Mary Killen

Your Problems Solved | 22 January 2005

Etiquette advice from The Spectator's Miss Manners

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Dear Mary...

Q. I design clothes and have rented a small shop in west London from which to purvey my wares while maintaining my primary residence on the Welsh borders. I am in London for only three days a week but am trying to keep costs down. I therefore have installed a day bed in the back room of the shop which I find perfectly comfortable. There is a lavatory downstairs and if I want to have a shower I can do so at the Lansdowne Club. The trouble is that my subscription is coming up for renewal and I am wondering whether I can cut costs even further by going to ‘public baths’. Is there such a thing in the Notting Hill area or are they a thing of the past?

Name withheld, Hay-on-Wye

A. Kensington Leisure Centre, Walmer Road, off Ladbroke Grove still provides a shower facility and will allow you to avail yourself at £1 a time, although you have to bring your own towel. May I suggest that you sidestep the chore altogether by purchasing a bumper pack of baby wipes and simply address trouble spots only in the privacy of your shop’s back room? You can give yourself a full body hose-down when you return to the country. The late social leader Lady (Charlotte) Bonham Carter and her husband Edgar were always presentable but rarely took a bath while staying at their Bayswater home, but made full use of the facilites in their estate at Wyck in Hampshire.

Q. I am shortly to attend a fancy dress party. Following the furore over Prince Harry’s choice of fancy dress outfit and his SS armband, I would like to seek your advice as to whether my own proposed choice of costume could possibly give any offence. I am planning to go as Sir Edward Heath.

A.T., Dorset

A. You have chosen well. In spite of his somewhat exaggerated Europhilia, Sir Edward is remembered as a former prime minister with wide-ranging interests in classical music and sailing. I guarantee you will cause no offence with this choice.

Q. I am devoted to my sister-in-law and often stay with her in the country. Her large cottage is extremely comfortable, but I am obliged to use the same lavatory as she does. My sister-in-law is a very attractive person but she has one flaw. She reads recipe books in the lavatory. Whenever I answer the call of nature I see these books and feel it is somehow inappropriate that she should be sitting on the loo dreaming up recipes. Am I being neurotic?

T.U., Sittingbourne, Kent

A. It is not so much that the deed is inappropriate, rather that the recipe books are likely to be transferred through to the cooking area. The idea of their adjacency first to a lavatory and then to a cooking surface is unattractive. The only books that should be left in a lavatory are those which are unlikely to be carried out of the lavatory by people who have enjoyed their contents and wish to share them with fellow occupants of the dwelling. This category involves virtually everything except that which would be of no immediate relevance for conversational purposes, such as travel books to places like Rome, Madrid or Amsterdam.