Mary Killen

Your Problems Solved | 8 February 2003

Etiquette advice from The Spectator's Miss Manners

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Dear Mary...

Q. I am in my gap year, have been travelling to Vietnam and the Far East already, and was supposed to have gone off travelling again, this time to Eastern Europe, shortly after Christmas. This trip has now been postponed for various reasons, including waiting to see whether a war will start. In the meantime, I am kicking around the house all day. Can you recommend any reasonably well-paid work, other than cold-calling, that an as yet unqualified 19-year-old can start and stop at short notice, and even do from home if necessary?

L.C., Andover, Wiltshire

A. One in five public schoolchildren is currently infested with headlice resistant to all known treatments. Mothers have been told that the only recourse is to slather on conditioner and comb slowly and fastidiously through the hair, strand after strand, night after night, in an attempt to eliminate just-hatched nits before they have time to give birth themselves. Few parents can factor this extra hour's work per child into their busy schedule. Most would be happy to pay between £6 and £10 per hour for a visiting youth to do it for them. Advertise your services as a travelling headlice exterminator on the noticeboards of local prep schools and you will be inundated with work.

Q. At Paddington the other day I noticed a middle-aged female of my acquaintance pulling a suitcase with wheels on it. I have always been led to believe that wheels on a suitcase are irredeemably common. Is this no longer the case?

C.B., Broadtown, Wiltshire

A. It was the case until about a year ago. Now practicality has abolished all social restraint. As the public transport system breaks down and gridlock clogs the roads, anyone whose impedimenta prevent them riding a bicycle or using roller blades is excused a suitcase on wheels. Meanwhile, style barometers Sarah Stacey and Eleanor Bron have both rejected handbags in favour of 1950s shopping trolleys on wheels.

Q. A recent reversal in fortune has meant that I am forced to use the Underground system as a means of transport. Is there any way in which I might give the impression to acquaintances who catch sight of me underground that I am a one-off Tube traveller and not an habituZ who is down on his luck?

A.B., London W8

A. When using the escalator, make sure you stand still in the 'fast' lane so as to block the passage of those wishing to scamper up or down. In this way, any acquaintance catching a glimpse of your antisocial behaviour will assume that this sighting must be a rare one.

Q. My husband and I, and three children aged four, six and nine, travel to Suffolk from London most weekends. We go directly past the door of a drive-in McDonald's just at a time when the traffic tends to grind to a halt with a lot of noise - air brakes wheezing, engines chugging, etc. By this time it is about nine o'clock and four hours since the children have had their tea. They invariably wake up and bawl for McDonald's. There is no other route. What can we do, Mary?

T.Y., London W2

A. You can replicate the infantilising experience of McDonald's consumption without having to stop your car. Simply load a large flask with hot chocolate and dispense it to all passengers through toddler training cups. By allowing warm sugary liquid to be pipetted into the stomach, you, too, will be able to replicate breast-feeding - the main attraction that McDonald's subliminally holds for many consumers. You will be able to continue on your journey without a time-wasting stop. Incidentally, it is a good idea to distribute airline eyemasks to children embarking on long journeys. This helps to keep them asleep at the sort of bottleneck junctions you mention.