Mary Killen

Your Problems Solved | 13 December 2003

As a Christmas treat, Mary has once again invited some of her favourite celebrities to share their intimate anxieties with readers

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Dear Mary...

From the Rt Hon. Michael Howard, QC, MP

Q. A friend of mine was walking up St James’s recently behind a girl with a stunning figure. Admiring her form, he happened to notice, somewhat to his alarm, that her tightly fitting trousers were slowly beginning to split. If he speeded up his steps and tapped her on the shoulder to tell her, she might have assumed that it was an advance and delivered a resounding slap. If he slowed down his steps or crossed to the other side of the road, he was leaving her to face embarrassment in a shop or her place of work. What was his best course of action in this delicate situation?

A. It would have been considerate for your friend to quicken his pace so as to overtake the girl. Passing her without breaking step, he could have said cheerily, ‘Bad luck. You’ve picked up some wet paint on your trousers.’ This remark would have been sufficient for her to find full mirror access to her own back view, at which point she would have seen the real problem. By this time, your friend would have been out of embarrassment range.

From Sean Rafferty, Broadcasting House, London, W1

Q. On an outing from Broadcasting House, In Tune, the show on Radio Three that I present each evening, exchanged the stygian gloom of its basement studio for the gilded splendour of Buckingham Palace. Naturally, the team looked resplendent and behaved impeccably, but I feel that I may have made something of a faux pas. We were celebrating the restoration of the organ with a live broadcast from the ballroom. While one of the royal household was describing one of the gifts Her Majesty had been given (a particularly hideous metal and Limoges wine-cooler in the shape of an insect, given by President Mitterrand) a large gentleman crashed on to the floor in front of us. I though he’d had a heart attack, but it turned out that the gilded chair he was perched on had simply disintegrated under the strain of his restless buttocks. Should we have stopped and offered assistance? We actually stepped over him, and carried on talking.

A. There were, no doubt, plenty of footmen on hand to give medical assistance, and you were correct not to make vulgar mileage out of the incident by milking it for melodrama. This would have been bad form. Besides which, the absence of aurally jarring advertisements and other disturbing content in your cocktail-hour programme is the very reason why listeners find it such a soothing contrast to other classical stations.

From Boris Johnson, London SW1

Q. Often I have to travel a long way to make speeches on behalf of a great political party and return late at night by train. In my exhausted state I sometimes can’t help falling asleep with my mouth open, thus risking votes in key marginals. What can I do to spare my fellow passengers this unpleasant sight? Is there a form of dental adhesive available to keep my upper and lower jaws decorously clenched?

A. I have consulted my dentist, who informs me that a set of adult-sized removable dental plates, as worn by young children trying to correct mal-aligned jaws, could be knocked up for you. The lower plate locks on to the lower jaw and the upper plate to the upper jaw. Linking elastic bands breed a resistance in the jaw to dropping open. You could carry the bespoke devices with you so as to be prepared at all times. Alternatively why not purchase one of those widely available blow-up travel pillows as worn by nerds on aeroplanes? Wear this back to front and it will keep your jaw firmly shut. But I should not worry. Part of your appeal is that you are not conventionally attractive.

From Rowley Leigh, Kensington Place,

London W11

Q. Although perfectly housetrained and with a charming wife, because I am a chef of minor distinction it seems impossible for anyone ever to invite us out to dinner for fear of not coming up to my high standards. However much I assure people that I am perfectly happy with a tin of baked beans and a bottle of Algerian red, invitations still do not seem forthcoming. Is there anything I can do in the interests of my wife’s social life?

A. The threat of your presence at the dining tables of the insecure is far worse than the reality. Get your foot in the door of the friends you wish to target by claiming to have over-catered for a charity event with some extremely simple-to-cook dish. (I understand that each year you knock up some child-friendly hamburgers, veggie burgers and fishburgers as a charitable act for the local Fox School fete.) Can you drop them off at this friend’s house and then come along later and tuck into them? As you consume whichever pudding course or starter they have arranged for you, groan with pleasure as you ram home the point that any food you haven’t had to think about or cook for yourself always tastes absolutely delicious.

From Patrick Leigh Fermor, Greece

Q. I have often wondered what happened to the marvellous ships’ chandlers Captain O.M. Watts, which used to be in Dover Street? Can you help me, Mary?

A. There was a wonderful sale in the shop a couple of years ago, after which it closed down — no doubt for the usual reasons. Proper admiralty charts were sold at a fraction of their true worth. Now people get their chandlery, ropes, beacons, flares, shackles and all the bits that go on boats from catalogues. Jimmy Green, whose advertisements appear in most yachting mags, is one catalogue whose contents are favoured by a sea-going person of my acquaintance.