Mary Killen

Your problems solved | 6 March 2004

Etiquette advice from The Spectator's Miss Manners

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Dear Mary...

Q. I find that I can’t remember somebody’s name for longer than 30 seconds after I have been introduced to them. It is worse at a party where I recognise people’s faces and suspect I know them well, but cannot remember who they are. Recently, at a fashion party, there was a typical worst-case scenario when I saw an old friend from university who now moves in fashion circles, and his name completely eclipsed [sic] me. Can you recommend a foolproof procedure that will work every time to prevent me from having these problems? I do not want to have to go on a five-day memory improvement course.

S.G., London W8

A. In junior circles such as your own the mobile telephone provides an instant solution to this problem. Have it to hand as you go round parties, then, when you see a beaming stranger approaching, you are poised to present him with the device crying, ‘I’m glad I’ve seen you while I’ve got this in my hand. Would you mind entering your new details?’ In the pretence of admiring his dexterity, stand over him as he keys in his name.

Q. I had an MP to dinner last week, and he was holding forth. I had just read your advice on how to deal with that (21 February) and intervened to say that the poor man needed a rest from Question Time interrogations. It now turns out that several people present had also read your column. Which suggests that at any rate in certain circles no one can possibly follow the advice you give: you often suggest a subterfuge, and if everyone recognises it then it is no longer concealed. Your advice is often designed to preserve or create a reputation for being an original and suave manipulator of awkward relations. That also is destroyed as soon as the subterfuge is discovered. Shouldn’t your advice carry a warning: ‘Never ever do what Mary says’?

Naive, Bletchley

A.Thank you for your comments. My morale has been simultaneously boosted and deflated. I see your point but take the view that, in the very small number of problems where the solution is rendered redundant by an incestuous readership, the publication of the problem itself still serves a useful social purpose. It acts as a caveat to those who might otherwise have unthinkingly committed the very faux pas described.

Q. I have three children aged seven, nine and five. What do I serve at their birthday parties now that all the old favourites — sausages, cakes, hamburgers, chicken nuggets and fizzy drinks — have been demonised? I know for a fact that some mothers at our children’s prep school refused a recent invitation to a house where the parents were known to take a no-nonsense attitude to ‘faddy foods’ and serve the full toxic works. A friend who served parsley sandwiches in Terence Stamp wheat-free bread followed by sheep’s yogurt with organic maple syrup found there were no takers.

A.A., London W11

A. You cannot go wrong with Prince of Wales Royal Duchy products — his sausages are free-range and organic, his biscuits free of hydrogenated vegetable oils. Leave the Duchy packaging lying around to impress the parents at pick-up time.