Mary Killen

Your Problems Solved | 16 November 2002

Etiquette advice from The Spectator's Miss Manners

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Dear Mary...

Q. During lunch at the house of some friends of my parents, I was put between two boys from Bryanston who talked across me through each course as though I didn't exist. I did not take their rudeness personally - in fact, I was quite sleepy that day and would have been quite happy to drift off into a personal reverie had not their voices been quite so loud. What should I have done to remind them to mind their manners?

M.G., Fosbury, Wiltshire

A. Wearing a kindly expression on your face, as though dealing with the disabled, you should simply have stood up and moved along one place. Standing behind the offender on your right, you could have said, 'Please, do change places with me and then you can talk to each other without my being in the way.' In this way, you would have brought them up sharp.

Q. This week I am due to attend a theatrical performance in a small, semi-private theatre in London's West End. I happen to know that most of the audience will be of a certain social rank: e.g., people who are interested in the conservation of stately homes and who almost certainly attended the Countryside March. I cannot help feeling that the event will present an almost irresistible opportunity to some of the powers that currently be to emulate the Russian government's move in coping with the recent Chechen rebel-style incursion into a Moscow theatre, and deal with a whole tranche of 'undesirables' at one fell swoop. How can I assuage my almost certainly irrational fears so that I can enjoy the performance?

S.T., Chirton, Wiltshire

A. Since many members of the audience at the theatrical performance you refer to will be hailing from stately homes themselves, there is no reason why you should not spread the word that it might be an idea to make a trip into their attic area before visiting the theatre. Most of them will be able to lay their hands on a reasonable supply of first or second world war gas masks kept in storage for one reason or another. By wearing one of these masks throughout the performance, you and the rest of the audience will be able to set your probably irrational anxiety to rest, and sit back and enjoy it.

Q. May I pass on a tip to readers who are short of money but perhaps looking for an all-purpose, sheer black top of the type now so fashionable but usually retailing for about £200 or £300 from a named designer? In the wake of the Wayne Hemingway allegations about prices in the fashion world being unnecessarily high, I was delighted to witness my own teenage daughter knocking up exactly such a top for herself simply by asking me for an old pair of black tights, cutting off the two legs and cutting a V-shaped hole into the gusset. When she put this on directly over her head, the effect was indistinguishable from something costing far more from a known designer. And, I might add, the 'waistband' of tights does perfectly good service in reverse. I hope you will find this tip useful.

F.W., London W8

A. Thank you very much for your consideration in submitting this tip. I experimented with your advice immediately and found that the effect was surprisingly good.