6 OCTOBER 2007, Page 59

Your Problems Solved

Dear Maly Q. An elderly relative has developed the disgusting habit of licking her knife after using it for, say, jam, and then using it again to help herself to butter. It's horrid having to take butter from a dish into which some one else's saliva-strewn knife has been plunged. Any ideas?

B.M, North Berwick A. Re-educate your relation by giving her tea at your own table. Serve scones from the oven, handing out the first one 'to test' by an accomplice who will have been primed to load it with butter; then lick his knife. As his knife-wielding hand now lunges for the jam, cry `Greystoke! Greystoke!' and steer the hand towards the teaspoon he should use. 'What does Greystoke mean?' your relation is bound to ask as your accomplice apologises. 'Oh, it's our secret code,' you can reply. Explain that Greystoke' refers to the 1984 film in which Christopher Lambert plays an aristocrat raised, since babyhood, by apes in the African jungle. He is returned to the family stately in England, Greystoke, where Edwardian society is disgusted by his jungle table-manners. The story is based on Tarzan. 'So whenever any of us shows signs of behaving like an ape at the table, like licking knives,' you can smile, 'we say "Greystoke!" to remind each other not to.' You can then decide the scones are ready and serve them. Having initiated your relation into the Greystoke Society's secret code, you can now use it to bring her up sharp when she next breaches accepted table etiquette. 'Greystoke!' you will be able to cry in teasing and friendly manner, and thereby avoid giving offence.

Q. I was invited to lunch in Norfolk by a friend of a friend with whom I was staying. Lunch was served at a big table within a walled garden, one of whose walls had been adapted to accommodate an outdoor fireplace with roaring log fire. Our foodie host cooked for us his own rare, organic, just-harvested vegetables and fruit along with his own home-killed chickens. It was all great fun and there were picturesque children, dogs, flowers everywhere, etc. The whole thing was very lifestyle-envy so I took some digital photographs and was just about to email them to our host's wife when I wondered whether I could use the opportunity to also thank her by email. Or, Mary, is it still necessary to get out pen and ink and cartridge paper?

PR., London SW3 A. If your hostess is under 50, then a thankyou email, which contains photographs, is acceptable if dispatched within 48 hours of this sort of informal occasion. Otherwise a postcard !letter in an envelope must be dispatched within 24 hours. A follow-up CD with the good pictures can be sent later in the post, or the good shots can be emailed later. The idea of editing is to take the hard work out of it for your hostess. It is an example of how our etiquette workload has paradoxically increased along with the digital and cyber developments designed to reduce it.

Q. I have a job just off Oxford Street. Walking only 100 yards seems to take forever as one negotiates the other pedestrians. What is your tip, Mary?

A.S., London E14 A. Stare at the ground as you walk. Everyone else will get out of your way.

If you have a problem write to Dear Mary, cio The Spectator, 22 Old Queen Street, London SW1H 9HP.