Mary Killen Mary Killen

Dear Mary | 17 October 2009

Your problems solved

Q. I recently went to a birthday dinner. The tables were very big and round, meaning that conversation was only really possible with the people sitting on either side of you. The man on my right, however — someone I had never met before — had something very large nesting in the hair of his left nostril. With the best will in the world, I thought I might be sick if I were to turn, as I should have done, and so I hardly talked to him at all. I did not want to be rude and feel very guilty. Mary, how would you have tackled this problem?

R.J., London W11

A. Readers will empathise with your revulsion. Yet the truth is that everyone would prefer to be told, even if it has to be by someone they have just met. You can break the news prettily by sourcing two tissues. Handing one to the offender confide, ‘Apparently you and I need to blow our noses. Isn’t it embarrassing?’ Look away as you blow your nose. He will certainly blow his. Refuse to be drawn on who said so. Just start chatting. The important thing is that with you appearing to have been in the same boat, he can exchange humiliation for camaraderie.

Q. My friends have started saying, ‘You’ve already told me that story.’ I admit that I drink too much and probably talk too much but how on earth can one keep track of which anecdotes — some of which, if I say it myself, are highly amusing, and well worth listening to a second time — one has already told when one has a very active social life? I am 73.

Name and address withheld

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