Peter Rhodes on bidding farewell to an old salt, etiquette at a free bar and a sudden burst of affection for a mandarin

By Peter Rhodes | Peter Rhodes | Published:

Lord Heywood, gone too soon

THANKS for writing in, folks, but I am well aware that the Waitrose Food editor William Sitwell was technically invited to resign over the vegan-joke affair, not sacked as I wrote a couple of days ago. But my choice of word was quite deliberate.

FORGET the technicalities of employment law. Abandon the weasel words. If you decide to leave a job entirely of your own free will, usually for a better job, then you resign. If you are invited to resign, or told to resign, or asked to sign your pre-written resignation letter, mysteriously produced from the boss's drawer, then you are being sacked. And no matter how they sugar-coat it, you'll always recognise the sack, especially when it happens to you.

LORD Jeremy Heywood, former head of the Civil Service, has died far too early at 56 and the newspapers are striving to outdo each other with their tributes to his integrity, impartiality and all-round good-eggery. These, lest we forget, are the same newspaper who, not so long ago, were denouncing him as an unelected interferer with far too much power. As they put it back then:

"Sir Jeremy, the mandarin's mandarin" (Mirror). "Sir Jeremy Heywood is the man who really runs the country" (Spectator). "Is Sir Jeremy Heywood Britain's most powerful man?"(Daily Telegraph). "When Sir Jeremy appears before parliamentary committees, as he did only this Monday, he leaves an impression of brazen indifference to democracy." (Daily Mail). By their about-turns shall ye know them.

OUR changing language. I'm sure we were all moved by the Labour MP Yvette Cooper's emotional tribute to Lord Heywood. I was less impressed with the online Daily Express's confusing and hideously Americanised headline: "Yvette Cooper tears up." Purleese.

AND off to an old friend's funeral. Roy was the father of a school mate and a member of that generation which spent its youth slogging around Europe in khaki or, in Roy's case, steaming a Royal Navy patrol boat up and down the North Sea in the hunt for enemy E-boats. I have done my share of Army funerals when you must steel yourself for the throat-lumpening strains of The Last Post. But the Senior Service does things differently. The ending of this old salt's life, after 94 jovial and hospitable years, was marked with the RN signal that tolls the end of a ship's watch. Eight bells echoed in the chapel, telling of another good man gone.

AT the wake after the funeral, I entered the pub and ordered a modest whisky and a small bottle of sparkling water. As the barman handed them over, I proferred a fiver. "It's a free bar," he smiled. Oh, rats.

WHAT does modern etiquette have to say about the above dilemma? Do you meekly accept the modest round? Do you send your partner to the free bar for something stronger? Or do you fix the barman with a gimlet stare and bluff it out with: "My good man, I clearly asked for a magnum of the Dom Perignon 55"?

Peter Rhodes

By Peter Rhodes

Award-winning columnist and blogger. Keeping an eye on the tribulations and trivia of a fast-changing world


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