CELEBRATING a minor triumph, I went to tea at the Ritz. But no sooner had I sat down than a tail-coated functionary demanded I hand over my mac, thus triggering my tipping complex and killing any prospect of enjoying myself.

Does one have to tip the man at the Ritz who carries one's coat to the cloakroom? And if so, does one tip him when he comes back with the coat, or as he takes it away? If it was the latter then I'd already missed my opportunity, and the coat man would no doubt be slagging me off already with his colleagues. ("See that mac? Belongs to a right bloody cheapskate. Just lay it on the floor, Bert, while I stand on it.") Or do you simply tip the tea-serving man, who would later cut the coat man in? Or, then again, was coat-removal not a tipping matter?

But now the coat man was returning, carrying a cloakroom token. Here was my chance. As he approached, I whipped out a pound coin and made to hand it to him... but he was stepping away from me, turning his back. So I swiftly adapted the coin-proffering gesture, beginning to take a long hard look at the coin, as though my purpose in removing it from my pocket had been simply to confirm that the pound was in fact a pound coin and not merely something closely resembling a pound coin in size and weight.

Had I offended him with my puny offer, or was a pound too much, making him embarrassed at my largesse? The latter seemed unlikely; noone has ever been embarrassed at my largesse before. These were all ghastly speculations, but very familiar.

My inability to tip stems from a residual, disapproving left-wingery, combined with a snobbish desire to cut a dash, plus a social self-consciousness that comes from being born into the twitchy lower middle classes. The problem has blighted much of my life.

I have, for example, just been on the Orient Express, which takes 24 hours to go from London to Venice. I spent most of the first 12 hours working out how much to tip the cabin steward, and most of the second 12 grasping the amount in my hand waiting for a chance to gracefully hand it over. Switzerland, I barely noticed.

Towards the end of the journey the steward kept popping in and out of our compartment on various errands, whilst I feverishly whispered to the wife: "Now...? Do I give it to him now?", but she disdainfully told me that tipping was a man's business.

I eventually resolved to hand the money over as we left the train. In front of me, the other men were passing their tips to the steward by sleight of hand - you knew money was being transferred but couldn't quite work out how. I palmed the money across in a reasonably covert way myself but then, suddenly panicking about the amount, said, "I hope that's okay", thus forcing the steward to look at the notes, and embark on fulsome thanks.

The most embarrassing moment of my life? Certainly it's in the top ten.