Mary Killen

Your problems solved

Etiquette advice from The Spectator's Miss Manners

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Dear Mary...

Q. Last year my husband and I bought a house on Exmoor which came with two cottages superfluous to our needs. We have been renting these out as holiday lets. Out of six recent lettings three of the punters, all of whom appeared happy while they were in situ, complained retrospectively and asked for money back and/or free weeks in the future. One complained of having been kept awake by an owl, another complained that she had been disappointed by the cottage because of the amount of Ikea furniture. We are sure that punters are just ‘trying it on’. How can we outwit future chancers?

Name and address withheld

A. Landlords should try to furnish their holiday-let properties from country auctions rather than from Ikea, as the McDonald’s-style ubiquity of Ikea furniture in such cottages is understandably depressing and rather defeats the point of hiring a country ‘retreat’*. Even so, this is not a case where compensation would be appropriate. One way for a landlord to outwit bogus compensation-seekers is to supply the rustic property with a visitors’ book. Visitors generally adore leaving reams of descriptive prose about the area and how much they have enjoyed their stay, often embellishing these with illustrations, and so on.They then forget about these eulogies. Later, when they have returned home and decide to go for compensation, the landlord can simply take a copy of their entry in the visitors’ book and send it to them with a simple note to the effect of ‘some mistake here, surely’. This usually nips compensation-seeking in the bud. *Remember that upholstered furniture must comply with fire-prevention regulations.

Q. Re double-breasted suits (22 November). The double-breasted suit has one particular merit. If (when) one develops what the Australians call the ‘veranda over the toy shop’, the DBS automatically becomes single.

C.B., Barkway, Herts

A. Thank you for giving readers a laugh.

Q. Re handshakes (6 December). To avoid the agony of a brutal handshake, press your thumb between the thumb and forefinger of the other person so that he (or she) cannot exert pressure on your hand. I hope this will do the trick!

G.B.C., Belfast

A. Thank you for this tip, which readers may find useful despite the fact that I was unable to come to grips with it myself.

Q. As a Christmas card, a friend of mine sent out a picture of herself and her husband in a helicopter with their new country house in the background. How should I gently point out that this was a lapse in taste?

Name and address withheld

A. Chat about cards in general, then throw in, ‘You didn’t send any Christmas cards this year, did you?’ When she replies that, on the contrary, you must surely have noticed the picture of her with her chopper, etc., you should reply, ‘But surely that wasn’t a Christmas card?’ and then remain silent as she struggles to make a connection between this boastcard and the Christmas message.