Mary Killen

Your Problems Solved | 3 July 2004

Etiquette advice from The Spectator's Miss Manners

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Dear Mary...

Q. I have been married for over 35 years and have four children and two grandchildren and parents still alive. My husband, of whom I am still fond, has been engaged in a long, weekday affair with a friend of mine, which is probably delightful for him, but hurtful and boring for me. I am quite used to allowing him a long rein. I live in the country and he is in London during the week, and the thought of a full-scale confrontation and the inevitable ensuing drama seems pointless and damaging for all who would become involved. However, I am finding it increasingly galling to let them, particularly her, get away scot-free. How can I punish them suitably? She is a divorcee and a headmistress of a smart London prep school. Mary, please help me.

Name and address withheld

A. Why not pop along to the school under cover of darkness one night (or send a proxy) and, using a can of spray paint, deface the school entry-point in a childish hand with graffiti hinting that Miss has a boyfriend (perhaps her initials and his inside a love heart)? This small gesture should be enough to unnerve the couple and take the wind out of their sails.

Q. This really is an emergency. I am getting married in July and my fiancé has absolutely insisted that an acquaintance of his family, who not only gatecrashed his brother’s wedding but also removed my fiancé’s place card so that he himself would have a seat at dinner, thereby leaving (as it were) the groom’s brother with nowhere to sit, should be allowed to attend. For some reason my future mother-in-law doesn’t seem too bothered and is prepared to invite him. Obviously, unless he is somehow warned off, I am afraid he will come whether invited or not. What can I do?

M.M., via email

A. Since you say he will come whether invited or not, extend a welcome to the offender and ensure that his place card is displayed in prime position between two of the most exciting fellow guests. At the last minute, and before he has had time to sit down, simply switch his place at table, relegating him to the third division and replacing him with someone more desirable who is prepared to undergo a temporary downgrading in status in order that this punishment may be meted out.

Q. My wife can attest to the efficacy of your correspondent’s accidental discovery of a means of picking up a few bob by hanging around outside Harrods and being mistaken for a flunkey. We had dipped into the Royal Festival Hall for a quick coffee. My wife’s visit to the Ladies coincided with the end of the interval. She happened to be wearing a blue denim dress of rather severe cut. As the Tannoy intoned the imminent recommencement of the programme, my wife, seeing their plight, held the door open for a gaggle of flustered ladies as they ran for their seats. The last one, however, stopped, rummaged hurriedly in her handbag, and pressed a 50p piece into my wife’s hand. She was too nonplussed to protest. With encroaching age, and in these uncertain times, it is as well to have such things to fall back on. I would welcome your reader’s further suggestions.

D.H., Woodford, Essex

A. Thank you. May I encourage readers with similar tips to submit them for our enjoyment.