Mary Killen

Your Problems Solved | 25 January 2003

Etiquette advice from The Spectator's Miss Manners

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Dear Mary...

Q. As a newly commissioned officer in a regiment that considers itself both pukka and professional, I have recently encountered a problem concerning the etiquette at formal dinner nights. Once seated, one may not rise for relief until after the Colonel has done so. This may be at least three hours, even longer with speeches. Not consuming alcohol would be considered particularly bad form. A friend (not in my regiment), unable to contain himself any longer, availed himself of a decanter, unfortunately incurring the severest of penalties. I have heard that it is possible to remove one's mess dress coat, revealing one's dress shirt, and thus, disguised as a waiter, slip out carrying some plates. Re-entrance would be accomplished in a similar manner. However, this is clearly unsatisfactory. Mary, please, have you any other suggestions?

Name and address withheld

A. Help is readily to hand. By visiting the website of medical suppliers, you may read details of what might be called a 'social sheath', ideal for such occasions. The device, which comes with its own applicator, is securely attached by adhesive strip to the base of the relevant member. Meanwhile, at the other end, a valve gives into a small reception chamber, ideal for the storage of those minimal quantities typically expelled by the anxious elderly. For larger quantities, however, a tube attachment will drive the traffic directly into waterproof receptacles ranging in capacity from 350 mls up to 750 mls. My pharmacist informs me that these can be worn 'right down the leg near the ankle' or concealed in the immediate underpants area. In this way, noiseless expulsion of the waste you mention can be effected without your fellow diners being any the wiser.

Q. We recently spent a shooting weekend in the greatest comfort in Northern Ireland. Unfortunately, the sporting delights of the house party were marred by the behaviour of one of the guns - Red Chris - who not only missed every bird that flew over his head, but then insisted in a belligerent manner to our distinguished host that the best drive be renamed 'Reds' in his honour. In the view of many of the other guns present, and while some allowance must be made for the all-too-visible signs of port wine excess, this stupefying breach of shooting etiquette was far more serious than, for example, not turning during dinner. To our horror, our genial host has now agreed to this preposterous demand. What are we to do? We must stop his campaign at all costs, if only because our own claims to such an honour would not be undeserved.

T.B., Pewsey, Wiltshire

A. Clearly your host has been bullied. Suggest to him that he can gracefully bow out of his promise by informing Red Chris that quaint local tradition in that neck of the Northern Irish woods dictates that those who have been honoured by having drives named after them must undergo an initiation ritual. This will involve his running through the local village naked, save for a sporran of pheasant's wings, squawking like a cock pheasant while drinking two imperial gallons of custard. If he does not withdraw his request for recognition, you may at least have the compensation of witnessing this spectacle.

Q. My husband has recently enrolled in a lip-reading course. This follows his refusal to wear ear-protectors over many years of shooting, which has resulted in his becoming increasingly deaf. Can you recommend any way in which he can gain extracurricular practice in this skill?

M.W., London W8

A. More than 100 people practise lip-reading every Saturday night in Kensington Place restaurant, where the decibel level makes ordinary conversation inaudible. Let him join the throng and see how he fares.