Mary Killen

Your Problems Solved | 24 April 2004

Etiquette advice from The Spectator's Miss Manners

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Dear Mary...

Q. As a child I largely complied with my parents’ wishes and there was no question of baiting them ad infinitum as my own children do me. In my day there was still the fear of smacking but, needless to say, my own children, a boy aged nine and a girl aged seven, have never been smacked. They do love each other and usually get on well, except during long journeys, when they fight like cat and dog. Over Easter I arrived at various destinations totally drained from breaking up fights. I am now developing travelphobia in anticipation of long journeys scheduled for the summer holidays. My husband, who has more control over them, will be travelling separately . Do you have any tips for making children behave during these interminable journeys?

S.A., London SW12

A. Simply book seats for the children at one end of the carriage and for yourself at the other. Your children will forget about winding you up because you will be out of sight, yet you can spring into action at the first sign of emergency. The faint insecurity engendered by being surrounded by strangers will ensure that they bond with each other and behave impeccably.

Q. A tiny point of scruple. Charles Glass recently sent me an email inviting me to attend a concert given by his friend Oliver Gilmour. I was one of about 30 people bidden to attend the event and the co-recipients’ addresses were all included in the cc list at the top of the invitation. This gave a salivating insight into Charles’s social world and I took the opportunity of cashing in on it by copying these addresses into my personal contacts file. I am a journalist myself and felt these addresses might be useful at a later date. Did I do wrong?

Name and address withheld

A. Both you and Charles did wrong. It is an American custom to give everybody your address and telephone number. From early times it was considered unsocial not to do so and goes along with the American habit of not having hedges around your garden, so that everyone can see into your house. But these are not English customs. Charles did wrong to assume that everyone in his tiny world of smarties was so interconnected that they would not mind their email addresses being passed on. It is a matter of viruses apart from anything else.You did wrong in copying down the addresses and must now delete them.

Q. A distinguished journalist whom I have known for several years has kindly used her influence to enable me to become a member of the Groucho Club. Is it now de rigueur for me to reward her for her creative efforts in proposing my acceptability by inviting her to lunch or dinner at the Groucho? My membership coming through has coincided with a period when, for various reasons, we have been seeing a lot less of each other.

Name and address withheld

A. I assure you that this basic etiquette of clubland is still very much de rigueur. Indeed, I have coincidentally heard from the young lady in question and understand that your oversight has already been the subject of consternation in influential circles. To halt further tongue-wagging, I advise you to issue the invitation at your earliest opportunity.