Mary Killen

Dear Mary: How do I tell my neighbour she’s let herself go in lockdown?

Dear Mary: How do I tell my neighbour she’s let herself go in lockdown?
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Q. Recently an old acquaintance, notorious for never penning a ‘thank you’ note, emailed me telling me he was being nominated for an honour and asking would I support the nomination. Immediately I emailed back my agreement. Subsequently I was contacted by his sponsor and I sent the requested letter of support by return. To my disappointment, I have received no thanks nor even an acknowledgement from nominee or sponsor. Mary, how should I give them a tap on the shoulder to alert them to their bad manners?

— Name and address withheld

A. As you should know — having been honoured yourself — the person being nominated should theoretically not know of his or her nomination, and practically should pretend not to know. To behave as your correspondent has done is a disqualifying solecism. If you have already provided your letter of support it is too late to do anything about it — you should have known better.

Q. A village woman, who lives alone, walks through my right-of-way most days. I am fond of this woman and we usually have a chat about the weather or other bland subjects, but we are not friends as such. I am concerned she has begun to let herself go — she wears the same skirt every day and the hem is muddy. Her glasses are so heavily smeared I am surprised that she can see through them. Mary, I feel that lockdown may be getting to her, but how can I enquire if all is well without sounding de haut en bas?

— Name withheld, Glos.

A. Find a pair of glasses lying around your house, smear them heavily and have them ready to wear next time you see her on the right-of-way. As you chat you can then observe: ‘Oh my goodness, your glasses are almost as bad as mine! I’ve just realised why I can’t see anything. Oh dear, I find myself letting myself go during this lockdown, do you?’ By first focusing the rebuke on to yourself, you can open up the discussion without her feeling personally offended.

Q. May I be permitted to add to your correspondence regarding the correct phrase to say to a person who has neglected their dress? I am old enough to remember ancient public lavatories which boasted a sign ‘Please adjust your dress upon leaving’ which led this (then young) boy to assume for a while that transvestism was more prevalent in Victorian society than was the case. I have always used a part of the Communion Service from the Book of Common Prayer 1662: ‘We have left undone those things which we ought to have done.’ I do hope this helps.

— M.R., Bruton, Somerset

A. Thank you for supplying this material. Perhaps — if the offender does not take the hint — a more forceful: ‘You have left undone…?’