Dear mary

Dear Mary: what do you do if you spill red wine on a sofa?

No matter how much you loved Boris you would find it maddening if he spilled red wine on your sofa.  And more so if he didn’t even make a gestural effort to clear it up. But, like us all, Boris would have known from experience of the futility of trying to get red wine stains out of ‘soft furnishings ‘ We’ve all seen fellow party guests being humiliated after such spillages as bossy people set to with theatrical paper towel mopping or the pantomime of pouring white wine or whole packets of sea salt onto the stains. And then we’ve seen that nothing seems to work. Boris may have felt

Dear Mary | 25 April 2019

Q. Like many of his profession, Manolo, my most-proficient masseur, has the gift of the gab and maintains a garrulous monologue throughout my weekly session. This would be all right if he did not constantly break off from his pummelling to make a point — or just spout. Often (I’ve checked with his clock) his pauses to elaborate on an anonymous patient’s therapy can add up to 15 minutes of my 45-minute session, which is disconcerting, as massage is costly. How can I halt Manolo’s volubility without using words which might offend or affect the efficacy of his work? (Pretending to meditate is out of the question as my collaboration

Is money an appropriate wedding present?

Dear Mary: I have been invited to the wedding of a distant relative through marriage, to her long-term partner. I did not expect to be invited, therefore would like to show my gratitude. However, there is no wedding list and they have specified on the invitation that the only gift they wish to receive is money. I find this to be slightly vulgar and frankly, given that they already own their home and are from relatively wealthy families, rather brass-necked. I do not wish to give cash in an envelope — à la Goodfellas — but would still like to get them something. What do you suggest? —C.S., Leicestershire A.

Dear Mary | 20 October 2016

Q. Next month, four of us from university are going up on a wildfowling trip north of Inverness. We are catching the night sleeper from Euston and I have been charged with booking the berths. Two of the team are in a heterosexual relationship whilst the fourth, a man I have met just once, is homosexual. Inevitably I will be expected to bunk up with him in a cabin. The problem is that I am considerably better off than the others and would much rather have my own space but I fear a personal move to first class may prompt suspicions of homophobia (which couldn’t be more wrong). How can

Letters | 29 September 2016

Ground zero Sir: James Forsyth looks for hope for moderates within the Labour party and finds none (‘The party’s over’, 24 September). That is because the most promising source of hope for them is not a change of position by Labour, but one by the Conservatives. The history of British politics since 1990 has been a prolonged fight for the centre ground. This isn’t because that’s where either party naturally wants to be, but because that’s where the votes are. With Corbyn’s renewed mandate, Labour have unilaterally ceded that ground. The Conservatives could, as Forsyth suggests, use the opportunity to dig themselves in there so firmly that Labour will never

Dear Mary: Nigel Slater asks how to seem grateful for bad presents

From Nigel Slater Q. With each passing year (I am nearly 60, for heaven’s sake), I am finding it increasingly difficult to lie convincingly. This is a particular problem when unwrapping presents. The grateful words flow from my lips like warm jam from a spoon but what appears on my face is ‘Seriously, how could you?’ Do you have any suggestions as to how I can make my facial expression match my words? I hate to appear ungrateful. A. This problem may be relieved with the easy expedient of alcohol. There is a reason people drink fizzy wines during the festive season — they produce a mild euphoria which masks

Dear Mary: How can I remedy an insult to my bookshop customers?

From Nicky Dunne, Heywood Hill bookshop Q. A much admired actor rang our bookshop to send a hardback copy of Don Quixote, with an appreciative handwritten note, to a very distinguished fellow board-treader. Unfortunately we sent a children’s illustrated edition by mistake, thereby putting a backhand slice on what was meant to be a compliment. How can I make it up to them both? A. Obviously you should send a complimentary copy of the real version – but don’t apologise too much. Actors have the most fragile of egos and you must not risk fomenting heightened paranoia. Instead blame the mistake on your intern, explaining that, since colouring-in books for

Dear Mary: What would Mrs Fulford like for Christmas?

From Francis Fulford Q. Have you any suggestions for what to give my wife for Christmas? She doesn’t want anything practical and was deeply unamused when I gave her a ‘top-of-the-range’ Barbour tweed coat some years ago. So obvious things like gardening forks, dog leads etc are out of the question. My children have suggested that she would like a 50” colour TV from Argos (currently a ‘bargain’ at £299) but I am not convinced and don’t want to have her suffer a major sense of humour failure when she unwraps it in front of all our Christmas guests. A. What do women want? You need look no further than

Letters | 18 June 2015

Growing congregations Sir: I would like to take issue with Damian Thompson (‘Crisis of faith’, 13 June) and his assertions that England’s churches are in deep trouble. Last Saturday 250 Christians ranging in age from zero to 80, from two independent and orthodox local churches in Lancaster and Morecambe, met in a school to sing, pray, and hear preaching about Jesus Christ — this as well as our normal Sunday services. We believe we are doing what the Bible tells us to: preaching the good news of Christ from the pages of the Bible — and our churches are growing. Indeed, we can testify to growth in many local churches

Spectator letters: Why rural churches are so important, and the best use for them

The presence of a church Sir: The challenge for the Church of England and the wider community is to ensure that our village churches are a blessing and not a burden (‘It takes a village’, 21 February). The Church of England has approximately 16,000 churches, three-quarters of which are listed by English Heritage. Most of these church buildings are in rural areas. There are around 2,000 rural churches with weekly attendance lower than ten. It can be a significant responsibility for those small congregations to look after that church, and one has to recognise that this is a burden that falls on thriving parishes. There is no ‘one size fits

Dear Mary: How do I use my newly raised profile to meet celebrities?

