Mary Killen

Your Problems Solved | 1 February 2003

Etiquette advice from The Spectator's Miss Manners

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Dear Mary...

Q. The story of Red Chris in last week's issue brings to mind another tricky issue about house parties, and that is the subject of bringing presents. As a host who occasionally entertains in the country, I do not expect guests to arrive with a gift but am nevertheless delighted to receive one if they do. My pleasure does not, however, extend to receiving second-hand goods. A good friend of mine, the owner of a hilltop estate in Wiltshire and a schloss in Austria, recently came to stay with his wife and four children, and presented me with a box containing a small bar of soap and three bottles of bath unguents, all inscribed 'The Franklin Hotel', along with a miniature bottle of whisky from the hotel mini-bar. Any ideas as to how I might make him realise what a cheapskate he is without spoiling a valued friendship?

R.C., London NW6

A. Next time you are a guest in this friend's schloss, why not punish him with an unsuitable house present of your own? Give him a Kensington Market-style junkie/hippie pencil-case-sized zip bag with mirrored beads, costing roughly £3.99, saying that it is a 'remote-control cover' for his television set. He will be unable to resist expressing surprise at the impracticality of the item, at which point you can feign dismay, saying, 'Oh, but I thought you and I had an ongoing joke ...about giving each other useless presents!'

Q. Re last week's inquiry from the newly commissioned officer suffering from 'containment' problems during formal dinner nights, your solution would, of course, work only in Scottish regiments where the capacious kilt, and indeed the enormous sporran, allow for extraneous apparatus. In any other regiment officers wear very tight overall trousers, shaped to the wearer's leg and strapped underneath mess Wellington boots. The only remedy in this case would be to order vastly oversized boots and lead a forked catheter into them, at the risk of considerable pain to his invaded parts and of betraying himself by squishing obtrusively while exuding a rank odour of fluids mixed with boot polish. One can only wonder what regiment the inquirer comes from, and question how they admitted someone with so little moral fibre and such an inelastic bladder. This elasticity, combined with a robust liver, has long been considered the mark of a gentleman.

Burro Sahib, London WC1

A. You are correct in stating that the elastic bladder is the mark of a gentleman, yet there are also many gentlemen of artistic or sensitive natures whose imagination works overtime on such occasions. Often, when they are finally in a position to achieve relief, they find that quantities fall far short of what they imagined was queuing for expulsion. Nevertheless, Bard's 'Urisleeve' is designed to fit snugly over the area of the leg in question, applying an even pressure and distribution to avoid detection. Perhaps you yourself are secretly concerned about this matter. Why not call Bard's nurse for confidential advice on 0800 591783?

Q. After my mother's funeral, I wrote a letter of thanks to her cleaner (who helped to look after her in her final illness and of whom she was very fond). As my mother would have wished, I enclosed £200 in cash. I put the letter through her door four months ago, but have since heard nothing. Is it too late to make some inquiry, or should I let it go?

C.T., Southsea, Hampshire

A. Agonise no further. Your mother's cleaner would hardly be surprised were you to telephone her to thank her once again for her care of your mother, and to find out how she is and whether she has managed to find alternative employment. After five minutes or so of generalised chat, round off the call by saying, 'And you got the £200?' in cheery, non-accusatory tones. If you fail to do this, you will never know whether the money was intercepted.