Mary Killen

Your Problems Solved | 5 February 2005

Etiquette advice from The Spectator's Miss Manners

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Dear Mary...

Q. I am becoming increasingly annoyed by friends and acquaintances who think it is acceptable to snort coke. At civilised dinner parties, we find increasingly that someone will bring it out in a pathetic attempt to show they are still young and groovy and rather good fun. Living in seedy west London and working with people whose relations have been murdered in turf wars, I am becoming more and more incensed at the irresponsibility of this behaviour by people who should know better but are well protected from the consequences of their actions. How do we deal with this without ruining everybody's party?

Name and address withheld

A. Why not play devil’s advocate by blandly proposing a debate — ‘Does cocaine fall under the umbrella of Fair Trade? Could it feasibly be described as an ethical investment?’ Then sit non-judgmentally back and let the snorters arrive at the inevitable conclusions.

Q. What has happened to the nit nurses who used to be a feature of schools when I was a girl? As anyone with children at school will testify, the head lice problem seems to be out of control. I do not wish to keep polluting my children’s heads with dangerous chemicals, only for them to be reinfested a few days later by children whose parents have not bothered, now that there are no nit nurses to shame them into doing so.

S.R., Wantage

A. Nit nurses began to be phased out after 1974 when schools realised that the wording of health authority regulations about head inspections meant that these inspections could legally have constituted an ‘assault’ and compensation-seekers could pretend to have been traumatised by them. The consequence has been the current plague. Some parents claim that a natural method of defeating the lice is to coat the hair in mayonnaise and wrap the head in clingfilm or a bath hat for three hours. The lice will be suffocated. Rinse the muck off, using a rinse of half water, half vinegar (dissolves the glue that helps them to attach to the hair shaft). Then comb the corpses out.

Q. My husband and I are lucky enough to own a rather lovely corner of Tuscany. A couple who came to stay with their four children last year have started putting pressure on us to invite them again this summer, saying that they need to plan their children’s school holidays. Although we enjoyed their company, we do have other friends and we like to ring the changes. Those of our friends without small children don’t necessarily wish to commit themselves until nearer the time because of their work (some are actors). We might well want to invite this family, but don’t want to be bullied into cutting off other options. What should we do, Mary?

Name and address withheld

A. Tell the pushy family that you cannot commit yourself so far in advance. A certain high-profile politician, whose name you cannot release for security reasons, has indicated that he and his family may well wish to requisition your property during the summer months. Say, ‘We’ll have a much clearer picture after the election ...oops! Better say no more ....’