Tuesday, 30 October 2012

My kingdom for a butter knife

When was the last time you met someone called Doris?  Or Dorothy, for that matter. Not to mention Ethel, Maude, Betty and all their ilk.  They seem to be facing extinction--the snow leopards of Jenner’s tea room. But they’re not all gone; there was a Doris on the 35 last week.

This Doris was riding the bus with the look on her face of a woman who thinks she might catch an STD from the upholstery--’after all’, you could almost hear her say, ‘you don’t know where the seat’s been’ (except that you do, if you’ve read the bus route).  She had the skirts of her pale lilac (I’m sure she would say mauve) Windsmoor faux snake embossed mac gathered around her legs as if she expected an infestation of hooligan mice and held her handbag with one arm through the handles, clutched to her chest--both shield and weapon of choice. 

She was with a friend who, though apparently cut from similar dry-clean only cloth, rode the bus with the insouciant ease of a regular--I could only imagine she had enticed Doris on to the bus with the promise of the Queen’s Gallery and a scone with Duchy clotted cream and jam in the Palace cafe after.  

They put their stiffly moussed heads together for a good natter, which seemed  to be about a newcomer to their book group.  Not only had the novice hostess chosen an unsuitable book  (Noddy and Big Ears?  Fifty Shades of Grey?  A biography of Neil Kinnock?), when she brought out the tea and drop scones not only were there tea bags rather than loose leaves in the pot, there was no sign of a butter knife.  Nothing more was said for several moments as both women gazed silently out the window, as if trying to take in the enormity, the sheer perfidy of this terrible breach of decorum.

You may think this an extreme reaction and so would I, if I had not had it demonstrated to me that in some quarters, butter knives still count.  When I moved into my first flat in Edinburgh an acquaintance came to see me.  Helping me set the table for lunch (I say ‘set’ the table because a very elegant friend once gently corrected me when I said I was going to lay the table.  ‘No dear, one sets a table’, she said with a twinkle.  ‘One lays a mistress’), she was taken aback to find I had no butter knife.  Obviously dismayed, she took this as a this sign that I had come down in the world (rather than as an indication that Ikea doesn’t include butter knives in their six-piece cutlery sets).  A butter knife appeared in the post a few days later, though I keep losing it down the back of the drawer. I think it goes without saying I never would have cut the butter, the mustard or anything else as a Doris.   


  1. " -the snow leopards of Jenner’s tea room - " Love that! You are right, some names are fading away. I have a cousin Dorothy, though and did have another one called Betty but she has joined all the other Bettys that have passed along their way.
    I thoroughly approve of your friend who is pro-butter-knives and setting tables though. Some grace left, in a graceless age... (Grace is another fading name!)

  2. Ah yes. Grace...and Peggy and Patsy...