television shows the writers enjoy watching. It’s rather ironic, an English girl winning a competition based in America for a book based on a British television series.

My book arrived quickly and swiftly in the post not much more than a week later after receiving the first email letting me know I’d won and it was in perfect, shiny condition. I honestly couldn’t be any more thrilled, not just by winning the first actual competition in my life (other than a fete raffle or tombola) but for the book itself with all the beautiful photographs and fascinating historical information.

Downton Abbey is one of my favourite current television series and this is a gem that is sure to keep me entertained for many hours to come. Thank you Liz Henderson and NiceGirlsTV.com for making a small town English girl so very happy.


Naval Traditions

I recently attended a Trafalgar Day dinner with my father as part of the Maritime Volunteer Service. It was a highly enjoyable evening and a very educational one too.

After mingling with the guests for some time we were commanded to “stand fast” and “clap in the top table” before proceeding to our seats for the first course, which was a delicious prawn cocktail dish.

Most dinner guests had once served in the Royal Navy and were now involved in the Maritime Volunteer Service, of which my father is now proudly a member. I was sat beside an elderly gentleman who had fought in World War Two and had some extremely interesting stories to tell.

In addition the war veteran to my left I had the good fortune of sitting opposite the Fleet Chief, an entertaining gentleman who is determined to preserve the traditions and etiquette rules of the Royal Navy. He took charge of ensuring we were behaving appropriately at dinner which funnily enough involved telling my father off for stealing his napkin.

I learnt several interesting facts regarding Navy tradition which I would like to share with you:

Passing the Port: The port began its rounds at relatively the same time as the biscuits and cheese were served and I proceeded to learn some fascinating facts regarding the etiquette of port and where the customs originated from.

The port must always remain touching the table. When passing the port around the table one must slide it along and not lift it from the surface. When pouring the port one must ensure that at least one part of the decanter remains on the table. I accomplished this by keeping a corner of the base on the table and tilting it as far over as possible. The Fleet Chief showed me how it can be done by tilting it off the very edge of the table and holding the glass beneath it. This technique would surely be useful the further along the table it went.

The reason for this may just be a practical one as by keeping the port resting against the table it ensures balance and stability, decreasing the likelihood of any spills.

I am of the understanding however that whether or not the port touches or does not touch the table varies and it depends on the rules of that particular mess. We can therefore perhaps give one the benefit of the doubt if they do not follow the same rules as their fellow diners.

One of the other interesting things the Fleet Chief told me about port was that upon bringing Nelson’s body home from battle they preserved it by pickling it in port. I’ve since looked into this online but all references found regarding pickling Nelson’s body is said to have been done by either rum or brandy; I cannot therefore verify this piece of information as fact.

The port is always passed to the left. There are various explanations for why this is so, most originating from the Royal Navy, where it is said to be passed from “port to port”. It is said that one of the reasons it is passed to the left is so that the sword arm (right arm) is available. The Fleet Chief I was speaking to also implied that one of the reasons comes from Lord Nelson due to his missing right arm.

Another possible reason is that it involves an old superstition that passing something in an anti-clockwise direction opens the doors to evil spirits.

Whatever the origin of the tradition, the port is never to reverse direction and should more port be required it will need to make the rounds again in much the same manner.

The Loyal Toast: The Loyal Toast, which is the toast given to the reigning monarch, is actually given sitting down in the Royal Navy. The gentleman I mention above told us all to sit down as we had proceeded to incorrectly stand up for the toast.

The reason for this is attributed to King William IV who having served in Navy himself understood the discomfort and impracticality of suddenly standing up while at sea. He therefore permitted the serving seamen to remain sitting during the Loyal Toast.

Although we were not actually at sea during dinner the very fact that we were celebrating Admiral Lord Nelson’s victory at the Battle of Trafalgar meant that we were to show respect to Navy tradition.

It is also important to note that the port is consumed following the Loyal Toast and should not be touched beforehand.

Biscuits: I also learnt that one should tap biscuits three times before eating them. And the reason for this? To get rid of any weevils!

I must say I’m glad we don’t have to worry about that anymore.

After dinner there were several ways in which money was raised for the Maritime Volunteer Service as it is a charity after all. One of the ways they raised money was by charging £2 from the men who did not tie their own bowties! My father happened to be one of them! His excuse is that he didn’t have time so he got himself a clip on! Hmmmm, I think some lessons are in order!

They then had a raffle and I managed to pull my father’s ticket from the bucket! There were many suspicious glances passed my way but I assure you I do not have X-Ray vision.

To finish off the evening of great enjoyment and education we sang sea shanties and naval songs, just to get that rowdy feel of sailors at sea.

I must say I thoroughly enjoyed myself.


England Expects That Every Man Will Do His Duty

Happy Trafalgar Day!


Today is the 208th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar, when the British fleet commanded by Admiral Lord Nelson, defeated the Spanish and the French. This landmark event in British history is sadly often forgotten by young and old alike but we should never be so hasty to forget the events that brought us to where we are in the world. The Battle of Trafalgar thwarted Napoleon’s plans to rule Britain and paved the way for Britain to rule the waves, leaving an indelible mark on world history.


The signal given by Admiral Lord Nelson, immortalised as “England Expects That Every Man Will Do His Duty” is a stark reminder of the courage, dignity, duty and selflessness we as a nation so often mourn for. The men in receipt of that signal on 21 October 1805 were given courage and determination to see the battle through, to not give up and to face the tyrant’s threat head on. Their courage, their sense of duty and their sacrifice should not be forgotten.


