Mary Killen

Your Problems Solved | 24 July 2004

Etiquette advice from The Spectator's Miss Manners

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Dear Mary

Q. I am commuting to Italy most weekends this summer and, unlike Charles Dunstone, am an ‘Easy’ rather than a ‘Net’ jet user. What do you suggest I do when without asking the passenger in front tips his seat back into my face? I have thought of various measures such as prevention — walking to my seat with a stick pretending to have a bad leg — or revenge — allowing runny honey to drip down the back of the seat. Or should I accept the growing ‘pikeyness’ of air travel? Cabin staff seem to be there to extract cash from passengers and enforce the increasingly draconian rules and my remonstrations are usually met with blank astonishment.

M E-J., Paris 7eme

A. Ask the offender pleasantly whether, before he settles down, he could see if he has a spare sick bag in the pouch in front of him. Explain that there are no sickbags in your own pouch and you often get terribly sick when flying — projectile vomiting no less. Give him a moment or two to think about it. You should soon see the seat regain its upright position.

Q. We happen to live in a lovely part of the country where we collect more ‘friends’ during the summer months. The company for which I work (remotely) is based in the Midlands. Just recently our company accountant asked me if he and his partner could come for a long weekend visit. He’s always seemed quite a good sort although we’ve never been socially close. Initially I had no real objection; however, another colleague has advised extreme caution as recently it became obvious that Mr Accountant and his partner are swingers. Among all my other problems, I do not need this complication. How may I extricate myself from this predicament without offending and possibly making my working relationship with him awkward?

Name and address withheld

A.This seems a perfect opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. Confide your fears in some dullards — whom you have been meaning to work off anyway — and invite them to come at the same time as the perverts. The dullards will be thrilled to have material to add to their conversational repertoires and the very weight of numbers in the household, along with the clattering and banging of the catering procedure, should act as a potent anaphrodisiac. On the other hand, it might be the time to invite people you are keen to suck up to. Most people would find the chance to serve discreetly as human chastity belts quite irresistible as an invitation.

Q. I have recently been fortunate enough to receive a great many letters of condolence, many of them from strangers. I would like to pass on a tip to readers who, like me, may occasionally have been at a loss as to how to reply to a kind letter sent by

someone whose address is handwritten and whose handwriting is illegible. Simply cut out the handwritten address and tape it on to the envelope containing your reply, and let the postman make what he can of it. At least you have tried.

Name and address withheld

A. Thank you for your considerate tip.