Mary Killen

Your Problems Solved | 7 May 2005

Etiquette advice from The Spectator's Miss Manners

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Dear Mary...

Q. My wife and I have been invited to an election-night party being given by neighbours of the opposite political persuasion to ourselves. We are very fond of these people but they are very much New Order and we are very much Old, so, to keep things harmonious, the subject of politics is normally given a wide berth. However, we cannot get out of attending this party. Should the worst happen and it becomes clear that New Labour will be swept back into office, how can we keep the despair and bitterness from registering on our faces and remain gracious during what will be a four-to-five hour alcohol-fuelled marathon?

Name and address withheld

A. Lay your cards on the table at your earliest opportunity by announcing that you and your wife are Tories. Raise a glass to your hosts and thank them for their hospitable embrace of guests with rival views to their own. ‘It’s a wonderful testament to democracy that we should be here,’ you can say. ‘But also, from our point of view it will be a great consolation, if New Labour seem to be winning again, to be here with such sympathetic people.’ Keep sarcasm from your voice as you continue. ‘We know that you are very much abreast of the progress of the New Labour programme and, if they are winning, you will at least be able to console us with a list of what good things they have already done.’ In this way you will curb any latent triumphalism which might otherwise blight your evening. But you must be equally prepared to control yourselves should the opposite result ensue.

Q. While taking a mid-morning walk near a local school, I was confronted by half a dozen teenaged girls wielding cigarettes and asking for a light, please? I was uncertain whether to make a hostile report to the head, bearing in mind time spent in my own school bicycle-shed, or to respond to the request by telling them they were all shortening their lives and heading for cancer, or to ignore them disapprovingly and continue my walk. (NB: I was smoking my pipe.) I wondered which course of action you would recommend.

E.D., Bristol

A. You should do unto others as you would be done by — no doubt you wish no one had ever given you your first light — so you should have turned the teenagers down, explaining this factor and adding, ‘Besides, assisted suicide is against the law in this country.’

Q. Both my daughters are learning to play the piano which is situated in our entrance hall. This means that, whenever my husband and I are bumbling about looking for wallets and other key things we need before leaving the house, the children are invariably banging out ‘Chopsticks’ which totally distracts us. We do not wish them to associate piano-playing with tension, so how can we curb this habit, Mary?

S.P., Mildenhall, Wilts

A. Do not forget that pianos usually have keyholes, to which the key has been lost. Coach House Pianos of Swansea can supply replacement keys. Their starting fee is only £10 plus p&p. Ring them on their freephone number 0800 783 1286 for instant relief.