Mary Killen

Your problems solved | 21 February 2004

Etiquette advice from The Spectator's Miss Manners

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Dear Mary...

Q. When one is present at a dinner party where a politician is a fellow guest, I have noticed a tendency for the politician to hold forth with a monologue which brooks no interruption or response from would-be interlocutors. There is nothing party political about this — it seems to happen across the spectrum, from fascist to left-wing. Members of other professions — legal, medical, the racing fraternity and so on — do not indulge in this monomania, so how can one tactfully discourage it?

S.T., Chirton, Wiltshire

A. Even Queen Victoria said of Gladstone, ‘He speaks to me as if I was a public meeting.’ Yet at the very least a politician will usually allow the odd question in order to trigger the monologues, so let yours be a kindly query.... ‘As a politician you work enormously long hours and you should be entitled to enjoy a relaxing and stimulating exchange of ideas when you are at a dinner party. So how do you tactfully discourage your fellow guests from falling into the understandable trap of behaving as though they were on Question Time and putting you in the tiring position of having to dominate the table?’

Q. To help out a friend I gave his daughter work experience. She duplicated work that had already been done and prepared an unnecessary 500 envelopes and franked them. They are addressed in a large and flowery hand which precludes the use of sticky labels and recycling. What can I do?

C.M., London SW3

A. Make the girl cut off the 500 ‘impressions’ showing the frankings. You can send these off to Royal Mail Meter Administration, Room 5009, Copperas Hill, Liverpool, L31AA (0151 242 4054). They will take 5 per cent of the value of the frankings as an administration fee but will send you a cheque in refund for the rest.

Q. When travelling by train I often long to put my feet up on the seat opposite, provided there is nobody in it. Is this permissible if one takes one’s shoes off? I would be so pleased if you said yes because I have recently begun to commute and it would make life much more comfortable.

T.W., Salisbury

A. This is a grey area. If you were suffering from a minor disability or were in pain, then the position you propose to adopt could possibly be acceptable. Yet you would have to comply with the following codicils. You must be sitting at a table seat so that the oafishness of the posture can be partly screened off. You should not be wearing a miniskirt, and finally you must lay a clearly visible protective ‘bed’ of newsprint or clothing between your own shoeless feet and the opposite seat in question. If another passenger hovers as though wanting to take up the vacant seat, you must immediately make it available. Nevertheless I would discourage you from making yourself at home in this way except in extremis. Other travellers may take their cue from your example and be less considerate about the manner in which they spread-eagle themselves and about not leaving pavement detritus on the seat.