Peas and Queues: The Minefield of Modern Manners by Sandi Toksvig

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Peas and Queues: The Minefield of Modern Manners by Sandi Toksvig

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Category: Politics and Society
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Zoe Morris
Reviewed by Zoe Morris
Summary: A delightfully entertaining but also useful book on manners. Buy a copy for everyone you know as a quote unquote novely gift you secretly hope they read every page of.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 272 Date: October 2013
Publisher: Profile Books
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1781250327

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Dear Sandi

You are my all time favourite celebrity lesbadyke, and one of the reasons I'm so very excited to be heading to Denmark this coming weekend (are all people there like you? Please say yes). For this alone, I had to get my mitts on your latest offering. I wasn’t that fussed about obtaining a book on manners previously, having always thought mine were quite ok, but I knew your take on the matter would be suitably hilarious and well worth a read. I was not wrong.

You’ve written the book in a series of letters to a young friend called Mary, and that’s why I’ve modelled my response like this, because I thought it made for charming reading and made the whole experience a bit more personal. Mary, we are led to believe, is a perfectly sweet girl, but she is still a girl for now, and so you’ve written a guide for her as she grows up, so she can avoid the types of faux pas that come from not knowing which way round to hold a fork or how best to get on in a shared house (wearing clothes in public areas and cleaning up after yourself seem to be the key points). Now most of your readers will be older than Mary is at present, but that’s no bother. There’s lots for everyone to learn and enjoy here.

Sandi, dear, your signature wit shines through, page after page. This is no dry book on etiquette, but a series of helpful hints, top tips and amusing anecdotes served up in bite-sized pieces for easy reference. A lot of what you tell us I would like to think I already knew, so it was nice to have it reaffirmed. Holding doors for people and not starting eating until everyone is served are good, talking about graphic bodily functions at the table and queue jumping are bad and so on. At the same time, you uncovered some delightful factoids of which I was previously unaware – the origin of the words etiquette and noggin being just two examples.

Your advice on what to do when one forgets someone’s name is helpful, for I can have terrible nominal aphasia at times, while your self-deprecating humour led to delightful moments of 'rather you than me' – yes, I’m thinking of the ptarmigan heart-eating episode.

I found your writing very topical for 21st-century life – mobile phones, twitter and tattoos all have written and unwritten rules and you’ve made that clear. These are just as important as the age-old reminders to keep one’s elbows off the table, and to avoid sitting right next to someone on public transport if other, less personal space encroaching seats are available.

I have a keepsake box of handwritten letters at home that I re-read from time to time. If only their writers had taken your advice to add a date to their missives, I would find it much easier to place them chronologically. I also enjoyed your comments on protecting the fragile while out on the street, by providing a barrier between them and passing cars. I’ve come across this before, but only in South America where men routinely do it for women, even if it means they end up weaving incessantly from your left to your right. You make it sound like I have this to look forward to when I am old and infirm. I do hope so.

There is so much advice in your book, Sandi, that there really is something for everyone. Just this morning, one of my admin team rang to ask if she’d cocked up by replying to someone ALL IN CAPITALS. I felt like calling her down to my office to read through page 95 so she could work it out for herself, but there are a few other areas she might be interested in, so I’ll just suggest she buys the whole thing, instead.

I can’t think of any major oversights in this one, Sandi. There’s a fine line to draw between things that are so obvious they don’t need stating, and things that really do. At the other end of the spectrum, there are things you might never imagine needing to say, until they happen to you, that is. Should I ever feel the need to write a similar book, I might add a footnote that it is unacceptable to break out the nail polish remover at a communal work lunch table. And I might slip in an aside that you’re right (of course you are) about over-celebrating success at sport, but this might, by its very nature, not apply to competitive cheerleading. The way we scream and shout and jump up and down until the floor breaks, you’d think we’d won something far greater than a 3-foot-high trophy with a peculiar, alien mascot’s head on it.

That’s all I have to say, Sandi. Your book is great. It was always going to be, wasn’t it? I won’t be writing my own book on manners, because you’ve done a perfectly fine job of it.

Could you thank your publishers for sending us a copy to review? Actually, scratch that. I know what you’ll say. I’ll do them a handwritten notelet.

Much love


P.S. I wouldn't dream of suggesting anyone overlook your fine book, Sandi, but if readers can't enough, I think they might also like Talk to the Hand by Lynne Truss. As for where the letter gets typed up, have a look at Swimming in the Steno Pool: A Retro Guide to Making It in the Office by Lynn Peril.

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