Mary Killen

Dear Mary | 20 September 2018

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Q. A neighbour, a wonderful old friend in his late eighties, is a marvellous raconteur. As a family we have enjoyed his company for years. Our problem is that our children have entered their mid-teens and become pompous and intolerant. When we entertain at lunchtime they and their friends ruin the atmosphere by trying to gag our friend, complaining that his remarks are racist, homophobic, snobbish — the works. They particularly object to his imitation of foreign accents, one of his party turns. We love our children but this is causing tension at the table. What do you suggest?

— E.D.G., Calne

A. Explain to your children that it is in their own interest to humour your friend by laughing along with his jokes. It doesn’t mean they approve of them. He is a member of an endangered species and they are fortunate to witness living history in action. 

Q. I live in a small village famous for its castle. Despite being a popular place for newcomers and retirees alike, there appears to be a growing trend to carry out noisy gardening and building work on a Sunday, at all hours. I obviously do not wish to identify myself as a ‘killjoy’ and everyone knows how village politics can cause long-lasting resentment, but I would like to request a little more consideration from those who appear to ignore others in their neighbourhood. I understood the unwritten rule was ‘Saturday, never before ten, and not after four’, but never on a Sunday!

— Name and address withheld.

A. First make the investment of an Ad Astra portable megaphone (£9 from Astounded Entertainment). Next select a site not in your own garden, and enlist the help of an anonymous visitor (a friend of yours). This person should bellow through the megaphone ‘PLEASE switch off that machine. It’s breaking council by-laws.’ It probably isn’t without a special injunction but that’s because nobody has applied for one (for fear of identifying themselves as a killjoy). However, in towns and cities building work is restricted to 8 a.m. to 6 p.m, Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, and never on Sunday.

Q. For the benefit of your correspondent who thought she should supply sticky dots for guests to put on glasses: I lived in Switzerland for years, where you could buy small silver metal charms — all different, rather like Monopoly tokens — on a chain, to put around the stems of glasses so guests can identify their own.

— J.C., by email.

A. Thank you for this suggestion. Of course it is quite a different business in Switzerland, where the prevailing ethos is of tidiness. Nevertheless, I ran the suggestion past my correspondent. Her response was the charms would be ‘way too twee and the noise of tinkling would be maddening’.