I encourage everyone to learn more about their nation’s history and take what lessons they can from that knowledge. For more information on the Battle of Trafalgar click here.



The East Midlands Food Festival, 2013

Pork pie

Melton Mowbray once again played host to the annual East Midlands food festival on Saturday 5 October and Sunday 6 October. Having missed it for the past two years (last year I was at sea – my husband called me up rather tipsy from all the alcoholic samplers he had consumed, whereas the year before I had unfortunately had to work) I was really looking forward to attending.

We headed over bright and early on Sunday morning to beat the crowds and waited eagerly outside the Cattle Market with some other early birds until they finally opened the doors. It was crammed full of stalls offering tasty looking samples and selling all manner of goodies.

We made the rounds first, taking note of what we fancied, trying samples of cheese, wine, pork pie, bread and oil. What I love most about the Food Festival is just experiencing what local businesses have to offer and discovering hidden gems you weren’t aware of. It really is the best of British produce and although I overheard some people complaining of the cost, you really can’t put a price on quality.

Having thoroughly explored what was on offer we made our way around for a second time (it was starting to get busy at this point) and started purchasing some goodies for future consumption. A breakdown of what we purchased is below:

Mango fudge – I bought some divine mango fudge from a lovely little fudge business called Yum Yum Tree Fudge. By far one of the best fudge businesses I’ve come across. They had numerous flavours on display for tasting purposes but the mango flavour was what caught my taste buds. Handmade and rich in flavour, the fudge actually contains real chunks of mango. One of the other things I really loved about it was that the fudge came in small bite sized chunks which made it so much more enjoyable and did not overpower the palate. I thoroughly recommend Yum Yum Tree Fudge and you can visit their website here.

Sausages – We found an absolutely gorgeous sausage company. They had several metal pans with different sausage types sizzling away that you can taste. Having tried the different flavours my husband and I chose to purchase their Wild Boar, Wild Boar and Thyme, and Wild Boar and Stilton sausages. Well, you can guess what we ended up eating over the next few days.  But they really were superb.

Sweet and Savoury puddings – A lovely little discovery was of an Old Fashioned Pudding Company. They sold numerous traditional British puddings such as Christmas pudding, Steak and Ale Suet Pudding and Spotted Dick. Not only are they made using traditional British recipes and methods, they’re presented as such too in some lovely brown paper wrapping.

We purchased the Steak and Ale Suet Pudding which although tasty and tender did not seem to have very much liquid inside and so came across as rather dry. The pastry was lovely and the meat was tender but it was just the lack of liquid that let it down.

The second pudding we purchased was a lemon one with delicious lemon syrup over it. This was gorgeous; the lemon flavour was strong but not over powering and the lemon syrup was superbly gooey, giving the pudding just that added bit of moisture that it needed.

If you’d like to order from the Old Fashioned Pudding Company you can do so here.

Cider – My husband bought himself a flagon of cider from the Thirsty Farmer. I don’t drink cider and so I did not have any but according to my husband he found the cider rather watery. That didn’t stop him from polishing it off though!

Port – My drink of choice is always port and so I naturally gravitated to Spirits Of The Place, a business that had lots of port on display. After tasting a couple of different ports I settled on a delicious ruby port with a lovely fruity flavour.

There were so many fabulous local businesses on display and so much more I would have loved to try. You can see a full list of exhibiters here. I highly recommend visiting the Food Festival in future years, particularly if you have never attended before.


Front-Lines Customer Service: How to Handle the Most Difficult Customers

Good customer service is essential for a business to flourish and gain ground in the global economy. Many a business has lost valuable custom through employees who lack the communication skills necessary to interact effectively with their customer base.

Unfortunately even the best trained employees often come up against angry and difficult customers who really put good customer service to the test. As a result I’ve compiled a list the most important attributes a person working in a customer facing environment needs to know when dealing with the most difficult customers.

Be an active listener. It is important that when working in a customer service role that you learn to be an active listener. Active listening means that you take a genuine interest in what the customer has to say, wholly and without prejudice.

There are few things more infuriating to a customer than when they are speaking to a member of staff only to be continually cut off midsentence or given information which is irrelevant to their circumstances.

 You may need to ask questions in order to gain a greater understanding of the issues at hand. Do so before responding, however, ensure that you never come across as condescending or patronising. Show consideration for the customer’s feelings and remain calm and composed at all times.

Keep calm. As unpleasant as it can be if a customer yells at you, don’t respond in the same aggressive manner; not only will such behaviour likely warrant you a trip to your manager’s office, but it will also only add fuel to the fire.

Remain calm and professional, keep the conversation strictly focused on the topic at hand and don’t get personal. Customers will generally mimic your reactions so by remaining calm and keeping your voice steady during an unpleasant encounter, your customer will follow suit and will be in a far better position to discuss the situation further.

If the customer starts getting abusive and won’t listen to reason, don’t attempt to diffuse the situation on your own. Remain calm and seek help from your manager.

Take control of situation. Hopefully you’ll have the knowledge and expertise to assist the customer to the very end, however if you do require further assistance don’t be afraid to ask for it.

Once you’ve listened to your customer and have taken control of the situation you need to follow through with the relevant actions. Whatever needs to be done in order to satisfactorily resolve your customer’s complaint must be undertaken as a priority.

If in doubt it is always best to “under promise and over deliver.” If you need to keep your customer informed of progress, take down their contact details and ensure you contact the customer as promised.

By sticking to the principles outlined above you’ll come across as friendly, professional and genuinely concerned about your customer’s welfare. This is invaluable for your role in customer services and will go a long way to reducing the stress and mishaps that inevitably occur when dealing with difficult customers.