Magazine article The Spectator

Dear Mary

Magazine article The Spectator

Dear Mary

Article excerpt

Once again Mary has invited some of her most distinguished readers to submit Christmas queries.

From: Sir Norman Rosenthal

Q. I have an old friend who for some years has run an art gallery near Bond Street. I must have said something bad about him to somebody. It clearly got back to him and after a very unpleasant letter he has crossed me off his invitation and party list.

This makes me very sad, as I now never get to see his artists who are all friends of mine. I am also very close to the gallery owner's mother-in-law. She is well into her nineties, but very active, and we often go to concerts together. My wife does not object. After the concert I take her home in a taxi. She holds my hand and once said to me, 'Norman, you and I, we are an item!'

She says, however, that she can do nothing about her son-in-law. Is there anything I can do to restore peace, especially during this season of goodwill?

A. Enlist the help of a happening artist whom this galleriste might wish to attract to his stable. Use him/her as a Trojan horse to smooth your arrival in the gallery on a weekday just before luncheon. Enter together, you proffering a bottle of good champagne as you walk forward to confront your old friend in magnanimous mode. Say 'I've decided to forgive you. Will you forgive me?' Before he can answer, move emotionally forward into hugging position while he stares over your shoulder and into the face of the artist he may wish to attract.

From Rachel Johnson

Q. As the so-called festive season is upon us, how can we prevent our husbands from using the word 'we' instead of 'you', as in 'Have we done the children's stockings?'/ 'Have we ordered the Fortnum's crackers?'

The implication is 'it is your job but we will both take credit for having done it'. This is not just a seasonal query, Mary, it applies throughout the year.

A. Why not make a small investment in a household blackboard? You can then react to these taunts pleasantly by saying 'Be a luv and pop it on the blackboard.' The very act of writing down the chore, then constantly viewing it there in his own handwriting, should heighten the husband's sense of shared responsibility.

From Dom Anthony Sutch

Q. The late Cardinal Hume noted that Christians were to be in the marketplace but not of it. Paul of Tarsus noted that for a message to be heard someone had to preach. My own circumstances find me accepting offers to talk and give speeches in a variety of places. Recently I spoke after dinner at the Mansion House, also to the Flyfisher's Club, and in the Vintners, London. All were accompanied by superb victuals. Murmurings of 'he is a glutton and a drunkard' could be surmised.

Other times, when refusing requests to speak, mutterings of 'he is too high and mighty, beyond himself' are discernible.

How does one persuade people to forget the messenger and concentrate on the message?

A. The concentration on the messenger rather than the message is a by-product of the celebrity culture. It is by no means confined to hypocrisy-detectors seeking to do down clerics but is also noted by writers who wonder why, when their own 'messages' have been carefully quintessentialised into book form, there are so many literary festival audience members anxious to hear the same thing in a sloppier form while staring at the writers with suspicious looks on their faces.

However, it is thought that the celebrity boom has now peaked and the false value put on fame, rather in the same way as it once was on tulips, may begin to give way so that once again people will quite naturally concentrate on the message rather than the messenger. …

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