Mary Killen

Your problems solved | 31 January 2004

Etiquette advice from The Spectator's Miss Manners

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Dear Mary...

Q. My wife and I have been invited to the 50th birthday party of a not particularly close friend. The party is to be held in a local sports centre, although we have been asked to wear black tie and evening dress. Enclosed with the invitation is a note requesting that we bring a cold main course, a salad or a cold pudding for 6 to 8 people with our name on the underside of the plate, so that we can take it home with us when we leave the party. We have also been told to call our hosts and advise them which dish we shall be bringing. Subsequently, we have received a note asking us to contribute to a birthday present, by dropping off some money to a neighbour who is going to present our friend with a cheque so that she can buy some much-wanted photographic equipment. Do you think it would be churlish not to take a couple of bottles of wine to the party?

S.D., London

A. The food requests are completely unorthodox outside student or sado-masochistic circles. The cheque request is quite unacceptable. Yet you should go along with these demands. When so many off-putting ingredients combine in the one invitation, you can be fairly sure the event will be deeply enjoyable. Think of Abigail’s Party. Think of Born Again weddings. Your hosts are clearly raving mad, which suggests a fun guest list, and even if you can’t ‘dine out’ at the evening itself, you can dine out on it retrospectively for months to come.

Q. I run a shooting syndicate in the Borders where established practice allows friends and neighbours with working dogs to pick up behind the guns. I was told that a dog belonging to a lady who is an assiduous picker-up had died, and was accordingly surprised to find that she continued to attend shoots without a dog. She now stands about and chats up the guns, which has led to complaint. Have you any suggestions as to how I might gently indicate to her that her presence without a dog is unwelcome?

Name and address withheld

A. The deuxième echelon of those who pick up ranges from the Queen down to local postmen and is integral to the success of shoots where the sportsmen are American or other visitors with no dogs of their own. Yet while attendant women who have a relationship with a gun go and stand with their intimate, or change as they walk from first to second drives, rather like changing places halfway through a dinner party, the picker-uppers are not expected to chat up the guns. Simply tell the lady, ‘I’m sorry to hear about Captain.’ Then say, as she no longer has a dog, would she mind acting as a ‘stop’. Isolated at the remote end of a belt of trees and cut off from social opportunities, she will soon get the message and buy a new dog.

If you have a problem, please write to Dear Mary, c/o 56 Doughty Street, London WC1N 2LL.