Yes! Sack Mary Killen!! Sack the worst agony aunt ever, this moment!!!
It is perhaps unwise of me to write this in the early hours of the morning, having woken up at three o’clock and not having been able to get back to sleep.
[Later note. It was indeed unwise. The piece was not up to scratch. What follows is, I hope, an improved version. Mustn’t make that mistake again …]
For the last weeks I have been in a race against time to complete a book for Lord R, nor have I thought about anything else. As a result, I have almost managed to forget my over-riding existential concern, which is that the absurd belief in so-called ‘man-made global warming’, championed by our half-criminal prime minister, is leading us towards inevitable ruination.
So that’s the background. Against which, it is a relief to forget the big issues and to resume my little campaign against Mary Killen, the supremely idiotic ‘agony aunt’ of The Spectator. Now, therefore, I review in some detail the ‘Dear Mary’ column of the 23 October edition … a column which carries the subtitle, perhaps intended provocatively, of ‘Your problems solved’.
What we have, as usual, is readers writing in with their concerns, sometimes real and sometimes a little over-wrought; and the good Mary’s suggestions as to how to confront them. Here goes:
Problem number 1:
Q: During lockdown I made good friends with a neighbour who [not ‘whom’, note] I would never have met otherwise. This man lives so close that he now regularly comes to informal dinners at our house. Unfortunately he has a habit of ‘double dipping’ his used fork into jars of redcurrant jelly, mustard, whatever – even though I always supply saucers and teaspoons. It means I have to throw away half-full jars when he has left. How can I stop this without drawing attention to his table manners and making him feel too shy to come again? [Etc etc etc]
Leaving aside the question of whether it is really necessary to throw away perfectly good jars of condiments if someone has dunked a used fork into them, it is indisputably uncouth to do what the guest in question regularly does. There is no reason why the person writing in should not gently urge the guest to use the spoons provided. In other words, this little problem has to be confronted directly, though with the minimum of fuss.
But what does Mary suggest? Something sensible, something workable or realistic? No. This is her advice:
A: Next time your new friend comes, invite other guests and aks everyone if they would like, for example, redcurrant jelly? Fill eggcups off-stage accordingly and as you bring them in, each with its own saucer and teaspoon, explain [‘that’, missed out] the eggcups are a present from a child who bought them with her own pocket money and keeps asking if you like them. Since you never eat boiled eggs, by using them in this way you can honestly tell her that they have been useful.
If this is a joke, it is lost on me.
Problem number 2:
Q: I am giving a Christmas party in December and sent out invitations last month in good time for friends to arrange accommodation, as I live in the country. Unbeknownst to me, an acquaintance sent out in May a save-the-date for the same day. The friends we share are now undecided about what to do. Yes, there has been uncertainty over Covid rules but they have heard nothing since May and some have said they are definitely coming to mine. Mary, whose invitation takes precedence in the event [‘that’, missed out] both parties go ahead?
My immediate reaction is that the issue here is not which invitation takes precedence, there being no such thing as precedence where invitations are concerned, but what on earth you do when you find out that you are giving a large party on the same day as someone who shares lots of friends with you.
Here is the suggested solution of La Killen.
A: The rival event takes precedence – but the rival host is at fault. Although you can issue a save-the-date for up to two years ahead, you need to firm up with the actual invitation no later than eight weeks before the date saved. Ask one of your shared guests to pleasantly enquire whether the first party is still going ahead as, if so, they would like to book accommodation. Pose the question very much in the mood of ‘no one would blame you if you have postponed it due to the Covid uncertainty’. This will force the rival host’s hand and at least the uncertainty will be at an end.
Here, we have a typical Killen ‘solution’: complicated and contorted; underhand, even.
Rather than suggesting that the person writing in has asked the wrong question, she ‘runs with the ball’ (sorry: £5 in the box), and asserts that ‘the rival event takes precedence’, on the basis that the hostess of this so-called ‘rival event’ was the first one to send out invites, or warnings of invites to come.
This is nonsense. People can send out invitations to anything whenever they want, and other people can accept or not accept as they want. The idea, advanced by Killen, that there is some sort of divinely ordained ‘precedence’, is plain wrong.
As for her assertion that ‘the rival host is at fault’, that again is pure nonsense. Firstly, the ‘rival host’ isn’t a rival; she’s just someone who wants to give a party. And secondly, if she hasn’t yet got round to sending out proper invitations to follow up on her save-the-date card of earlier in the year, that is no-one’s business but her own.
As though quoting an accepted rule, Killen then informs us that ‘you can issue a save-the-date for up to two years ahead’. Again, that’s nonsense. You can issue an invite for twenty years ahead, if you so wish; and good luck to you. And next, she suggests that the correspondent should urge one of her friends to ‘pleasantly’ enquire of the ‘rival’ party-giver whether … bla bla bla …
You see? As always with Killen, the ‘solution’ is a tortuous affair, the more complicated the better. Not: ‘Get on the blower to the other hostess and ask her whether her party is going ahead; and then decide whether to cancel your own event, or to carry on with it anyhow; these being the only two options.’ No! That would be far too simple. Instead, some unsuspecting mutual friend must be involved and must be instructed to use Covid worries, in underhand manner, in order to weasel out the answer to a question whose purpose is disguised.
So Killen starts off by laying down non-existent rules, and concludes by suggesting some Byzantine strategem that is more a plot than a solution. It is, as always, perfectly maddening.
* * * * *
But you know what? I’m almost grateful to the woman for annoying me so much. Because for a short time at any rate it takes my mind off the lunatic fiction that is ‘man-made global warming’ and our suicide mission towards ‘zero carbon’.
Now there’s a real problem that I’d like to see solved. Any ideas, Mary?