Mary Killen

Your Problems Solved | 5 June 2004

Etiquette advice from The Spectator's Miss Manners

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Dear Mary...

Q. As I am getting on a bit I find the process of uncorking bottles extremely arduous and fear doing irreparable damage to my aortic muscles. Can you give me some guidance about any of the wines that come in screwtop bottles? Is it all inevitably second-rate, or are there any good names you can recommend?

J.O., London SW4

A. Times have changed — at least as far as New Zealand wines are concerned. The majority of the Wine Society’s New Zealand wines come with screwtops, and the Sauvignons that come from Marlborough are thought to be absolutely acceptable. What is more, says Charlie Wrey of The Vintry (, screwtops are ideal for pensioners who may not wish to finish a bottle at one sitting. Whites kept cold, he says, will last for almost a week if resealed with a screwtop.

Q. A year ago I lent a book to somebody and he has still not returned it. I am desperate to have it back but it seems so petty to ask for a book back. How can I do this without appearing pathetically queeny?

J.H., London W2

A. Ring up your friend and say, ‘I’m sorry to be a crashing bore but I think I may have lent you a book which was lent to me by someone else who is now very rudely asking for it back. Do you have it? Any chance you could drop it round so I can stop him from pestering me?’

Q. I am a senior peer of the realm and often meet rather cheeky young whippersnappers who ask me personal questions along the lines of ‘How are your children?’ when in fact it is unlikely they have even met them. What is a suitable putdown in these circumstances?

A. Why not reply in avuncular and august manner, ‘How kind of you to ask.’ With any luck they will get the message and withdraw gracefully before you even have to go through the motions of answering their impertinent inquiry.

Q. I heard you speaking on Radio Four recently. Some of your vowel sounds were rather suspect. Is this an affectation, or are you actually lower-middle-class?

N.McA., London W6

A. I rarely get personal inquiries but I am delighted to clarify that I hail from Irish medical and clerical dynastic stock. I hope this will set your mind at rest.