Mary Killen

Your Problems Solved | 10 May 2003

Etiquette advice from The Spectator's Miss Manners

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Dear Mary...

Q. My wife and I are actors, and therefore we are at home most of the day. We have a Brazilian cleaning man who comes for three hours at a time three days a week. Our problem is that for a full half-hour of each of these sessions he occupies the downstairs loo. Since we are paying him £10 an hour, we feel it's a bit off to have to pay £5 for him to stink the house out. Can you tell us: 1) is it a Brazilian custom to go to the loo for half an hour at a time? 2) how we can tactfully tell him that we would appreciate his doing his business in his own home before coming to us?

Name withheld, London NW1

A. I am no expert on the time-and-motion (so to speak) query that you raise with regard to the Brazilian race in general. However, it is a mistake to ask dailies to come in for more than two hours at a time. All dailies assume an entitlement of a 30-minute tea break for every three hours worked. Perhaps you don't offer this refreshment, and the daily is sulkily taking his break anyway? Change his hours to four days a week at two hours at a time, and the problem will resolve itself.

Q. I wonder if you can help. I have been summoned to attend a general diocesan synod meeting. These gatherings of more than 800 clergy and laity are dull in the extreme. Such issues as 'The report of the Strategic Planning Task team on human relations' and 'The official policy on fairness, simplicity and transparency within the Cape Town diocese' will all be featured. How can I ensure I survive this five-day ordeal with my wit and Christian faith intact? On previous occasions I have tried the schoolboy ruses of arriving late, sitting behind pillars or sitting at the back, but all to no avail.

R.F., Cape Town, South Africa

A. Sadly, an enormous number of wrong decisions are taken literally on the nod, as those with the power to vote against them have nodded off through boredom. Why not keep your brain alert by using an old tip employed by an informant of mine, a former clerk at the House of Lords? In preparation for sitting at the table of the House listening to dull debates, he would cut up a paperback thriller, punch holes in the margins and fit the pages into a ring-back folder. He would thereby give the impression of studying the contents of a file of relevant documents while actually reading an enjoyable book. Give yourself a target of ten or 20 pages at a time – then a listening break – to ensure that you are not missing out on anything vital.

Q. I am only 48 but I have a terrible problem with cr'pe neck. I do not wish to have a full facelift yet. What can I do in the short term, Mary?

R.B., Norfolk

A. Toupée tape is used by Hollywood stars wearing skimpy dresses to events like the Oscars in an attempt to keep their bosoms looking as though they are naturally upright. As long as you do not have short hair, you can use this incredibly strong tape to wrench your cr'pe neck back for special occasions. As the tape is double-sided, you will need to put a strip of Elastoplast over the outer side.