The Spectator's Mary Killen — otherwise known as 'Dear Mary' — was on Radio 4's Today programme this morning discussing whether or not it was right for a Sainsbury's checkout assistant to refuse to serve a customer who was on her mobile phone. Here's the clip from this morning's programme, and below we've put together some of our favourite Dear Mary dilemmas of the last six months.
Q. I was sitting in a South West train the other day. A woman across the aisle was making nonstop calls into her mobile phone, speaking very loudly in what sounded to me like Cantonese. I found it excruciating. I could not think, I could not read, I could not do anything. I did not want to give up my window seat and move to another carriage. I finally flipped, went over and said, ‘Could you please speak more quietly?’ The woman looked very surprised and quite angry but from then on she spent the rest of the journey texting. I found the incident exhausting. It was 30 minutes or so before it was resolved, so I wondered if there is a way in which it is possible to tip people off — right at the very beginning of their first call — that they are speaking far too loudly?
A.C., Beaminster, Dorset
A. This problem can be remedied in homeopathic form. Ring your own mobile from your own mobile. Since you are engaged, it will go instantly to answerphone. Instead of leaving a message let the mobile pick up the offender’s squawking for 60 seconds or so. Then dial in for your messages and play this one on loudspeaker. Hearing his or her own voice squawking out will disconcert the offender to the extent that the solution is instantly resolved.
Q. I am absolutely fed up with the non-arrival of spring. Is there anything that you can do to help, Mary?
A.B., London W8
A. Based on the ‘carry a heavy umbrella and it will not rain’ principle, go out and buy thermal underwear, gloves and a winter coat up to the value of £500. If funds will stretch, invest in a sledge. Spring will follow in a couple of hours.
Q. Is it acceptable to admit that you don’t ‘do’ anything? Or should one pretend to be writing a book or attending a course at the V&A or some such? I am afraid I just play bridge all day and sometimes I even go abroad to do it.
Name and address withheld
A. So long as you are not playing the game online, and have to get yourself up and dressed and go out and about to play, then freely admit to it. Those in religious orders who ‘just’ pray have no qualms about admitting it. The mental gym aspects of bridge-playing could accredit it as positive intellectual exercise. Bridge can also be praised because it promotes social cohesion of the sort not revolving around vested interests. Many friendships are symbiotic — based on shared school runs or job advancement — but bridge allows you to meet friends from a wider, less predictable sphere. If you feel guilty about not generating commercial gain from your activity, then assuage your conscience by giving the occasional lesson for which you charge.
Q. I need a new passport but Snappy Snaps told me that I cannot have a fringe in the photograph. My whole look is based around my heavy fringe and I just don’t suit not having one… I cannot face having a hideous passport picture for ten years.
A. The rule is no hair ‘across your eyes’. Blow-dry your fringe around a hairbrush to bring it level with the top of your eyebrows. Then avoid the risk of cock-ups or delay by paying the stealth tax at the Post Office to have someone check your application form and photos before you send them off. It costs £72.50 to use your own brain and £81.25 for the Post Office’s check-and-send service.
Q. I have been writing a series of ‘cosy’ Victorian murder mysteries featuring Oscar Wilde and Arthur Conan Doyle as my Holmes and Watson. Doing my research, I came across a dinner — a real dinner — at which the six diners were Wilde and Conan Doyle (they met in 1889 at the Langham Hotel), Willie Hornung, Bram Stoker, Robert Louis Stevenson and the young J.M. Barrie. Since discovering the existence of a dinner at which the men who created Peter Pan, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Dracula, Raffles and Sherlock Holmes broke bread together, I have found every social gathering I go to a terrible disappointment. I’m there thinking, ‘I know you’re the prime minister and that’s marvellous, of course, but you haven’t created one of the great mythic characters of world literature, have you?’ Everyone is a letdown. What am I to do?
A. Is there any evidence that the celebrated gathering was actually a jolly occasion? Or even a stimulating one? Wilde may have created Dorian Gray and Lady Bracknell but he always claimed to have put his real genius into his life rather than into this work — and that, of course, was what made him such a wonderful dinner companion. But what of the others? There is no guarantee that the creator of Harry Potter or Super Mario would be more fun than your own old friends. But why not put your delusion to rest by inviting J.K. Rowling, Ian Rankin, etc, to a dinner party and see for yourself if they talk about anything more interesting than London property prices?