Gone may be the days of the Mitfords, when class was strictly defined, and behaviours deemed 'unsuitable' caused real scandal amongst one's Peered peers. But I defy anyone to say that Britain isn't still inherently wedded to its class system. All it takes is a stranger to open their mouth, and we've assumed an education, their position in the class strata, an entire back story.
And so, despite everyone apparently being members of the "hard working middle class", it's not unlikely that - at some time or other - a girl finds herself dating outside her social sphere. So, for the occasions on which you find yourself with a date whose social standing is several notches higher than your own, some advice:
1. Learn to keep a straight face in all possible situations. It’s a skill you’ll need. You may be forced to have conversations with people called Peregrine.
2. If you don't already have one, invest in a copy of Debretts (ideally an old one. The new copies are essentially useless unless you want to know how to have a polite one-night stand). There is a difference between a Baron and a Baronet, and you'll only disgrace yourself if you get them mixed up at the dinner table.
3. At some point, you may be told in an extraordinarily offhand manner about the family seat. It may be a major English castle. Refer to the straight face (see above). Leave the perturbed squeaking till you're on the phone to your best mate.
4. If you're going to spend any time at the parents' place, invest in decent jumpers. The house WILL be draughty, and no amount of furtive sneaking round your date's wing of the house is going to quite combat the Arctic temperatures.
5. If you're in it in order to establish yourself on the society scene, don't bother. Social climbers will be smelled out a mile off, and dealt with accordingly.
6. There will be notable ancestors. Bear it in mind if you're having a cultural moment. It's frowned upon to squeak loudly in the reverential silence of Tate Britain, even if you have just worked out why the nose on the portrait of the 16th C Earl of X looks quite so familiar.
6a. If there are notable ancestors, it's more than likely there was some in-breeding at some point. Accept it, try not to think about it and hope that, if it all works out, the kid gets your chin.
7. Prepare yourself for long-standing family eccentricities. It doesn't matter what you think - some people simply don't believe in tea strainers.
8. However helpful you wish to be, whether it's carrying tea to the orangery or mucking in with weekend repairs to something crumbly, be careful. If it's breakable, steer well clear. That teacup you've just dropped on the floor had probably been around longer than the Antiques Roadshow, and was almost certainly worth more than your mortgage payment.
9. Accept that they do things differently, and pitch in. It doesn't matter if you've never eaten fruit with a knife and fork before. Now's the time to try. Being a game old thing will get you further than elocution lessons ever could.
10. You are about to be faced with more mustard corduroy than you ever thought existed. And there’s nothing you can do about it.
Forty days: Pt 6 (Science)
9 hours ago