Mary Killen

Your Problems Solved | 4 January 2003

Etiquette advice from The Spectator's Miss Manners

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Dear Mary...

Q. A couple of years ago you advised readers to minimise present-buying stress at Christmas by finding something that would be acceptable to people of all age ranges and simply buying up said item in bulk. This year I took your advice and feel I must share with readers the great success that I enjoyed with my bulk purchase of butler's trays from IKEA. These trays are deep and come in painted-white-wood effect with fold-up stand. They were received with delight by both adults - who saw them as ideal bedroom accessories - and children who used them to provide surfaces to play on and to contain little messes of small plastic toys. At the end of the day, said messes can be lifted up wholesale to the child's bedroom; all this for only £17 a tray.

F.W., London W8

A. Thank you for sharing this helpful tip.

Q. For my business I often have to give drinks parties for large numbers of people. I am fortunate in being able to rely on a large retinue of assistants to send out invitations and organise catering. Despite this, my social energy is limited. I am good for only about two hours of non-stop chattering in this sort of cocktail-party setting before I have had enough and want everyone to go home. My wife tells me that I start becoming noticeably crabby towards the end of a party which, of course, is not the impression I wish to give. Nor do I wish problems with my blood sugar levels to undo all the goodwill that has been generated. What is the best way of ensuring that people who are invited between, say, 6.30 and 8.30, do actually leave before I have gone 'on the turn'?

Name withheld, London SW1

A. You can take a tip from one of our late diplomats in Brussels and use logarithms to ensure that your guests find themselves leaving at a time to suit you rather than themselves. Simply instruct your copious staff that at about 8.30 they should form a discreet cordon at the end of the room furthest away from the door. They should then gradually but inexorably move through the room towards the door, sweeping human litter in their path like a giant but invisible yard brush. The guests will find themselves gently nudged forwards until one part of the room has been emptied. When guests see a people-free gap at one end and a cluster at the end near the door, it will suggest to their unconscious that, since other people seem to be streaming out through the door, perhaps it is time for them to leave too.

Q. Now that London traffic is permanently at a standstill, I find it is often quicker to walk between appointments. My problem is that I have to look 'cool' for my job but walking any sort of distance requires the wearing of trainers. Of course I can change out of the trainers and into the more elegant footwear just before arriving at the various destinations; the trouble is that trainers are pretty bulky items to lug around - mine are about the size of a Yellow Pages directory. It is obvious that they are trainers, and I feel somehow diminished by this evidence of my image-consciousness. How are other people coping in this current climate of gridlock?

L.C., London W6

A. People are logging on to and getting hold of some of the new 'flatpack' travel trainers of the sort that can be bought from vending machines in Japan. These can be folded down to the size of a small cosmetic bag, and in this way there is no risk of drawing attention to the fact that it has been necessary for you to change your footwear for image purposes.