Mary Killen

Your problems solved | 18 October 2003

Etiquette advice from The Spectator's Miss Manners

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Dear Mary...

Q. Every day I find myself reading Today’s Birthdays in the Daily Telegraph. Do you know how I go about being included? Is a title helpful? (If so I will have to try harder.) The other day, there was a list of such types, toffs every one of them — to name but one, Sir David Montgomery. I am confident you can help me fulfil a lifetime’s social ambition, as I am sure you must appear on the list yourself.

W.G., Stoke Rochford, Lincolnshire

A. As with everything today, presenteeism has its part to play in being noticed. The two ladies who would decree your appearance can often be seen taking names at memorial services, and you can reinforce their awareness of your existence by regularly pressing your engraved card into one of their hands. These attendances will be time-consuming but they will lay the groundwork for a letter from your secretary spelling out your achievements and recommending you for inclusion. This tactic has been known to work in the past when there has been a genuine oversight. Titles do help and cronyism has ensured that they have never been more easily come by, but a title in itself is no guarantee of inclusion. Sir David Montgomery is more than just an hereditary baronet; he has had a long and distinguished career in the Forestry Commission and in public service and is now Lord-Lieutenant of Perth and Kinross. He has therefore had impact on the lives of thousands who would recognise his name. By contrast my inquiries reveal that although your own efforts have secured for you a certain small-scale social celebrity, the extent of your ‘services’ towards fellow Britons has, to date, been insufficient to merit the marking of your birthday by the Daily Telegraph.

Q. The gym I attend has a habit of removing all wire coat-hangers from the dressing rooms so that one does not have the opportunity to hang clothes properly in the locker. Accordingly, I take my own coat-hanger on each visit, but am often embarrassed by the looks I receive from other fellows when I place my hanger back in my gym bag after my step-class. Dear Mary, what is the correct form for the ‘gym chic’ in this situation?

K.W.T., Malvern, South Australia

A. You misunderstand the quizzical glances of your fellow gym members. They are not wondering whether you are ‘stealing’ a wire coat-hanger. Since going to the gym is entirely to do with image-consciousness, they are almost certainly just queenily wondering where you got the hanger from and whether they can have one too. Were you to purchase a more distinctive model, one that clearly belongs to you, such as a fold-down travelling one of the type that snaps satisfyingly shut, you would see an end to the nuisance.

Q. Your correspondent from Gloucestershire has problems about how her common-law mother-in-law should be addressed. My daughter has solved the problem admirably by referring to her common-law father-in-law as ‘Commie’, as do her children. This seems to be accepted happily enough, but he did have his revenge by introducing her as his ‘common daughter-in-law’.

B.G.B., Devon

A. Thank you for giving us a laugh.