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The collected opinions of an august and aristocratic personage who, despite her body having succumbed to the ravages of time, yet retains the keen intellect, mordant wit and utter want of tact for which she was so universally lauded in her younger days. Being of a generation unequal to the mysterious demands of the computing device, Lady Bracknell relies on the good offices of her Editor for assistance with the technological aspects of her journal.

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Location: Bracknell Towers

Monday, November 06, 2006

In which the editor is ashamed

My mother made a comment to me yesterday about The Hat. Having stewed about it for twenty four hours, I am still so appalled by what she said that I need the catharsis of writing about it. This blog post may not be published at all, or, if it is, may be removed again once I have calmed down. But for now, I must write.

Hat background:-

The Hat was originally going to be ready for me to pick up on Saturday the 28th of October. On the 27th, the milliner phoned me to say that the fabric she had ordered from which to lovingly fashion it had not yet arrived and that she was so tired of waiting for it that she was going to drive to Wales the next day and collect it in person. Although she was planning to have finished The Hat by mid-week, we agreed that I would pick it up on the Saturday just gone instead.

On Friday afternoon, reasoning that I don't handle town very well on a Saturday when the world and his wife are thronging the pavements, I visited the shop. If I had had the sense I was born with, I would have phoned first to check whether The Hat was ready. I didn't, and it wasn't, and I have no-one but myself to blame for the wasted journey. The milliner was hugely apologetic, but the fault really was all mine. We agreed that I should call in again the next day.

So, on Saturday morning, I caught the bus back into town. I sat on a serendipitously-placed bench opposite the milliner's shop and waited for it to open. And then waited a bit longer. Eventually, a friend of the milliner arrived and explained that the poor girl wouldn't be opening the shop that day because she had a nasty kidney infection and had had to go to the doctor. So I caught the bus home, and was rather torn between being worried about the milliner's health and concerned that I might have to stand in front of her maj bare-headed. (Although Pop did offer to lend me something he described as " a very fetching flat black cap", which was ... comforting.)

So, anyway, I relayed this story to my mother yesterday, and she said:

"Well, if you didn't get The Hat in time for your trip to London, you wouldn't have to pay for it, would you?"

Er, yes, Mother. Actually I would.

(i) This is a bespoke hat in an unusual head size. It's highly unlikely that, if it sat in the shop, anyone else would want to buy it. And, on the off chance that someone did want to buy it, it would probably come down to her nose.

(ii) The milliner has provided me with an outstanding level of customer service. It is not her fault that she is ill, and I see no reason why she should be financially penalised for circumstances outside her control.

(iii) The milliner has been courageous enough to set up as a sole proprietor selling her skill in a craft which has all but died out in this country. If I want businesses like hers to continue to exist, then I must honour the agreement we made. My refusal to pay could mean the difference between her business surviving and her going bankrupt. I am not prepared to have that on my conscience when she has not deliberately let me down.

I am really shocked by my mother's suggestion. I am shocked that she herself would consider refusing to pay to be a reasonable course of action. This is all far too reminiscent of the (ahem) "good old days" when the gentry continued to order champagne and plovers' eggs from the local grocer long after they knew they had no funds to pay for them, and never for one moment gave a thought to how the grocer was supposed to survive financially.

Now, as it happens, I have spoken to the milliner today and - bless her - she has said that she will deliver The Hat to me personally if necessary, and that she is determined, come what may, that I shall have it before I leave for London next Wednesday. We will keep in touch and sort it out nearer the time. So there is no question of me being put in the position that - if I were my mother - I might refuse to pay.

But the question remains: am I too soft for my own good? Is my mother's view completely unreasonable? Or is there an obvious third path which I am currently too blinded with rage and shame to see?

The Editor


Blogger The Goldfish said...

I think your position is entirely reasonable, although I think your mother may be right about your legal position. After all, the timing on the hat was part of the deal, as it were, it was part of the service being provided. So long as that was made clear, I don't believe the law is concerned with the cause of such a delay.

However, it would be extremely bad form to do that to an innocent person. If you had good reason to doubt her excuses, then it would be up to your own discretion.

In any case, I very much hope that you can get hat on time and do not need to resort to Pop's handy cap. Next time you have contact with your milliner, you can let her know that complete strangers are wishing her all the best for a super-sonic speedy recovery.

6:29 pm  
Blogger Unknown said...

It must be a very difficult profession these days. Who wants to be a milliner? I don't.


6:30 pm  
Blogger Lady Bracknell said...

Oh, don't apologise. That made me laugh. And I could do with a laugh today...

7:15 pm  
Blogger Wilf said...

You have to pay for something if you order it. I order a comic from the newsagent called, 'SuperNature'. The first two were really good but now it's all boring and I am NOT keen BUT because I told Mr Patel I wanted it for the 12 week trial time, I have to pay him for it.
Good luck with The Hat. It is a shame there is nobody else with your head because you could have tried hatshare.

8:09 pm  
Blogger pete said...

Good luck with on the hat front. I hope it arrives on time and lives up to your expectations.

I have my eyes crossed for you.

missprism. I do.

9:29 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm delighted to see that honour, though severely wounded in this country, is not yet dead.

If The Editor had made time "of the essence" of the contract, I think you could withhold payment in whole or part (depending on the wording in the contract, if there even is one, and perhaps even obtain compensation). But as with many things, just because you CAN do something doesn't mean that you SHOULD.

The Editor is to be congratulated on being moral, ethical and honourable. Lady Bracknell should give her a payrise, or at least a half-holiday.

10:15 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think if you had previously made a firm agreement with the milliner that you would not pay for the hat unless it was ready by a certain date, then, and only then, would you be justified in not paying for it.
I hope the milliner gets better soon, and I hope your hat is ready in time!

