Mary Killen

Your Problems Solved | 5 October 2002

Etiquette advice from The Spectator's Miss Manners

Text settings

Dear Mary...

Q. In the course of a typical week I normally spend a good deal of time travelling around the country by train. During these trips I frequently find that my mobile telephone has run short of battery because of the high volume of calls I have to make. Being on a train I have no means of recharging it. I might add that I am always at pains to avoid offending other passengers, and therefore make a point of standing in the corridor between compartments to make and receive calls on such journeys. Something which has often caught my eye is the mysterious empty plug socket that can be seen lurking at the back of the luggage racks on intercity trains. Can you tell me whether it is legally and/or practically acceptable to plug one's charger into this socket on a long journey?

C.J., Dorchester, Dorset

A. The purpose of these mysterious empty sockets on intercity trains is to enable service engineers to plug in vacuum cleaners when the trains are safely berthed. Sadly the sockets cannot be employed for this useful end as power surges while the train is in motion would cause a mobile to 'blow' altogether. The better option is to precharge a spare battery at home and carry it on your person.

Q. I am a busy working mother with a number of projects on the go at any one time, and am constantly multitasking. Regarding vital things that I must not forget, I have always written reminder notes to myself on the back of my hand in black felt-tip. The unpleasant truth is that, although this system works efficiently, these days (I am almost 45), the back of my hand is not an area that I wish to draw to other people's attention, the texture of it becoming somewhat crocodilian. What do you suggest, Mary?

H.R., Devon

A. Why not use the meeting point of your right thigh and kneebone as a scribbling pad? The average woman goes to the lavatory every two hours, a procedure which usually involves gazing at this precise area. In this way, each time you go to the lavatory or even think about going to it, the reminder image will flash into your head.

Q. An elderly single cousin who is a neighbour has always been fond of my children and regularly hints that he wishes them to be the beneficiaries of his will. I am sure he is sincere in this wish but I have discovered that he has not yet made a will. Without wishing to strike a grasping note, how can I hurry this procedure along? If he dies intestate, the monies will, I understand, go to his extremely well-off sister with whom he has very little contact and towards whom he feels, I fear, very little affection.

Name and address withheld

A. Why not throw a dinner party for 12 and invite your cousin? Camouflaged among the fellow guests should be a personable young female solicitor with a local office, who can be enjoined to regale the table with a couple of well-chosen horror stories about the estates of clients who have died intestate. You can count on her co-operation. Solicitors are only too keen to tout for will-writing business since they can often factor in themselves as co-executors and grasp a percentage of the estate. With any luck this may set the ball rolling.

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