Carolyn Bourne has become famous. Not because she is an expert breeder of those splendid but under-estimated garden plants known as Pinks but because she took a dramatic step in trying to teach her future daughter-in-law a few lessons in English manners. I hope her actions will encourage people to grow more pinks in their gardens as there is nothing quite like their elegant brightness and powdery perfume to put you in the mood for a glass of Pims with your strawberries.
It is the email though and not those gentile plants that has caught the English imagination. Apparently the formidable M/s Bourne was less than thrilled by a recent visit from M/s Heidi, yes, this is true, Withers who is all set to marry Carolyn’s step-son Freddie. A lot of withering appears to be going on on both sides of this family dispute which has come to everyone’s attention when the said email was circulated on the web by some of Heidi Withers’ outraged friends.
Heidi Withers and Freddie Bourne
The nation is now at war! Sides have divided more dramatically here than at any time since King Charles I upset the Roundheads. I hope, however, that it leads to no more decapitations than the odd and slightly more aggressive than usual dead-heading of garden pinks.
Now this brings me to a difficult moment. I have always liked to think of myself as a relatively liberal kind of guy, easy-going as far as other people’s little habits go but I have surprized myself by having no little sympathy for the out-spoken Carolyn Bourne.
I have not had the pleasure of meeting Heidi Withers and I do not want to tarnish her reputation as I am sure that she must be a lively, confident and out-going type of person, a classic young modern English woman, I am sure, who is ideal material these days as a PA in a trendy London office but reading Carolyn Bourne’s email does fill in some less attractive and very believable details about her social graces or lack of them. I have to admit to usually finding food-fadish house guests irritatingly self-regarding, I have been known to get annoyed when people stay and decide to lie in bed ’til lunchtime and I worry about these modern English marriages where the happy couple think it is romantic to bankrupt themselves before they even get their first gas bill by getting hitched in some fantasy environment taken from the most sentimentalised of true-love pulp fiction.
That’s just me though – aggressive and irritable English wolf that I am. I do not know Carolyn Bourne and she may be so difficult to live with that even the most demure of young ladies might get provoked into hiding in bed all day and she might be unaccustomed to imbibing alcohol and thus got so intoxicated that she made those personal remarks in “the pub” and, it is possible that Carolyn’s food is so poisonously bad that poor Heidi had no choice but to refuse most of it and to save herself from starvation but asking for more bread. As I say I don’t know these women but I’m with Carolyn in principle. All cultures have their codes for living together relatively peaceably but it so happens that here in England we increasingly sneer at a relatively short list of habits and mannerisms that do actually help to make things like weekend visits easier for everyone. It may seem stuffy but really most of Carolyn’s comments about good manners are to do with being sensitive to other people and, dare I say it, not behaving like a spoilt child.
One thing though, it is usually wiser if you want to write an angry email to just do the draft and then delete it immediately. We seldom feel good later when we have sent off an email that says what we really think.
However, I wish them all great happiness and would love to be a bee in that bouquet of pinks when the happy couple, with Carolyn Bourne in attendance, tie the knot at their expensive, baronial but I am sure sweetly romantic wedding.
About English manners though, you decide – here is the famous email:
“From: Carolyn Bourne
To: Heidi Withers
Subject: Your lack of manners
It is high time someone explained to you about good manners. Yours are obvious by their absence and I feel sorry for you.
Your behaviour on your visit to Devon during April was staggering in its uncouthness and lack of grace.
If you want to be accepted by the wider Bourne family I suggest you take some guidance from experts with utmost haste. There are plenty of finishing schools around. You would be an ideal candidate for the Ladette to Lady television series. Please, for your own good, for Freddie’s sake and for your future involvement with the Bourne family, do something as soon as possible.
WHEN you are a guest in another’s house, you do not declare what you will and will not eat – unless you are positively allergic to something.
YOU do not remark that you do not have enough food. You do not start before everyone else. You do not take additional helpings without being invited to by your host.
WHEN a guest in another’s house, you do not lie in bed until late morning in households that rise early – you fall in line with house norms.
YOU should never ever insult the family you are about to join at any time and most definitely not in public. I gather you passed this off as a joke but the reaction in the pub was one of shock, not laughter.
YOU regularly draw attention to yourself. Perhaps you should ask yourself why. No one gets married in a castle unless they own it. It is brash, celebrity-style behaviour.
I UNDERSTAND your parents are unable to contribute very much towards the cost of your wedding. (There is nothing wrong with that except that convention is such that one might presume they would have saved over the years for their daughters’ marriages.) If this is the case, it would be most ladylike and gracious to lower your sights and have a modest wedding as befits both your incomes.
ONE could be accused of thinking that Heidi Withers must be patting herself on the back for having caught a most eligible young man. I pity Freddie.”
If you are more interested in garden pinks then you can contact Carolyn’s nursery at http://www.http://whetmanpinks.com/