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John Walsh

John Walsh: Using only a fork just doesn't cut the mustard

Few domestic metal objects carry more precarious symbolism for the British than cutlery. Employing the wrong edge of the spoon to drink your soup, holding your knife like a fountain pen, putting a knife in your mouth, shovelling peas onto your fork – these are gaffes that consign you to social perdition, as surely as drinking tea out of the saucer. Adopting the American habit of using only a fork to eat your meal, however, represents a revolution in table manners that's both seismic and deeply unwelcome.

The single-fork manoeuvre requires the diner to cut up his food into handy bite-size portions, before transferring the fork to the right hand to begin the spearing and eating. What a ghastly, babyish way of behaving – as if Nanny used to cut up your meat and potatoes in the nursery, and you never grew out of it.

"Wielding a good knife and fork" is a phrase Dickens used to describe hearty eating. He knew that the two-handed approach, the slicing and spearing of the food before you, brings concentration and rhythm to your work, whether you're carving dainty tranches of steak or filleting a sole. Using a fork and nothing else is sloppy, careless, messy and lackadaisical – and what are you to do with your free hand while you're eating? Wave to friends? Neck a Budweiser? Light a cigarette?

Debenhams' Civilised Dining Campaign is a welcome attempt to halt the Americanising of table manners, before we're required to abandon cutlery altogether and behave like the cowboys eating beans with their fingers, in the campfire scene in Blazing Saddles...