Mary Killen

Your Problems Solved | 26 February 2005

Etiquette advice from The Spectator's Miss Manners

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Dear Mary...

Q. My daughter, aged 19, is proposing to take out a student loan in order to have her teeth whitened. It is not the borrowing of money I object to so much as the fact that her own teeth are not in any way discoloured. Please help quickly, Mary, as I am certain her natural look really could not be bettered.

E.O., London SW18

A. Since ‘Frankenteeth’, as they might be dubbed, look Tippex-white under strobe lighting, ask your daughter to attend a few discos and spot the flashers before she goes ahead. Like toupees being blown off in the wind, bleached teeth can cause great embarrassment when they are unmasked as artifice. Even in daylight hours the most expensively whitened teeth can jar in a face. Clearly Nature knew what she was doing when she selected natural tooth colourways. Demonstrate this to your daughter in your own home by modelling a gumshield out of white paper and jamming it into your mouth. These measures should cause her to think again before saddling herself with a new complex.

Q. At the age of 39, I have belatedly realised that all the time I have not spent riding to hounds has been life wasted. I have no money, hunting has just been banned and my wife does not want me to become paraplegic. What should I do, Mary?

J.D., London SE5

A. If you are really worried about becoming paraplegic, why not go beagling? Most beagle packs are converting to chasing rabbits instead of hares, so you can still get rushes of adrenalin, camaraderie and exercise in the fresh air. Yet many of those who became paraplegic on the hunting field will say it was worth it. If you find yourself still craving the experience and prepared to take the risks, then you can look forward to next season, when hunts across the country will be running National Newcomers’ Week. At this time it will cost you nothing to go out, and many hunts will relax the traditional dress code as you join them in their perfectly legal activities. You must, of course, find yourself a horse — at most 50 quid a day — but you may well be lucky enough to borrow one from hunt members keen to swell the numbers during the current emergency. Why not offer to clean out kennels in exchange?

Q. May I be permitted a small addendum to your various correspondents’ suggestions as to what to wear at fancy dress parties? I remember back in the early 1960s bumping into Vyvyan Holland, Oscar Wilde’s son, at a fancy dress party at the Café Royal. It was clear that the majority of the guests that evening had hired their elaborate costumes from the likes of Bermans. Not so Mr Holland. He was immaculately attired in regulation dinner jacket and black tie, but with a wooden lavatory seat slung round his neck. On being questioned, he replied: ‘Oh, I’ve come as Toulouse-Lautrec. This is only one loo!’ A ploy which has stood me in good stead ever since.

M. M.-E., NSW, Australia

A. If dinner was being served at such a party the lavatory connection could deter the squeamish from taking a tip from Mr Holland, but thank you for sharing this historical anecdote with us.