Mary Killen

Your Problems Solved | 30 October 2004

Etiquette advice from The Spectator's Miss Manners

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Q. From time to time three friends and I have enjoyed an occasional game of mixed doubles. Over the past couple of years my tennis partner has seen rapid promotion in the publishing company in which she works and corresponding with her success at work we have noticed an uncharacteristic and growing display of aggression on court. Indeed, our friend’s net play has recently become so threatening that when her racket comes into contact with the tennis ball, the opposition now frequently turn their backs in the forlorn hope of avoiding the ball thundering over the net and causing serious bodily injury. The last straw occurred a couple of weeks ago when our female opponent narrowly avoided a visit from the emergency services (all the while

maintaining her rictus smile). Mary, how do you suggest we can temper the aggressive nature of our friend’s play while allowing her to keep her enthusiasm for the game (and for us)?

Name and address withheld

A. Why not contract out the unpleasant job of bringing this offender up sharp? Next time you play, arrange for one of your usual

opponents to be replaced by a co-operative friend of yours — an American would be best suited to the role — who can verbalise the disquiet felt by the group without inhibition since she will never clap eyes on the offender again. Making pleasant comments such as ‘This is way more aggressive than I am used to in an amateur match’ and ‘Now I know where the expression ball-breaking comes from’, etc., she can guilelessly ask when the game is over, ‘How come you guys have been playing together so long when one of you is so disproportionately violent in her game?’ Having given your friend this food for thought, the problem should resolve itself.

Q. Further to the letter in your column re the ‘no presents’ requests, my husband and I recently celebrated our golden wedding. We too had a dread of more ‘things’ to be looked after. We invited 90 guests, most of whom accepted. When we sent out the

invitations we enclosed a little note saying ‘no presents, please’ but that if any of our guests cared to make a donation to the ‘Save the Children Fund’ it would be greatly appreciated. Mary, we raised £650 for the Fund. Most people sent their cheques with replies to the invitation. Most said what a jolly good idea it was. (We also were given some super champagne and fabulous

flowers. But no ‘things’.)

M.T., Rochester, Kent

A. Thank you for your suggestion. Custom decrees that gestures of well-wishing, in the form of material goods, are the norm on such occasions. Yet when one set of people has a surplus of cash and another a deficiency, it is clearly best that the largesse should be diverted to the needy. The only trouble is that some guests may bridle at the ‘blackmail’ aspect. For this reason hosts should supply the address of the charity to which cheques can be sent directly, so that guests can feel you will have no way of catching them out should they not get round to contributing. Those who want to show you how generous they have been will send the cheques directly to you with their acceptance letters anyway.