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Dear Mary

Dear Mary…

Etiquette advice from The Spectator's Miss Manners

17 January 2007

5:43 PM

17 January 2007

5:43 PM

Q. Is there a tactful way to invite certain favourite old friends to dinner but without their partners? I have no wish to exclude or be cruel to anyone, but I know from personal experience that sometimes people are only too happy to go out separately. My own husband, for example, is delighted to be excused a drunken dinner if he has already booked in to play bridge somewhere else. Yet I always feel I must invite both members of a couple to avoid hurting feelings, and assume that most people feel they should both accept an invitation for the same reason.
A.E., Pewsey, Wilts

A. Why not pretend to be slightly stupider than your friends give you credit for and throw a series of astrological theme parties? Let us say your favourite old friend is a Capricorn. As long as his wife’s birthday does not also fall between 21 December and 21 January, then you can safely ring up, giggling childishly, to invite him to a Capricorns-only dinner party. You can repeat this formula as often as is necessary, saying you are working your way through the zodiac so that you can observe whether there are any personal characteristics that the various star signs have in common. Most people enjoy the novelty of dining without their usual partner.

Q. I sometimes do the school run, collecting our five-year-old son and that of a neighbour, the latter being a rather bossy, precocious child. Before Christmas he sang ‘Jingle Bells, Stephen Smells’, from the back seat, gleefully, much to the delight of my son who is his junior by eight months. I, of course, am Stephen. I found myself at a total loss as to how to counter this from the driving seat, torn as I was between seeing the funny side and being annoyed at his complete lack of respect or indeed fear of me. What might I do to curb his impudence? The school run begins again next week.
S.S., Midhurst, West Sussex

A. Next time you collect the boy from his mother deliver a pleasant announcement that you would like briefly to run through the Highway Code for car passengers. Make the boys chant, ‘The driver is the most important person in the car. The passengers must not make the driver laugh or make him cross. Our life is in his hands.’ Should the boy offend again you can bore him by pulling over and making him repeat the Highway Code to your satisfaction before you resume driving. It will do no harm to instill at an early age the lesson that someone in a car has to do the concentrating. It is not helpful to have to do this against a distracting background of partying passengers.
Q. Following your advice on hair colouring last week may I pass on a tip to readers? You can use waterproof black mascara to make emergency repairs to the roots of coloured black hairlines if there is no time to go to the salon.
A.C., London W11

A. Thank you for this thoughtful tip.

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