Dear Mary

Dear Mary: How to cope with London Library overcrowding

Plus: Is it ever all right to wear a short-sleeved shirt with a tie?

9 May 2015

9:00 AM

9 May 2015

9:00 AM

Q. As a writer I find working at home too distracting. I am a longstanding member of the London Library where rules and conditions allow one to concentrate in perfect peace. My problem is that the library has become so popular recently that, to secure one of my favourite desks, I have to arrive at St James’s Square almost as the doors open in the morning. I find the whole palaver of getting out of the house on time with everything I need and then travelling heavily loaded by tube or bike so draining that I am too exhausted to work by the time I get to my quiet desk. What do you suggest?
—R.J., London W11

A. Others have complained along the same lines. It occurs that since so many London Library users live in Notting Hill, four of you might club together to commission ‘school bus’-style shared transport. This could take the form of an Uber which will pick you all up at 9 a.m. In deference to the library rules I suggest no eating,drinking,chatting or mobile use in the car en route. Start as you mean to go on. Or else a writer can work from home: the trick is never to leave your bedroom. Dr Johnson, Truman Capote and Patricia Highsmith all wrote from bed, as does Vikram Seth.Lady Diana Cooper (a.k.a. Mrs Stitch in Scoop) ran her real-life ‘Stitch Service’ from bed.

Q. Is there an etiquette for men wearing short-sleeved collared shirts? Perfectly respectable tailors appear to sell them but do respectable people wear them? Some wear them with a tie which always seems frankly clerical. Perhaps they are best left under a jacket? Perhaps a leftover from a colonial lifestyle? Hairy arms particularly when eating seem unappetising.
—N.C., Stanton St Bernard, Wilts

A. At a pinch these shirts can still be worn abroad but they are rarely seen on men of judgment, who know instinctively to steer a wide berth. Doctors, who have to do so much wrist and arm washing, provide the exception which proves the rule.

Q. An American girl working for me is soon to leave, get married and move away. She has been a great colleague, and we have got on very well, but she exhibits emotion in a way that I cannot. Tears have become commonplace — ages before she is actually leaving. When the time comes to say farewell, how can I show her I care while maintaining dignity?
—G.S., Morecambe, Lancs

A. You should prepare for the mawkish moment by having a photograph of this departing girl framed beautifully. Position it as a permanent fixture in your presumably shared office and unveil it before the tears begin to flow. Announce in light-hearted tones that you can take comfort from knowing that in one way at least the girl will ‘always be there for you’.

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  • timinsingapore

    Mary, I can assure you that short-sleeved shirts with collars are unacceptable even abroad, still more so if worn with a tie. They are worn generally by middle-level management or clerical types with no prospects. I have seen them worn by the kind of people who wear trainers with semi-formal trousers.

  • Gilbert White

    After been rejected got the library card because the library is what it says it is on the label. Eject all the freebie foreigners for a start , have a system of foreigners and locals like the progressive Malaysians do. Habib and the Mahathir family have been freeloading in the London museums like all the rich developing world elite do yet their own systems practice price apartheid for example in the national parks in Penang and others. To be fair however the main Taman Negara is a world class ecosystem with just a token entry fee.

  • Jabez Foodbotham

    When I was a shift-boss in a copper mine in colonial Africa it was mandatory that we wore ties with our short-sleeved shirts and shorts when issuing the day’s instructions to the boss boys queuing at our offices each morning before they went underground. We then removed the ties, donned only for that ceremony, before we ourselves proceeded underground.
    I cannot think of other circumstances in which the combination would be appropriate.