Class conscious

Porters are to be reintroduced to Paddington station - good news for rich people with heavy bags; bad news for people like me who're so riddled with class consciousness that they can't tip without red faces breaking out all round.

I personally think that when, upon reaching puberty, young people are taken aside by their parents and told the facts of life, they should get a few hints on tipping thrown in.

My father-in-law is one of the world's best tippers, and I've often observed his technique. He tends to feed the tip smoothly to the waiter (or the porter or the squash court attendant or whomever) while shaking their hand and whispering something in their ear - words as mysterious to me as the question of what the newsreaders are saying to each other as they shuffle their papers while the credits roll. I have asked him to spill the beans on his embarrassment-free tipping style . . . I have demanded that he tells me whether he's saying, "And here's a little something for your trouble, my man." But he just smiles coyly, like a magician being asked how their tricks are done.

I shy away from the patrician implications of giving tips to such an extent that I always try to get the thing over with as fast as possible. As a result, I generally climb out of a taxi when the meter reads either £4.50 or £9, regardless of whether I'm anywhere near my destination - because then the tip is a simple matter of £5 or £10 respectively and can be handed over with that painless phrase, "Keep the change."

Alternatively, I simply avoid any tipping scenario. Faced, for example, with an eager porter while checking into a hotel, I will decline his services, while trying to imply that I enjoy the challenge of carrying very heavy suitcases up four floors - that it's a sort of hobby of mine.

Actually, even people more socially at ease than myself find tipping problematic. We've just moved house and, ever since, my wife has been haunted by the baleful looks given her by the departing removal men who, incidentally, did an excellent job. The truth hit her a few days ago: removal men are in that category of Persons Whom You Tip.

. . . But how was she to know?

This article first appeared in the 19 July 1999 issue of the New Statesman, The transport row: who is to blame?