17 OCTOBER 1998, Page 71


Dear Mary.. .

Q. Your correspondent in Sydney wanted to know how to ascertain someone's age without causing offence. This is how it can be done. Say, 'Think of a number (say 93), double it (186), add five (191), multiply by 50 (9,550), add 1,748 (11,298), subtract the Year of your birth (say, as in my case, 1927).' So far the victim does all the arith- metic mentally. Then you ask, 'What have You got now?"9,371.' Ignoring the last two digits, you say brightly, 'You thought of the number 93.' Your friend is so impressed that you can identify her number that she fails to realise that the last two digits have given you the age she reaches this year, Which in my case is 71. Remember to add 1 to 1,748 for every year after 1998.

C.C., Stonehaven, Aberdeen A. How kind of you to share this useful trick with Spectator readers.

Q. I have plenty of money to invest. Can you recommend a sure-fire corker of an idea for me?

J.S., London W12 A. Since you are already in the media, why not buy up all the worthy children's pro- grammes and dub the presenters' voices into proper English at very little extra cost? You can then rebroadcast the shows from Your own little digital network, the RP channel, to which all parents, even the yobs, will immediately tune since RP is so much easier on the ear. 'Have you seen Live and Kicking?' people will say. 'No, I'm waiting till it comes out on RP,' will come the answer.

Q. My husband has a horrible habit of lick- ing his fingers before turning the pages of The Spectator and other magazines. The fingers also tend to emerge from his mouth with a pop. How can I cure him? Please don't suggest putting mustard on the pages because it would make The Spectator's cor- ners even more mushy and, besides, he likes mustard.

D.J., Helston, Cornwall A. Keep a supply 'to hand' of the sort of rubber thimbles favoured by bank clerks when counting piles of notes. Your hus- band should have no objection to your slip- ping one on him when he settles down for a reading session. He will soon learn to enjoy the psychological satisfaction of turning a read page with the extra decisiveness afforded the finger by the thimble-wearing process. Rubber thimbles, which are unpleasant to the taste, and the more sinis- ter 'finger cones' are available from station- ers at roughly 10 and 15 pence respectively.

Q. The answer to my friend's problem (St G., Cornwall, 19 September) is to send his friends to camp up on the half-acre of his generous roof. Provide a tent for children, dog, nanny, etc. A better holiday than But- lin's. Ladder to be provided. Owner may then growl and make gestures from win- dow, as guest family climb up and down from garden to roof. Dog to be hoisted. Perhaps an easier solution for insects, but a distinct possibility for intolerant and unfriendly hosts who insist on living alone in large country estates.

C.G., Santa Monica, USA A. Thank you. I must, however, remind you of the disasters that have befallen Hugh Montgomery Massingberd, as he then was, who regularly suffered from attacks of ver- tigo on country house roofs, often snapping off key pinnacles as he fell.

Mary Killen