Mary Killen

Your Problems Solved | 22 May 2004

Etiquette advice from The Spectator's Miss Manners

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Dear Mary

Q. Here’s a solution to noisy New Zealand neighbours having barbies in the garden late at night. The last time ours had one my husband went over and told them the noise was absolutely fine by us, but there was a lunatic on crack in the assisted housing flats next to them. Said crack addict had come at him with a leafblower one evening when we’d had the gardeners in and actually smashed a pane of glass in the front door trying to kill him. The police came round and said they couldn’t do a thing about it, of course, which meant it was quite likely he would strike again if provoked. All perfectly true too.

H.C.d.S., London W14

A. Your solution is ingenious and would, no doubt, be effective, but the addiction problem has assumed plague proportions and is not the laughing matter it once was to those who have had no experience of it. We must all give what money and moral support we can to those professionally engaged in tackling it.

Q. Can you tell me what is the form about chatting at the breakfast table during grand house parties? My husband is convinced that, on the grounds that most of the fellow guests will be hungover or grumpy, it is bad form to do anything other than read the newspapers and offer to pass things to fellow guests, but I feel that is a bit curmudgeonly. Can you rule, Mary? O.A., Suffolk

A. It is true that many people are grumpy in the morning even without hangovers. They find voices jarring at that time of day, but the form is that if you don’t want to talk yourself, it is perfectly acceptable to shelter yourself behind a newspaper. There is no rule of silence because, unlike dinner parties or dances, house parties provide a rare

opportunity for people to get to know one another properly. The more frequently breakfast can be used as a testing ground, the better for everyone involved, particularly those with marital decisions pending.

Q. If my memory serves me, N.J.T. from Lincs wrote to you in May 1999 about a

couple who, without so much as a word, brought their dog to stay, causing predictable disruption to both hosts and hosts’ pets. Unless I am mistaken this is the very same couple who arrived for dinner at my own house last week, accompanied by this unusual-looking woofer, apparently an ‘Ascot Terrier’. While we were having drinks before dinner, this hooligan climbed on to the dining table and ate our first course of non-farmed smoked salmon from every plate. Really, Mary, when will they learn?

P.C.J.D., London SW1

A. Perhaps when you turn up for lunch or dinner at their house with a borrowed parrot in tow. Say that you are sure they will understand that it has to come out of its cage as it would otherwise be cruel. Parrots can be guaranteed to terrorise fellow guests, alighting on their heads, often ‘going’ on them; they will chip away at gilt frames, pull the pins out of picture hooks and unpick the metal interlay of boulle furniture. Express disappointment when upbraided, protesting that you only brought the parrot because you thought they so adored delinquent animals.