2:30 am  
Blogger Katja said...

I'm with you, against your mom (although it pains me to be against anybody's mom). My sister used to be a milliner - it's an extremely artistic profession.

4:45 am  
Blogger Charlesdawson said...

This is always a problem when a craftsperson sets up on their own with no backup. No doubt the stress is exacerbating the milliner's condition.

I have a fairisle beanie you can borrow if all else fails.

8:45 am  
Blogger BloggingMone said...

Honestly, if it was a big shop like Marks & Spencer and I had agreed on a fixed date of delivery I would refuse paying if after that date I would not have any use of that item any longer. But as it is a small shop and the reasons why the delivery had to be postponed is beyond that milliners control, I fully agreee with you. and she seems to be very nice and sorry about the delay.
Most important question for the moment: do we ever get to see The Hat?

8:46 am  
Blogger Alexandra said...

My question is: would she actually expect to be paid if she could not complete the deal? She's a business person, she should know how this works.

I found your comments about "the gentry" interesting, because it shows a somewhat different attitude towards commerce than we have here in the US. Business is business, and if I don't get what I need when I need it, I shouldn't have to pay for it. Now, you may choose to pay her for her efforts, and that's another thing altogether. If I was financially sound and felt the milliner had done her best and I liked her, I might pay her anyway.

However, it sounds like she'll come through, so you probably won't even have to worry about it.

2:41 pm  
Blogger Agent Fang said...

I'm of the same mind as Mone - witholding payment from a large company is a different matter than employing a craftsperson to make a bespoke piece. It sounds like the milliner is going to finish in the nick of time if not to the original deadline. Personally, I would pay and give my dear mother a gentle rebuke. Whilst wearing The Hat.

Even before delivery The Hat is already causing a stir!

3:30 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One has certain obligations. Good tradespeople are not easy to find. Dame Honoria would concur that the hat should be paid for upon delivery.

Dame Honoria would remind Her Ladyship that mothers frequently appear to inhabit a different world with different mores to oneself.

(Mine does anyway :-))

5:25 pm  
Blogger Lady Bracknell said...


Pictures of The Hat (and, indeed, the rest of The Outfit) will most certainly be published once I'm back from London.

In fact, I should probably apologise in advance for just how many pictures are likely to be published.

I could lose readers in droves... ;-)

8:46 pm  
Blogger Lady Bracknell said...


If I'm honest, if The Hat weren't ready in time, I'd expect the milliner to at least offer me a discount in recognition of the fact that - even though the fault would not be of her own making - she had let me down. I wouldn't necessarily take her up on that offer, but I'd expect the offer to be made.

What I objected to was my mother's apparent inability to recognise that anyone other than the consumer had any rights, or any legitimate feelings, in the issue. It's a class thing which, as you so rightly point out, doesn't exist in the States.

One of my mother's favourite insults is to say that someone "looks as though she ought to work in Woolworths". As if there is something inherently despicable about working in a shop. Her other favourite is to describe someone as being "very ordinary". As though she herself is something wholly extraordinary.

Given that my mother comes from a working class background herself, and only embarked on a career of being nouveau middle class when she married my father, I find this sort of snobbery very hard to take.

8:58 pm  
Blogger Katie said...

On a related, but amoral matter...

How does one go about calculating one's hat size? In a malco-ordinated fashion? Me + tape measures is a poor combination and - for reasons too appalling to go into - I have to work mine out in the next week.

(I would pay for the hat if it were a single milliner, but not if it was a corporation. Though, Mone, I have to say that withholding payment to M&S could cause them financial disaster at the moment...)

12:40 am  
Blogger Mary said...

Ah, mothers. Reportedly some do have us, but on the other hand some of us, have them...

A backup hat, or possibly an interesting hair ornament, from a high-street shop might be an idea. Just In Case, you know?

It's understandable that your mother is more bothered about you and your Rights than about some milliner she's never met.

I feel that to withold payment completely would be morally wrong, but also that if the milliner offers you a discount for it not being ready on time, you should allow her to maintain her own professional pride and integrity and take her up on it - I doubt she wants to feel like she is being the recipient of charity or, indeed, to feel like she is doing you out of money that you may or may not have a lot of.

In my experience the nicest money is money you can really feel you've *earned*.

11:54 am  
Blogger Lady Bracknell said...


The milliner measured my head. I think even those of use who don't have co-ordination issues would struggle to do it accurately ourselves.

How would you be able to tell whether you had the tape measure level all the way round?

(Sorry: I know that's not very helpful. But I can't think of a way round it without asking someone else to help. Whether one is cripped-up or not.)

5:55 pm  
Blogger Lady Bracknell said...


I don't have enough hair to which to attach what they call a fascinator, and my head measurement is so big that off the peg hats just balance in a ridiculous manner on top of it.

Which is really why I went to the milliner in the first place. It's made to measure or nuffin'. Oh, or, of course, some sort of fetching knitted beanie. And, on balance, I think I'd go with nuffin'...

5:59 pm  
Blogger Lanark said...

I find the way The Editor deals with the dilemma very charming, indeed, in the best spirit of the best Utilitarians. Stuart Mill would have probably thought it along the same lines.

But I myself tend to align with Mrs. Bracknell. Jeopardizing the milliner's posiblities to survive as a craftswoman is not something desirable, of course, but I don't think a little discount would bring this extreme effect. On the other hand, some reparation of the inconvenients caused by her delay would be, I think, rather healthy for the milliner, ethically speaking. Some small compensation could certainly make her feel better about her failure to fulfill the dedline.

12:43 pm  

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