Brian Viner: What Kate could learn from Dame Barbara

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The Independent Online

Almost certainly with a great big rustle of chiffon, the romantic novelist Dame Barbara Cartland has surely been turning in her grave this week at the news that the future Queen of England is descended from labourers and miners, not to mention British Airways air crew. Romance is all very well, but it would have upset her idea of the natural order of things, as so exquisitely set out in her 1962 Etiquette Handbook: A Guide To Good Behaviour From the Boudoir to the Boardroom. Moreover, the old girl felt somewhat proprietorial about Prince William, whose step-great-grandmother she so proudly was.

That said, the shock of the Prince's future in-laws being in trade might have been softened by the really quite splendid news that her Etiquette Handbook, which was republished in the UK in 2008, has now been translated into French. Les Bonnes Manières: L'Art du Chic Selon Lady Cartland landed elegantly on the shelves of French bookshops last week, causing a mild hoo-ha, or more likely an 'oo-'a, although one questions whether the French need Cartland's tip that sex should not be considered "a common, dirty urge found among the lower classes, whose only interests are beer and bed," still less her advice that when it come to "the act of love ... there need be no reserves, no barriers, no restrictions ... a woman should always appear to be a nymph fleeing from a satyr."

Still, on this side of the channel, Kate Middleton, whether or not she thinks of herself as a nymph fleeing from a satyr, would do well to absorb Dame Barbara's advice about the duties of a wife, who, "unless she is ill, should get up and cook her husband's breakfast before he goes to work in the morning. It is bad manners to do this in curlers, without lipstick, in a shabby dressing-gown and down-at-heel slippers." Quite so.

Incidentally, it was once my privilege to interview Dame Barbara, who expired 10 years ago, aged 98, and it wasn't long before we got on to the subject of sex, in particular the sex life of the late Duke of Windsor.

She had known him quite well when he was Prince of Wales, she told me, and it had been common knowledge in her social circle that "he had a very tiny thing". It had evidently been the scarlet Wallis Simpson's ability to deal with this, using techniques she had supposedly learnt in the Far East, that caused his devotion to her, and led in due course to the abdication crisis, to the accession of George VI, and ultimately, I suppose, to Prince William becoming second in line to the throne and getting engaged to lovely Kate. As Barbara Cartland herself might have put it, from little acorns do mighty romances grow.

An outbreak of stoicism at Cardiff Airport

The early-morning Monarch Airlines flight from Birmingham to Malaga last Thursday developed a violent mid-air vibration, sufficiently alarming for the pilot to divert, shortly after take-off, to Cardiff airport, where on the rain-battered tarmac there was an ominous welcoming party of fire engines.

My wife Jane and I were on board, on our way to Spain for a long weekend, to help our friend Cathy celebrate her 50th birthday. Cathy and her husband, Pete, had flown from Gatwick to Malaga, and we were due to hook up with them at the airport at about 10am, then drive the 80 miles or so to the remote house Cathy had rented. But at 10am Jane and I were stuck in Cardiff, which seemed geographically, spiritually and certainly climatically a long way from rural Andalucia. We were informed that our faulty plane had been taken out of service, and that we'd have to wait until mid-afternoon at the earliest for another one to become available. In the event, we spent six hours at Cardiff airport, a long time out of a precious few days away. By way of compensation for this inconvenience, Monarch Airlines offered every passenger a £5 voucher to be spent on food and drink in the terminal, an act of rather limited magnanimity and one that did little to diminish the disappointment of lunching on "Classic Baked Spud served with a Salad Garnish" at Cardiff airport's gloomy Echo Bar, rather than tapas under the Spanish sun.

And yet, we were struck by how very stoical, almost jolly, all the passengers seemed. There was no dark muttering, no air of rebelliousness at all. Which might have been kindled by sheer relief that we'd made it safely back to earth, or indeed by a sense of perspective imbued by the two-minute silence we observed for Remembrance Day at 11am, but it was also a good deal to do, I think, with old-fashioned British forbearance, not always a positive virtue but in this instance utterly admirable.

A timeless phrase to use for the out-of-date

My favourite malapropisms entirely contradict the intended meaning. For instance, a landscape gardener we once employed used to talk, when suggesting some savage bit of clearing, about the need to "bite the biscuit". We liked this so much we now use it when contemplating something pleasant. A trip to the seaside? Dinner at a nice restaurant? "Oh, let's just bite the biscuit and go."

Anyway, I came across a similarly fine example the other day, when an acquaintance, referring to a hi-tech kitchen, unintentionally described it as being "state-of-the-ark". What a perfect phrase for summing up the old, the decrepit, the out-of-date. I'm going to bite the biscuit and start using it.