Mary Killen Mary Killen

Dear Mary | 7 February 2009

Your problems solved

Q. A friend and I have been working in the new Eliot Reading Room of the London Library and are very pleased with it (the Ladies’ in particular is very swish) but there is one drawback. A bespectacled man of Chinese appearance is in everyday, chomping his way through packets of gum, and making the most annoying series of clacking and liquid chewing noises as he derives maximum oral satisfaction from his unsightly habit. As he is also plugged into his MP3 player, we assume he is blissfully unaware of the intolerable aural pollution he emits. Obviously we all feel like killing him, but do you have any better suggestions?

Name and address withheld

A. Your friend should take up a position at the same table as the offender. She too should chew gum loudly, making eye contact with him and smiling. After a few moments you should rise from a nearby table waving a rolled-up newspaper and making good-natured swipes at your friend’s head while pointing to her mouth. She should mime gestures of contrition and remove her gum into a tissue. Then, breaking the Reading Room’s rule of silence, she should lean towards her neighbour and whisper, ‘Sorry about that disturbance. I had no idea it was bad form to chew gum in the Reading Room. Had you?’

Q. Huge numbers of my friends seem to have flu at the moment which makes planning a dinner party very difficult. Just when you have settled on the eight or ten people and sorted out the seating plan someone will ring to say they have flu or someone else will ring to say they have recovered and can they come after all. The trouble is that the ones recovering outnumber the ones dropping out.

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