Magazine article The Spectator

Dear Mary

Magazine article The Spectator

Dear Mary

Article excerpt

Q. Most of my cousins have taken early retirement. This is inconvenient for their wives as they get in the way of the hoovering. So, several of them have been persuaded to take up genealogical research with the result that they spend much of their time in county record offices. However, they all know that I have inherited a collection of family archives which seem to be largely about the harvesting and marketing of beans in early 19th-century Norfolk. Consequently, my cousins keep writing to me with obscure questions about family history. I don't want to offend any of them as we meet at funerals and one of them was recently made a Commander of the British Empire. However, I know quite well that if I answer their letters they will have follow-up queries on subjects such as the intricacies of the Methwold Enclosure of 1782. I don't have time to deal with this nonsense. Please advise.

H.N., Aylesbury, Bucks

A. You can have your cake and eat it by lodging your family archives at the appropriate county record office in Norfolk but retaining ownership of them so that you can still remove or sell them at any time. Using this method you will spare yourself the effort of processing your cousins' queries since the official archivist will be receiving a salary for performing the function for you.

Q. I am a live-in help for a distinguished retired academic couple. I find my position stimulating but have a small problem on which I hope you can advise me. How should I reply when the wife declares loudly, 'My husband's pathetic. Pay no attention'?

Name and address withheld

A. You should unnerve the wife by replying, with a dreamy look in your eye, 'Really? …

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