IF I found myself in an office with a sign proclaiming “hug zone”, I’d head straight back out the door. Unfortunately, that’s a luxury not available to staff at the fashion retailer Ted Baker, where the head of the firm, Ray Kelvin, has a tactile approach to management.

Although his spokesmen and women say hugs “are absolutely not insisted upon”, a petition has been drawn up by employees fed up with “forced hugging”, “sexual innuendos” and “stroking people’s necks”.

It is for Mr Kelvin to answer his critics, or learn a lesson in restraint. His breaches of etiquette may be no more than that: too much flesh pressing, too little thought for others’ feelings. After all, it’s worth bearing in mind that one person’s enthusiastic greeting is another’s toe-curling intrusion. When it’s the boss who sets the barometer at touchy-feely, though, a seemingly jolly, group-bonding practice can start to look abusive.

If nothing else, it carries unwelcome overtones of power games. That sign, with its implicit exhortation to tolerate a physical embrace whether it’s welcome or not, is inappropriate in any work place.

It’s like a permanent sprig of mistletoe dangling over the doorway, a licence for an ambush.

I once did a DNA test to learn more about my ancestry, but there was no need.

When it comes to spontaneous displays of affection, my settings are turned so low no test-tube is required to label me northern – and chilly – to the core. If there is a speck of Mediterranean joie de vivre in my veins, I’ve yet to experience it.

Since childhood I have disliked the wet kisses of well-meaning older visitors or relatives, and the too-tight cuddles of needy maiden aunts.

When you’re six you think the day will come when you can just run away – and then you discover you were wrong. Particularly for young women, it is still expected that you don’t complain when someone is a little too lingering in their grip, a bit too close to the lips with their cheek-brushing. Personal space is precious, yet how devalued it has become.

After I interviewed a novelist many years ago, he walked me to the train station and dropped a kiss on my head. As I stared at the pavement, feeling patronised and belittled, I noticed the shiny buckles on his shoes. I’ve never liked that look.

Fast forward to middle age and an evening last month when I was talking to a fellow journalist about #MeToo. We were at a table, and he was sitting between my husband and me.

To demonstrate a bygone era when blokes felt they could take liberties with impunity, he put his hand on my leg – not once, but twice; not fleetingly, but firmly.

There wasn’t the slightest hint of impropriety, and I was in no way offended. It was simply a parodic gesture. Yet it did seem ironic that, in a discussion about boundaries, he had unthinkingly crossed one.

Lest this sound as if men are always the ones who go overboard on the demonstrative front, I’ve seen women smother men like gravy on

a roast.

Clearly it’s not a gender issue, but one of personal preference and temperament.

Other than with those I’m fond of and close to, my natural default is on the lines of an MoD firing range: high fences, red flags, and a buffer zone as broad as Coldingham moor. Approach with caution, is the message, and only if you have been authorized to do so.

If you want to greet a long-lost colleague or neighbour, what’s wrong with a handshake or a smile? When did the rules change and we found ourselves encouraged – indeed expected – to zoom in nice and close?

I blame joining the European Union. After 1973 we caught the continental habit of kissing both cheeks.

Friends returning from Geneva introduced my family to the triple kiss, though we tolerated rather than copied this extravagance. So, now, what was once reserved for family, friends and those dearest to us is so commonplace it has robbed the gesture of meaning.

Carried away with the zeitgeist, I was guilty of misjudging the mood recently with a fairly new friend. I moved towards him, and saw every muscle clench.

And his body language was right. There is no need to be so familiar.

To be fair, nature’s bear-huggers rarely intend to make icicles like me feel uncomfortable.

Most cases of super-friendliness are well meant, not an act of harassment or territorial infringement.

Increasingly, though, I can’t help feeling wistful for a bit of old-fashioned formality.

At one point there was no question of kissing or back-slapping or clasping someone as if they’d

just been rescued from a shipwreck.

Why can’t we turn back the clock to a time when repression did not have a bad name; a time when embarrassment was as respected as the 10 commandments, and nobody would have dreamed of tip-toeing past people’s invisible – but oh so palpable – personal perimeter?

Wasn’t it simpler and less confusing and all-round better when we were a little frosty?