Mary Killen

Dear Mary | 21 November 2009

Your problems solved

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Q. I have a son at day school in London. Every couple of weeks or so, one or other of his friends will invite him to their 18th birthday party. Because we have met many of the parents over the years, my husband and I are often invited too. While we are more than happy to drop our son off and stay for an hour at one of these parties for a bit of bonding in his milieu, we always make it clear that we cannot stay for longer. The problem is that the host parents — who are, of course, desperate for adult company — often put great pressure on us to stay. Not only does our son not want us cramping his style for the whole evening, but we really cannot give up the time. We are often half-tempted to stay but know we will regret it the next day. How, without causing offence, can we be firm about leaving when the time comes round?

K.P., London NW10

A. Turn up at these parties in fancy dress. This will speak louder than words in conveying your unavailability to stay on at the 18th for the full evening because you are clearly expected elsewhere. It will also help the other parents not to conflate your departure with a failure of their personal charm. In this way you will have no trouble making a graceful exit when the time is right.

Q. Re. I.B., London SW3 (23 May) and A.S.W., Australia (12 September). What do you do when you have more manners than your host at the dining table? I would always instinctively stand up when a lady leaves the table (or comes back to it), but I find it increasingly embarrassing when no other male guest bothers, starting with the lady’s husband and host. Should I forget about it so as not to cause embarrassment on four fronts (the lady, the host, the other male crowd and myself)?

J.P.G., London SE5

 A. You must continue to jolt the dozy other males out of their complacency. It is good for them to be reminded that these rituals of courtesy are just as important as dressing up, stiff linen napkins, sparkling glasses and culinary excellence. Enhancing the sense of occasion in this way will, in the long run, make them happier since it will force them to consider their good fortune to be enjoying the company of others at a dinner table in the first place. 

Q. How can I impress on my family — a wife and three children — that leaving lights on unnecessarily is really quite a serious crime? Despite multiple lectures, every Friday night when I drive back from London after working like a slave for a week, I round the corner of our drive and as I approach the house I see the whole place lit up like a cruise liner. None of them seems to think there is anything odd about, for example, leaving all the lights on upstairs when no one is up there. It makes me despair.

Name and address withheld

A. You must punish your family by having a pay-meter installed, as used in low-income households. It will be a nuisance for you but when your offending family members have to install coins into a meter every hour, and when they experience sudden blackouts, it will soon bring them to their senses.

If you have a problem write to Dear Mary, c/o The Spectator, 22 Old Queen Street, London SW1H 9HP.