Your Problems Solved | 9 November 2002

Etiquette advice from The Spectator's Miss Manners

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Dear Mary....

Q. During August there was a time when members of Brooks's were allowed into White's. A Test match was on and I wanted to see what the score was but the gun, or operator, to switch on the set was resting in the hands of a fairly aged member who was fast asleep at the back of the room. There was no one else present in the room. If you are in somebody else's club, what is the protocol about taking the operator out of the more legitimate member's hands?

J.S.S., London W1

A. You were fortunate to have this rare opportunity to breach the portals of White's, since the club does not normally collude with the system of offering hospitality on a reciprocal basis to members of other clubs in St James's whose premises are being 'cleaned'. This happens annually in August when most members are away abroad or shooting. The system does not lead to any difficulty provided the invitee is most scrupulous in always taking second place should any member of the host club compete with him for club facilities; he should at all times be discreet and unobtrusive. Since there were no other members present in the room, it would have been acceptable for you to turn on the set, but clearly you could not have risked wrestling the controls from the rigor mortis-style grip of the sleeping member. Instead, you could have pretended not to have noticed where the device was and just switched on the set manually, as though taking it for granted that in such an old-fashioned setting as a gentleman's club they wouldn't have anything so up to date as a remote control. To avoid a 'rude awakening', you could have pressed the volume button to mute with one hand as you switched on the set with the other, only gradually increasing it in line with the aged member's reaction.

Q. My 'partner' and I have a joint income of something over £500,000 a year. While not self-conscious about this, we sometimes worry about whether or not we are 'rich' and accordingly should feel rather guilty. Have you any criterion that can be applied to determine this question?

Name and address withheld

A. The late Alan Clark and his friend Euan Graham coined the aphorism that 'one is rich only if one has a full complement of indoor domestic staff while one's parents are still alive'. This may be applicable to your predicament.

Q. A fellow journalist friend often has difficulties thinking up ideas for his column and has taken to making up quotes from me when he feels in need of a story. It would be absurd to write to the editor about such a petty gripe, and when I confront my friend he tells me I have no sense of humour. It is, however, an annoying habit that I would prefer he gave up. What do you suggest, Mary?

M.B., Kenya

A. Punish the man by repeatedly making frequent references to him in your own works, always enhancing his age by five or more years. You should soon see an end to the nuisance.

Q. What is the fashionable way to announce the death of an acquaintance? I dislike the expression 'passed away'. 'He's popped his clogs' seems facetious. 'He's gone to Heaven' seems a bit sickly. Can you suggest an alternative?

J.S., Bath

A. The Hooray expression 'He's now a member of the Turf Club' seems popular at the moment.