Mary Killen

Your Problems Solved | 26 April 2003

Etiquette advice from The Spectator's Miss Manners

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Dear Mary...

Q. I am shortly to give lunch to a number of high-profile people. Two of them have rung to inquire how late they can leave it before giving me a yes or a no. Do you agree with me that this behaviour, with its assumption that a better invitation may come along in the meantime, is outrageously rude?

M.W., Wiltshire

A. On the contrary. These days only the retired and low-profile can state with certainty whether they will definitely be available on a certain date. It is an unfortunate fact that the very reason why certain modern people are 'high-profile' is their ruthless insistence on flexibility where social arrangements are concerned. You should be grateful that these people have been courteous enough to indicate that there is some uncertainty about their availability, instead of replying in the affirmative and then cancelling the day before.

Q. I could rave on about this for pages but, to keep it short, please advise all your dinner hosts and hostesses of the best product, for some odd reason unadvertised, ever invented since paperclips and sliced bread. I expect you of all people know about it but, if not, rush out and buy yourself one or two rolls of Teflon non-stick cooking liner (John Lewis). Then sit back and never again (because I suspect it lasts for ever) clean a baking tray. Perhaps it is not advertised because the Teflon people, DuPont, know that no one in his right mind will ever again bother to buy a non-stick baking tray. I see that the guarantee is from Classic Housewares Ltd, Imperial Mill, Liverpool Road, Burnley, Lancs, BB12 6HH.

P.W.,Cadnam, Southampton

A. Thank you for this detailed tip, although some readers may be put off by the imagery associations with Mr Blair.

Q. After five years of abstinence, I have taken up smoking again. Despite my best intentions, I seem unable to control the habit, although I have as few cigarettes as I possibly can. I make a point of never smoking in front of my children, but the older one is becoming suspicious about the smell in various rooms he comes into, where he finds me looking guiltily into a fireplace or standing at an open window. On the one hand, I do not wish ever to lie to my children; on the other, I do not want to worry them or to be a bad role model. What should I say if the boy challenges me directly and asks, 'Do you smoke, Daddy?'

S.C.,Wick, Worcestershire

A. Answer, truthfully, if ambiguously, 'Not if I can help it.'

Q. I am distressed by the proliferation on television of yobbish presenters of gardening programmes – it seems that the only qualifications for the post are now a thick regional accent and an inability to speak the Queen's English. Surely gardening of all topics should be immune from dumbing down?

G.W.W., Wiltshire

A. A small concession to standards: Monty Don has joined the Gardener's World team. So far he has not been required to modify his accent.