Mary Killen

Your Problems Solved | 15 January 2005

Etiquette advice from The Spectator's Miss Manners

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Dear Mary...

Q. What should a host do when two sets of guests are at daggers drawn? It was supposed to be a jolly house party last weekend but my sister plus family of four got on very badly with a colleague of my wife’s who had brought his family of four. The atmosphere went sour following a row over the three-minute silence, but this was really just a mask for the general dyspepsia suffered by my wife’s colleague, who drinks and eats too much and whose business is going badly. The general merriment and air of celebration which should have prevailed was effectively stymied by the stand-off. How can a host make sure people who never really meant to fall out in the first place can make friends again and still save face?

H.S., Dorset

A. For those who give large house parties it is always a good idea to keep in stock a number of scripts which can be photocopied and used for domestic play-reading entertainment. In this way the members of the ‘cast’ can transfer their aggression on to arguments about role-assignment and delivery, to say nothing of the acting out of the roles themselves. This is a way of allowing dyspeptic people to vent their spleen without it being taken personally by those upon whom it is vented, since the whole business can be passed off as being the result of possessing an artistic temperament. You will find that all manner of personal upsets can be channelled to cathartic release through the medium of play-reading in a private home. Once the veiled aggression has been expressed, the guests can get on with enjoying each other’s company without feeling residual resentment.

Q. We have a new daily lady but despite our having made it absolutely clear that she should never unplug my son’s computer, she keeps doing it, even when she has not used the Hoover in the room in question. I do not want to lose this daily (even though she costs £10 per hour, which is apparently now the going rate) but my son, aged 11, is furious because he gets to a certain point in his games and the unplugging takes him back to square one. Like all dailies, she is very touchy and I am almost afraid to raise the subject again, because the last time I did so she replied that she would not come again if we did not like the way she did her work.

W.F., London NW3

A. Dailies do have an unfortunate tendency to unplug things. Just as they leave paintings cocked at off-beam angles to prove that they have dusted along the top, and bath taps turned to shower mode so that the next person innocently to try to run a bath is doused, they like to unplug things in a room to show they have been scrupulous about fire risks. This is because they often believe that fires will break out if electrical appliances are left plugged in. You can retrain your daily by explaining to her that since her last visit your son has had a new accelerator built into his computer, which must be left plugged in at all times — if not, an explosion will occur. Although this is illogical, there is no reason for her not to believe it. After all, if she were computer literate she would not be working as a daily. Take the additional precaution of taping the plug to the wall with DANGER written on the tape, and you should soon see an end to the nuisance.