Mary Killen

Your Problems Solved | 12 April 2003

Etiquette advice from The Spectator's Miss Manners

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Dear Mary... Q. My husband's 87-year-old father is greatly enjoying the Iraq war. With an understandable sense of personal invulnerability, he has been sitting in his 'safe house' in Cornwall, watching virtually every news bulletin and revelling in 'the deep satisfaction of seeing rockets hitting their targets', et cetera. We are taking our children, aged 9, 11 and l3, to stay with him for Easter. The house is not particularly big, but he has told us that all normal decorum will be suspended for the duration of the war, so he will have the television on nonstop in the one small sitting-room. Since he is deaf, it will be blaring away. How can we avoid being subjected to this harrowing coverage, which will traumatise our children as well as sickening and boring us?

Name and address withheld A. Many deaf pensioners are unaware that by simply pressing the Ceefax button on their remote control, then 888, they can revert to the channel they were watching and see subtitles scrolling up, even in the case of live news bulletins. Point out to your father-in-law that by doing this and pressing the mute button he can not only have a clearer understanding of what is going on, but he can also continue to enjoy his war pornography without distressing others present in the room. Mute buttons and subtitles are a marvellous way for viewers to distance themselves from the diet of horror and filth on television, as well as a useful tool to allow children to see for themselves the vapidity of certain programmes they might otherwise be transfixed by. Q. May I pass on a tip to readers? Necessity is the mother of invention, as they say, and the other day, staying in a rented cottage and unable to find a tray for my breakfast coffee and fruit (which I have in bed), I used instead a wooden cutlery insert tray of the type that goes into drawers. I found this provided just the stable surface necessary, and that the two-sectioned variety allows one to settle a mug snugly in one side and whatever light breakfast one is having in the other. The limited space available also prevents one from eating too much. I beat a path to the kitchen shop on my return and bought up a few sets of these inserts for my guests, to whom I always bring breakfast in bed. Another advantage - any spillages are contained within the tray.
O.C., Faversham, Kent
A. Thank you for this valuable tip. Cutlery-drawer inserts are also useful for collecting small items of grot in children's bedrooms. They can then be tidied away into stacks. Q. Our cleaning lady seems a bit demoralised recently as our flat is so immaculately clean that there is really nothing for her to do, and I think she feels inadequate. How can I improve her morale?
G.C., London SW7
A. Turn your oven on low at six o'clock on the morning that she is due to arrive. She will then have the huge excitement of seeing you in the wrong, and will be able to say, 'You have left your oven on all night.' The satisfaction of seeing you make a fool of yourself will serve to set her up and put a spring in her step for at least a couple of weeks.