Mary Killen Mary Killen

Dear Mary | 7 January 2012

Your problems solved

Q. My nice young London terrace neighbour, whose total rebuilding works are eight months old now, with plenty still to go, has mailed me to express the hope that the last few months have not been too painful. How can I let him know about the constant noise, dirt and dust, the wafting Polish cigarette smoke, the occasional drilling at 8.01 on a Saturday morning, the whole inconsiderate (and I accept inevitable) continuum of it, without falling out with him?
—A.B., London SW18

A. You can assume his overture is a coded request for comments. Make your benevolence towards him clear by saying the disruption is a price worth paying to have such a welcome new neighbour. Then ask: has he thought that inexpensive plastic screens could ameliorate the noise and dust or that perhaps there should be a moratorium on work till 9 a.m. on Saturday mornings?

Q. Your urgent advice is required. A colleague of mine has been invited to dinner at Chequers. She is concerned about her lack of knowledge of politics, particularly as she has been given to understand that several members of the Cabinet may be present. My husband has found a handful of back issues of the Spectator and recommended she reads James Forsyth’s columns for some insight into right-wing political thinking, but I am worried that this may not see her through the whole evening. Please can you recommend some general conversational topics that she can revise prior to the event?
—Name and address withheld

A. Your friend would do far better to remain in blissful ignorance. So rarely do members of the Cabinet have the opportunity to engage in lowbrow chatter that a lightweight at the table will come as a blessed relief.

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