Mary Killen

Your problems solved | 25 October 2003

Etiquette advice from The Spectator's Miss Manners

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Dear Mary

Q. My wife and I have between us received invitations to no fewer than 17 parties being held in London on Wednesday, 12 November, all of them drinks parties between 6.30 and 9 p.m. How should we tackle this embarras de richesse? Although five of the parties are in SW1, it is my experience that even if two parties are virtually in the same street, it still takes 20 minutes at the very least to leave one party, enter another, hand in one’s coat, wait for a drink, then push through the throng to the host. There also seems to be no way of knowing what time a party will be good at. For example, the other night I went to the V&A opening of the Gothic exhibition at which the only person was the minister Stephen Twigg, who was being heckled. Meanwhile my wife, arriving at 7.45, met people of the calibre of Sir Edward Poynings, English soldier and diplomatist. What should we do? We are nearly distraught.

Name and address withheld

A. Go to none of the parties. Stay loftily at home and get on with your correspondence or some reading you need to catch up with. Instead throw a party yourself in three weeks’ time to which you invite all 17 hosts of the rival parties you mention. In this way you can satisfy your curiosity without there being any sense of panic.

Q. My wife and I are elderly. Over the years we have formed the habit of holding hands when walking out of doors. On a recent holiday this year in Corfu we were jostled by a group of English youths who were obviously the worse for wear, one of whom shouted in a loud voice, ‘Watch it, Mum. Don’t let go of him or he might run away.’ We were upset and are worried as to whether to give up what we regard as a discreet indication of our mutual affection.

Name withheld, Tarn-et-Garonne, France

A. Sadly, the answer is yes. Whereas US presidents and certain senior politicians elsewhere practise this habit, the community as a whole seems to consider that public displays of mutual affection between mature parties should be confined to private surroundings.

Q. Where can I buy ‘placement’ cards and which are the best sort to plump for?

C.B., London SW3

A. You can buy place-a-table cards at Smythson, 40 Bond Street. Parties can get off to a bad start if amnesiacs cannot remember the names of those old friends they are sitting next to and have to gawp. For this reason experienced hosts buy the ‘triptych’ variety, so people can see the names of those sitting on their left and right without having to give themselves away.

Q. May I pass on a tip to readers who are parents of babies or toddlers? My life has been transformed since I started putting my blow-up travel pillow, of the sort available at any airport for about £5, around my 16-month-old’s shoulders when she is strapped into her car seat for long journeys. It simply makes all the difference, and she is asleep in no time.

A.G., London

A. Thank you for your useful tip.