Any girl feels like a new season debutante when she meets the parents. Knowing when to simper and when to smile, at what moment to tinkle out a little giggle or how to pronounce that fancy French thing on the menu – all require a social deftness and lightness of touch that you either have or you don't. S'a matter of breeding, innit.
Imagine the difficulties then when meeting the parents also involves knowing the correct depth of one's curtsey, which feudal term of endearment to use and how hard to tug your forelock (enough to cause acute pain but not to actually wrench it off, suggests Debrett's). Just put yourself in poor Kate Middleton's position.
Waity Katie has done a barnstorming job of flinging herself into the royal court hat-first: she has been accepted, middle class roots and all, by the highest in the land – and by some of the lowest, when you factor in her tabloid ubiquity. She and sister Pippa have been labelled "wisteria", because they are fragrant but tenacious climbers. And now it's the turn of her parents, who were recently whisked away on a stalking weekend at Balmoral.
For those unfamiliar with huntin', shootin', fishin' parlance, a stalking weekend is nothing to do with dealing with obsessive fans. It involves, as far I can tell, lying on the ground with a gun while wearing a horrid coat. I jest: it involves following animals around and then killing them. Nevertheless, the prospective mother and father to the potential Queen Consort have been given a basic survival course in "posh". One can only presume they were also taught the precise difference between afternoon tea and high tea, and reminded to work from the outside in, as regards cutlery, and from the inside out, as regards eating pizza.
Is this evidence of the Middle England Middletons having their edges filed down before they meet their in-laws? It can't really be much else, can it? The cumulative silence around Will and Kate's relationship to date, as far as parental input goes, means that this trip to Balmoral is, well, the beginning of something big.
Certainly it's the start of something more modern. The excruciating rendezvous of respective parents is something of a rite of passage for us commoners, but royal spouses are traditionally shipped off without the meeting ever taking place. Henry VIII didn't have to look his mother-in-law in the eye as he announced he didn't much fancy Anne of Cleves, after all. Nor was, we can assume, the said Duchess von Julich a former air hostess.
We're a nation obsessed with class, of course, but the Middleton Mum and Dad's Eliza Doolittle weekend coincides rather nicely with the latest incarnation of our anachronistic peccadillo, the TV series Downton Abbey. "What shall we call each other?" the progressive and non-patrician Penelope Wilton asks of Maggie Smith's delightful Dowager Countess in one episode. "Let's start with Lady Grantham, shall we?" she answers. How brilliant to think of similar scenes between the Duke of Edinburgh and Michael Middleton over Sunday lunch, while Liz invokes the Divine Right not to do the washing-up and Princess Anne shouts "doors to manual" every time Carole comes round with the drinks trolley. Thank God the Queen Mother isn't around to see it all; no doubt her expression would have curdled the mock turtle soup.
Never before has an unmarried partner been allowed to join the royal party for Christmas Day but, after this parental educational visit, speculation is rife that Kate may well be the first to be invited. It's progress of a sort, but perhaps we should pity her. I can only speak from personal experience (and I've never been invited to Christmas at Sandringham either) but my festive season is usually more Royle than royal; it really revolves around eating and loosening the top button of my jeans. And I doubt very much whether this behaviour would be considered worthy of a future queen.
What's wrong with kickflares in class?
Dressing "a bit jailbait" is the schoolgirl's historic prerogative. Showing a 14-year-old girl a pair of shapeless black trousers and calling them "uniform" is like telling Lady Gaga she'd look good in a yashmak. So the Miss Sexy trousers furore comes as no surprise. Headteacher David Baker has banned the brand's stretchy black bootcut flares from his school in Nailsea, complaining that they are so tight that the wearer's underwear is visible. Now that I've grown up, I've come to recognise the levelling merits of school uniform – now that I'm not hellbent on wearing a scarlet crop-top to French class, that is. But kicking off about a kickflare seems a bit much. These girls have all their lives to wear dowdy and ill-fitting cheap tailoring, for one thing and, there's an easy solution to any VPL – it's called a thong. I'd wager most teenage girls know about and own a profusion of dental floss undies in a riot of garish colours already.
The name "Miss Sexy" is unfortunate, but there's nothing wrong with these trousers in themselves. Trying to save teenage girls from themselves is a futile exercise – they'll be embarrassed enough at the photos in two years anyway.
I note with glee that Coronation Street grandes dames Barbara Knox and Eileen Derbyshire (that's Rita and Emily, to the no doubt tiny minority who don't tune in) have been awarded MBEs. Whether for services to corner shops or continued devotion to hideous jumpers (some with dogs' faces on!), I'm convinced that these two are the reason Britain is great.
From Rita evading her squashed-by-a-tram husband to Emily coping with a lodger trying to poison her, these ladies are tough, no-nonsense icons for a wimpy age. Forget the screeching harridans of Albert Square and their turbulent love lives, give me a classy and husky-voiced Mancunian and a "who ate the biscuits" storyline any day.