From Mr N.M. Gwynne Q. Have you any suggestions on how I could milk my newly raised profile (as a bestselling author on English grammar and Latin, and a regular BBC Radio 5 broadcaster on how to speak and write English, and that sort of thing) to make the acquaintance of the kind of people whom, perhaps a little to my shame, I sometimes find myself rather longing to meet — such as Miss Kate Moss, Sir Paul McCartney, Sir Mick Jagger, and, as of the past few weeks, Mrs George Clooney? A. As a bestselling author you should have no difficulty getting a contract to write a biography of

Dear Mary: Tom Hodgkinson asks how to earn more money

From Tom Hodgkinson, Idler Academy Q. I have started my own academy where adults can learn skills such as ukulele, philosophy and calligraphy. This venture has every appearance of success: it will doubtless make money one day. I am completely free. The mother of my children is beautiful and interesting, and so are her issue. Best of all, I have not had a job since 1997. So what is my problem? Put simply, I am skint. I have been reduced to hoping to be invited to Sunday lunch with the in-laws so I can stuff my face with lamb and potatoes and thereby avoid the expense of supper. Any advice on

Dear Mary: Jesse Norman asks how to deal with defectors

From Jesse Norman MP Q. We’ve been having a little local difficulty at work with one or two colleagues who vigorously assert their loyalty to the organisation, but then go and join a would-be competitor. It’s not that this is bad for morale; on the contrary. But it confuses some of our customers. Your advice would be most welcome. A. Take the tip of a top industrialist who never tried to refuse a resignation: congratulate the deserter effusively on his decision and declare publicly that he and his new organisation will make an excellent fit and wish him well. Finish with the wise words of Sacha Guitry: ‘When a man

Dear Mary: Tatler’s editor asks how to cope with her new-found fame

From Kate Reardon, Tatler Q. I recently took part (some might say ‘starred’) in a highly acclaimed BBC2 fly-on-the-wall documentary series. I must admit I rather enjoyed being centre of attention, followed at all times by a production crew and constantly being asked my opinion on an exciting array of topics. How can I adjust back to real life with an absence of cameras and a sneaking suspicion that I may not be quite as fascinating as I thought? A. While the publicity is still cresting, why not hire an intern to film and interview you each day, then edit and post the results onto a YouTube channel? In this

Dear Mary on mobile phone etiquette, playing bridge, and the weather

The Spectator’s Mary Killen — otherwise known as ‘Dear Mary‘ — was on Radio 4’s Today programme this morning discussing whether or not it was right for a Sainsbury’s checkout assistant to refuse to serve a customer who was on her mobile phone. Here’s the clip from this morning’s programme, and below we’ve put together some of our favourite Dear Mary dilemmas of the last six months. listen to ‘Dear Mary on mobile phone etiquette’ on Audioboo Q. I was sitting in a South West train the other day. A woman across the aisle was making nonstop calls into her mobile phone, speaking very loudly in what sounded to me like

Dear Mary: How do I fake sleep?

Q. It is occasionally necessary for me to pretend to be asleep. What technique do actors use, when feigning death or sleep, to ensure their eyeballs are still and their eyelids do not flutter? — Name withheld, Hampshire A. To pre-empt fluttering, let the actual eyeballs look downwards behind the closed lids.  Q. Your correspondent in Bombay had trouble with teenage houseguests who were unaware of the convention of tipping. My recent problem was the reverse — my fellow guests and I wanted to tip after a long weekend abroad in which staff had done a lot of different things for us, but our female host refused to give us

Dear Mary: How can I reject my boyfriend’s PA’s flowers?

Q. Flowers have arrived, allegedly from my boyfriend — but the bunch includes begonias and gloxinias, foliage tonged into ringlets, sheaths of cellophane and a large acetate ribbon. I am fairly certain the culprit is his new personal assistant. As they are in my country house, he won’t see them, so how can I, without seeming ungrateful or sour, convey the message that he should not trust this important chore again to someone with such poor judgment? — Name and address withheld A. Quickly take a snap of the bouquet on your mobile and email it to your boyfriend, along with a blandly affectionate message of thanks. Let the image speak

Dear Mary | 7 March 2013

Q. Every morning I walk to work and stop to pick up a cappuccino from a local café outside which is invariably sitting a (handsome) man, alone apart from his dog, having breakfast. We always say hello and I sense that he likes at least the look of me, but there is no opportunity to say anything else. He must live locally but I don’t know who he is, and I can’t ask the people who run the café as they don’t speak English. I can’t sit down with him at the one table outside as that would be far too obvious (and too cold). I can tell he is