Mary Killen

Your problems solved | 3 April 2004

Etiquette advice from The Spectator's Miss Manners

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Dear Mary...

Several friends living overseas have indicated that they will be coming to England this summer and that they would like to pay us a visit. However, since seeing them last, these friends have produced a number of infants and they seem to labour under the delusion that I am more interested in seeing the children than their parents. The truth is I can tolerate the company of children under five for a maximum of 20 minutes. How do I tell these proud parents that I am looking forward to seeing them, but without offspring? Naturally I do not want to hurt anyone’s feelings.

L.B., via email

A. You clearly have no children. If you had, you would be aware that, when trying to socialise, parents can tolerate the company of their own under-fives for a maximum of 20 minutes. Far from being offended, your friends would be totally thrilled were you to suggest hiring some reputable hands to look after the smaller people chez vous, while you and they hit the town.

Q. My husband and I are victims of a crazed genealogist. This woman, a very distant cousin, was given my husband’s name, claimed him as a relation and, entranced with her discovery of relations in the Antipodes, has bombarded us with endless lengthy and excessively boring emails — for instance, the cousin who owned a hat factory in Aylesbury in 1845 and similar irresistible facts. No detail is left unexplored; she records all with a horrible dedication. She has now gone so far as to demand that I (no relation) correspond with her about our interesting childhoods. My husband replied to her only once, a cool, polite thanks. Since then he has ignored her. She, however, is not to be deterred. Mary, how do we stop this almost weekly flood of meaningless drivel without being too rude?

R.Y., Cobbitty, N.S.W., Australia

A. Reply to the next email saying, ‘On behalf of Mr X Y, I thank you for your recent communication. I shall be dealing with Mr Y’s correspondence for the foreseeable future, so please label any further emails for my attention and I will do my best to try to explain their contents to Mr Y. Nurse Betty.’

Q. I have a job which I enjoy very much and want to hold on to for as long as possible. My problem is that I am 59 years old and company policy requires women to retire at 60. Personnel has never had my date of birth and I keep making excuses when they ask for my National Insurance number, in case this enables them to date me. I do not look my age and as I did not go to school or university in England my boss has not really thought about how old I must actually be. Should I confess to him and ask him to make an exception in my case, given that I am judged to be a great success in the job?

Name and address withheld

A. Say nothing. As long as you can delay handing over the evidence which will seal your fate, it obviously suits everyone to turn a blind eye to the truth. Were you bad at the job they might be pressing you more firmly. Marje Proops was warned by Hugh Cudlipp, when she joined the Daily Mirror, never to give her age to Personnel, for the very reason that she would still be at the peak of her form at 60. As a result she died in the chair aged 80-something.