Q. As a boy I was taught to stand up when a lady enters or leaves the room or indeed when she leaves and returns to the table in a restaurant. I have a new girlfriend and am moving in slightly different circles these days and wonder whether I might inadvertently be ‘giving offence’ to any feisty feminists by maintaining this practice. What is your advice, Mary?
I.B., London SW3
A. It would be an unusually aggressive feminist who would take you to task for this heritage act of courtesy. Should there be aggro, however, just defuse the tension by blaming your age and claiming the habit was so deeply ingrained as to have become a reflex. Meanwhile, carry on. The important thing is that most women really like it.
Q. I have a great friend who lives in the country. As she is a full-time journalist and mother I usually leave it up to her to ring when she’s got a free moment. Her calls are a delight, marred only by her drawing them to a sudden close with some daft fib such as ‘I have just caught sight of my face in the mirror. I must fix it before the guests arrive.’ Or ‘I can hear the neighbours quarrelling. I must go and listen.’ This sounds to me very much like the sort of advice you might have given to her, Mary, and I would much rather she were straightforward with me. Does she really think I am so socially deprived that she cannot just say to me ‘Must stop now’ when she wants to terminate our chats?
A.C., London W8
A. You should not jump to conclusions. It may be that your friend is equally enjoying these calls and is only brought to her senses by background distractions which make her realise that she must get on with her day. Why not pre-empt any further nuisance by suggesting she take a telephone tip from another frantically busy journalist, the late Hugh Massingberd? Massingberd’s arrangement with one of his own closest friends was that he would take the call but when her stories got too long, or he was writing to deadline, he would hang up mid-sentence. Both viewed the agreement as testament to the strength of their friendship.
Q. I am a widow with a 15-year-old daughter. I have been going out with someone for six months but he lives and works abroad and I usually go and see him. On the few occasions when he has come to stay with me and my daughter in England, she has been absolutely poisonous towards him. (She is just jealous. He is a very nice man.) Now he has invited us both to stay with him for a fortnight in the summer in his holiday house in Italy and I am at my wits’ end to know how I can get my daughter to behave on this holiday and prevent her from putting him off me because the ‘baggage’ is too difficult to handle. What can I do, Mary?
Name and address withheld
A. Why not find a gap-year student who can come on holiday with you to give, for example, part-time tennis coaching to you all? If you can find the right youth it will be well worth the investment, as your daughter will moderate her behaviour, cutting back on shrewishness in order to make herself more appealing to someone whose admiration she would probably wish to earn.
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated May 23, 2009