Mary Killen

Your Problems Solved | 21 June 2003

Etiquette advice from The Spectator's Miss Manners

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Dear Mary

Q. My new wife, I have discovered, has a disturbingly communal disposition. From a large, somewhat boisterous family, boarding-school bred and a once committed Girl Guide, she thinks nothing of barging into the bathroom during my ablutions. Worse still, she seems intent on conversation with me, particularly when I'm on the loo. Without appearing neurotic, and being careful to avoid offence, how might I go about breaking her of such habits before the glow of an otherwise promising coupling begins to fade?

H.B., Mudgee, NSW, Australia

A. You do not mention whether your wife performs her own ablutions in front of you, but, in any case, whether hailing from a large, boisterous family in Australia or not, she should be discouraged from going any further down this very personal path. The reason? It is one thing to be uninhibited about these matters when one is young and beautiful with a taut, silky body. It is quite another in later life when the deterioration process starts to become evident, but by then the habit may be too deeply ingrained. Therefore, protect your wife from scoring an own goal by fitting a lock to your bathroom door and turning on a radio if she tries to strike up a conversation with you from outside it. Tell her, 'You know the expression "Familiarity breeds contempt"? Well, I love you so much I don't want that to happen.' Then leave her to think about it.

Q. At a luncheon recently, I indulged myself by taking a generous chunk of expensive cheese from the cheese board. Before I could eat it, my neighbour, turning towards me to make a point, sprayed my cheese with spittle, rendering it inedible. No one noticed but me, but everyone noticed that I didn't eat the cheese. Now I have earned myself a reputation for indecisiveness and pernickety eating habits. How would you have resolved this, Mary?

A.A., Penzance

A. What you should have done was to contrive to knock your plate, with the cheese on it, clumsily off the table with your elbow. You could then have picked it up off the floor insisting, 'It will be absolutely fine, I'll just carefully pare off the outside with all the germs on it and then eat the inside.' You would then have passed the decision on to your hostess as to whether she insisted you take a new piece. If she did not, you could still have put your own anxieties to rest.

Q. What vegetables are currently fashionable?

K.F-G., Wilcot, Wiltshire

A. The flowerbuds of salsify and scorzonera, picked just before opening, are tender and delicious when steamed like asparagus and served with butter. Gardeners should therefore leave a few plants of this root vegetable in the soil to flower the following spring.