Duration: 328 pages
Publishing House: Century (2005)
Stepping over the metaphoric egg shells is a hazardous business, at the best of times. Yet, we 'British folk' hardly convey to be fully fledged 'Russian Ballet Nureyevs'; when it comes to eloquent manoeuvres through the minefields of modern British manners. Manners or (etiquette) escapes large proportions of society, so it happens (largely by lack of education) - until the lordly vocals of the 'etiquette traditionalists' wobble their 'adam apples' and 'rightly' point out loutish misgivings. Traditionalists thrive on there existence, it values their own etiquette existence - without them what do we become? The distinction between man and beast indeed will be blurred; British man's social evolving would be deemed as so far removed from our ancestor etiquette background, that future historians may not recognise that twenty first century Brits are descendants from nineteenth century Brits. Never the twain shall meet. Therefore the only comprehensive reason behind such etiquette demises would be a mass 'alien invasion'. So, we may damn the traditionalists, but I see why they exist. To save us from ourselves - To keep us rolling / evolving onwards to our utopia, instead of reverting back to what we were five million years ago - when we were sleeping rough in caves and 'grunting' approvingly or 'disapprovingly' at variable audio levels. Looking at females as if they're pieces of sirloin steak and incessantly licking and grooming one another's privates - By continuing doing 'The Done Thing' - eventually we'll see the bigger picture. Whatever it is? Then again, Simon Fanshawe was at the helm - Mute the fanfare.
I'm not sure what I was expecting with 'The Done Thing' - the closest thing I could envisage was a tidal wave of anecdotal quips on the same par as a two day long after dinner speech. Stylised on a Quentin Letts waspish eye for detail, notably done in a whimsical aristocrat format, that'll have you gleaming at the text admirably - no, I was mildly under whelmed. If not, peeved that a decent book concept, left the reader looking for the 'punch line' - yes, an opportunity squandered. Perhaps, 'Century' should have plonked the concept in front of the 'Napoleonic long nose of Andrew Marr.' His stalwart manner credentials would have salivated on such a topic.
A Bow to Erasmus
The nucleus of 'The Done Thing' project, brought to the fore the 'civil obedience principles' of Desiderius Erasmus (1466 - 1536) known as 'Prince of Humanism.' On the off, the structure was evident where Fanshawe was going on the etiquette journey. In the Roman numeral 'Preface' he bowed his head to the great intellectual mind of Erasmus and promptly thanked his readership for reading this book. Certainly in-keeping with the topic - but somehow, I felt he meant it. He mentioned incessantly, holding of doors, waiting for a thank you which never passed anyone's lips. I was still waiting for the punch line from the initial thanks' on the first chapter cleverly named: 'Introduction?' Unlike a 'Number nine bus' - three didn't turn up at once when it came to the quips, and indeed Fanshawe embraced his readership with British societies inadequacies. No-one gives up a chair for the elderly - or helps to push a Mother's pram - or pulls a chair out for a lady while dining, the British etiquette list left un-ticked. We as a society live in a social bubble; and due to technological advancements, social etiquette is waning. You could argue that modernity has made civilians unaware of etiquette existence: This book (published in 2005) is read as an alarm call; a bid to socially connect society, for the sake of a mandatory generic courtesy and well being - a default, 'refresh button'. From abstaining from such practices aids for a selfishness that is acceptable, becomes the norm - which it is. The premise is worthwhile to note that the emergence of gender equality in the latter part of the twentieth century, stunted etiquette - mainly to do with the fact gender roles suddenly became obscure - diluted into society and once that was done behaviour changed and social etiquette paraphernalia was side-lined to cater for gender equality. Evidently, the vulnerable 'damsel in distress' analogy lacked 'oomph', due to the social changes - you could call it 'progress' - yet the traditionalists vehemently will continue to prod home the point: 'Social etiquette is the only distinction we have to separate us from beasts'. Obviously their opinion is far fetched, but beneath the opinion is a worrying trend that without some degree of etiquette - civil disobedience will become the norm. And this is where Erasmus's principles can help a failing society, not that in Britain this is the case yet, however, the symbolic signs portray a seismic concern.
"Men are polished, through act and speech - each by each, as pebbles are smoothed on the rolling beach". J.T.Trowbridge - (1827 - 1916)
The quote by Trowbridge in 1907 - epitomised British-ness - although Fanshawe focuses on the word 'polish'; the French term for politeness. Done in chapter coordinating 'Urban Cities' and 'Big Brother' views; that stipulates claims that behaviour in the unsavoury streets embark on: 'spitting out chewing gum out of car windows' - submitting four letter jibes and signals in their vehicles and purposefully barging about in supermarkets, unperturbed what mayhem it causes, in the wake of them hurrying. Simon Fanshawe who is a Guardian writer no doubt may've observed these activities; however, taken out of context of 'city life'; the British do indeed look loutish on the page. Rudeness yes, but nothing new, it is not as if Kate Watson of Random House knew Fanshawe had collected obscenely juicy anecdotal threads that would've denote to a sterling block busting book about 'social etiquette'. Or he had a turn of wit that could make a mockery of the politically correct agenda. Not a hard thing to do. Notably the Stephen Fry endorsement overtly a big feather in literature circles gave it a glowing report - a report that would incur unwarranted sales that may not have been the case if it stood alongside funnier books of similar genres.
Every now and again a note from a bibliography will turn up unannounced - usually at the conclusion of a mediocre analogy - Fanshawe knitted the Erasmus style parables to the bibliographies to the extent that would suffice in a dissertation - enough to get the gist, albeit not comprehensively. An attempt to be scholar orientated yet fell short due to the comical book jacket and paraphrasing that accompanied the illustrations. 'Small talk is the foreplay of social intercourse!' - 'Chairs should only be held for people who will appreciate it' - to name a couple. So, many readerships possibly bought the book believing the book was creaking at the seams due to the anecdotal badinage. Erasmus, put the dampeners on the frivolous procedures. Structurally the book is informative as a form of reference - as hinted by the extensive bibliographies and web references logged in at the back. Fanshawe is an observer than a story-teller - A fare few of his manners narratives portray the typical British type; for example: who'll be on a 23 hour flight and not say a thing to the person next to him? 'Only a Brit would be that rude! I guess if you were an American speaking incessantly in that loud Iowa matter of fact lilt - stating every minuscule detail of a visit to St Petersburg at 2 a. m - Fanshawe would say: Only an American would be that rude!'
'The Done Thing' chapters consist of: 'Work', 'Conversation', 'Occasions', 'Relationships', 'Table Manners', 'Public Places', and 'Introduction'. On each page a scrolled motif is evident at the top dividing the chapter name and page number, all done in an etiquette fashion - painstakingly so - not unlike the script. As I read Fanshawe's 'near' to concluding sentence: 'Now is the time for our campaign of civil obedience to take flight'. I'm disturbed by a low flying helicopter and due to the low cloud couldn't with my binoculars seek out the helicopter's whereabouts, after a much needed ten minute break I got back to the book. I half expected Fanshawe, to write: 'How rude!'
Recommended: I could take it or leave it.