Mary Killen

Your Problems Solved | 5 March 2005

Etiquette advice from The Spectator's Miss Manners

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Dear Mary...

Q. My teenage daughter’s lifelong friend has over the years developed the most unfortunate strain of body odour, obviously unbeknown to her. It has become increasingly unbearable recently and presumably in her earlier years was either masked in infant fumes or more tolerable. Apparently the problem is widely discussed at school but no one has a solution, mainly because of the ponger’s genial nature and because of the inherent risk to the messenger. This friendship is important to my daughter, even at great risk to our olfactory nerves, but then so is our need to reduce the widespread use of pungent aerosol spray. Can you propose a resolution?

Name withheld, Belgravia, London

A. Invite the offender to stay the night in your home. Brief your daughter that you have a scheme in mind. As the two girls arrive, announce that your hot-water supply is temporarily out of order and ask them not even to try the taps due to possible difficulties with airlocks. When the girls reassemble for food, sniff your daughter ostentatiously and cry out, ‘Oh no. I’m sorry you couldn’t have baths but really there shouldn’t be this level of smell! When did you last have a bath, darling? You must do it more often at your age. Are you wearing synthetic underwear or something? I’m afraid to say that you very often offend on this point, hot water or no hot water.’ In this way your daughter will be equipped with the tools she needs to pretend to be offended so that later on she can open up a frank debate with her friend. This should reap the result you require.

Q. While weekending at a friend of mine’s parents, her mother asked me if I would like some porridge as I arrived at breakfast. I am a keen porridge fan and replied as such. When I tasted the heaped bowl, however, it was heavily salted and induced a feeling of overwhelming nausea. I did not know how to refuse food that I had only just finished extolling the virtues of (‘yes, porridge is delicious, but not this muck’) and so finished the bowlful. For future reference how should I have handled this situation, without feeling ill for the rest of the day?

J.K.W., by email

A. Jonathan Dimbleby suffered recently from this very problem. The solution would have been to put your first spoonful down immediately and say, ‘This is delicious. I’ve forgotten what real porridge tastes like but I’ve been a complete chump. I totally forgot to tell you that I’m following the government guidelines on salt intake. I can’t resist another couple of spoonfuls but do you mind if I don’t finish it?’

Q. I want to buy my 93-year-old father a present for his birthday but there is nothing he doesn’t have and, what’s more, he hates extravagance. It seems depressing to give him nothing. What do you suggest, Mary?

J.V.S., Richmond, Yorkshire

A. Buy your father one of the newly available wind-up radios costing only £29.99. Your father will be pleased to think he need never buy batteries or use up units of electricity. Like blow heaters, you can never have enough radios in a house.