Mary Killen Mary Killen

Dear Mary: Help! My stepmother uses fabric conditioner

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Q. My father missed my mother so much after 50 years together that, following her death, he married again. I make every effort with my new stepmother but we have nothing in common. To be frank, common is the operative word. What I really mind is that when he and I meet alone for our weekly lunches, this distinguished man now reeks of the fabric conditioner with which she washes his clothes. He lost his sense of smell years ago so has no idea what he smells like. How can I tell her that in the world into which she has married, fabric conditioner is never used?

– Name and address withheld

A. Say nothing. If you do, you risk your stepmother having an excuse to fall out with you and thereby limit your meetings with your father. Instead purchase a product called ‘Poo-Pourri’. This lipstick-sized spray is designed primarily for bathroom use but also works very well in neutralising other odours. Blitz his back discreetly while you are hugging and his front while his head is turned as he tries to attract a waiter’s attention.

Q. Invitations to lunch, often with travelling involved, more or less take out a whole day and I don’t like big lunches anyway. Even after turning them down several times on false grounds of ‘previous commitments’, friends still insist on finding a suitable date, so in the end there’s no escape. How can I reply to these invitations and, please God, stop them without hurting people?

– B.P., Winchester, Hampshire

A. Another reader has successfully navigated this difficulty by carefully developing a reputation for never being available at lunchtime. This she has achieved during other social occasions, walks, dinners, cinema outings etc. Example: a name comes up. ‘Oh I love X. I was sorry to miss her lunch the other day but I can never do lunches.

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