Mary Killen

Your Problems Solved | 16 April 2005

Etiquette advice from The Spectator's Miss Manners

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Dear Mary...

Q. I am a picture framer. The other day I drove up to London to drop off a picture at the house of a client. While I was there, I asked if I could use the loo. Once inside I saw that there were some fairly nasty ‘marks’ in the lavatory itself. For my own purposes it was not necessary to make any contact with the lavatory bowl, so I settled myself swiftly and turned to walk out. As I opened the door I found another man waiting to come in. I did not like to insult my client by making any remark exculpating myself from the mess within, but neither did I wish this man to think that I was responsible for having left it in that state. I am still worrying about this two weeks later. What should I have said or done, Mary?

P.E., Pewsey, Wiltshire

A. This is a notorious problem. On finding lavatories in disarray one should ideally humble oneself and use the brush usually provided. Indeed there is no rule against carrying a brush at all times to be prepared for such eventualities. However, those without the stomach for such a charitable act should discreetly convey their innocence by saying to the would-be incomer, ‘Oh, did you want to use the loo? So did I — but I think I’ll wait till later.’

Q. I was delighted to read your reference to my company with regard to wedding presents for mature couples. Unfortunately, the wrong telephone number was published. It is 01342 823123 and our website remains

K.C., Forest Row, East Sussex

A. I am happy to set the record straight and remind readers looking for presents for mature couples who ‘have everything’ that you can never have enough plants or trees.

Q. Can you settle a dispute? My cousin and I share a flat. She likes to store rice, biscuits, cereals, flour, etcetera in Kilner jars and there are serried ranks of them in our shared kitchen. I instinctively feel that Kilner jars are undesirable. Can you rule on this, Mary?

I.T., Edinburgh

A. There is nothing wrong with Kilner jars per se, but regarding kitchen storage there is something very lifeless and depressing about a row of them. So, you are correct. Foodstuffs should be left in their packets so that the sell-by date is visible, so that the ingredients can be read by neurotics, and also so that the variety of packets can add colour and textural gaiety to the storage shelves.

Q. I was thrilled when you mentioned that it is now possible to buy legitimate stamps bearing one’s own image from the Royal Mail. Yet I was unable to get any satisfaction from the Royal Mail’s website on the address you published. What is going on, Mary?

W.S., London W11

A. Believe it or not, Royal Mail published, inside a six-stamp booklet, the wrong address itself. The correct address is; tel: 08457 223344.