Mary Killen

Your Problems Solved | 14 August 2004

Etiquette advice from The Spectator's Miss Manners

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Dear Mary...

Q. What is the correct attitude to strike when a friend regularly inquires whether one has read the latest issue of The Spectator, the purpose of the inquiry being to draw one’s attention to correspondence from that person in the issue in question? As the friendship is dear, I would welcome your advice on a suitable, gentle put-down.

J.V.B., St Peter Port, Guernsey

A. This all sounds very Pooterish and I am tempted to tick you off for mean-spiritedness. However, you may have supplied me with insufficient detail, so I will give you the benefit of the doubt. Why not reply with enthusiasm, ‘Yes, and I saw your letter and I started reading it and then something distracted me. Thanks for reminding me about that. I will make a point of finishing reading it.’ This should take the wind out of your dear friend’s sails and serve as a gentle put-down — if you have reason to believe one is called for.

Q. Each week when I read The Spectator I find that there are always one or two articles which are so erudite, lucid, pertinent or amusing that I cannot bring myself to throw them away. I feel that I must tear them out and keep them to reread in the future. My problem is that I keep finding mouldering heaps of these treasures buried under other things, or in folders or boxes where I have made some attempt to store them properly. Needless to say, they remain un-reread. Can you suggest either a way for me to keep this collection in order, or a way for me to cure myself of this hoarding compulsion?

K.S., Sydney, Australia

A. I am grateful to Judith Russell in the Aldeburgh Bookshop for the following solution to this problem, which besets many bookmen and academics. Set aside a backstairs lavatory for the specific purpose of processing all the unread articles that are giving you grief. Equip the lavatory with a pot of wallpaper paste and move the pile of unread newsprint in there. You could wallpaper the whole room with unread articles, but it would be more realistic to paste up around 2,000 words of newsprint at a time, within easy reading distance of the lavatory, and train yourself not to leave the room until you have read all the words, even if you have completed your ‘business’. In this way you will be free to paste up more print on top of the article you have read and leave it to dry in readiness for your next visit. The increasing thickness of the wall opposite the lavatory, contrasted with the diminishing pile of newsprint, will give you a daily sense of achievement.

Q. We are staying in a beachside house party in Cornwall with nine children. The local ice creams are delicious but too costly (at £18 per day if they have two daily). Can you suggest a cheap and cheerful pudding that anyone can knock up in no time?

C.B., Padstow, Cornwall

A. Chop four man-sized bananas into circlets and place in ovenproof dish. Cover with apple juice and sprinkle on a tablespoon of grated almonds. Then mix eight ounces of roughly hewn porridge oats with four of butter and four of sugar for the topping and bake in a medium oven until the top looks crispy. Children cannot get enough of this dish — particularly if you call it Cornish Crumble.