Dear Mary…

Etiquette advice from The Spectator's Miss Manners

1 April 2006

Q. I look after 60 little girls at a boarding prep school. We have an ongoing struggle with headlice and nits. Combing these pestilential creatures out of long hair with nit combs and conditioner is almost a full-time job. (The parents do not want us to use organophosphates.) What can I do, Mary? Even if I do manage to get each girl’s head cleared, as soon as they go home one of them becomes reinfested through contact with a younger sibling and the whole thing starts all over again.
Name and address withheld

A. It is much less time-consuming to perform the treatment in a backwash sink. A company called LSE which supplies the luxurious furniture to the Jo Hansford salon in London’s Mount Street can sell ‘one-offs’ to non-hairdressers. Their website is But there is a very promising new headlice removal product on the market. Hedrin — which uses no organophosphates — has the same effect on headlice as mayonnaise, namely it suffocates them. Leave on the hair overnight and, in the morning, count the corpses on the pillow. Those nits remaining glued to the hair shaft can then be easily dislodged with a nit comb and conditioner and hosed down the backwash sink in no time.


Q. A friend of mine, a pacifist, has recently returned from Iraq where he was being held hostage by kidnappers. My friend spent months tied up and blindfolded at the mercy of murderous Iraqi nutters before being rescued by the SAS in a brilliant and daring raid. It was a great relief for us all, but I have a new problem now, Mary, which is this. Despite owing his life to the special forces troops, my friend has only offered a few, very grudging words of thanks. How can I help him see that this is inconsistent, given that he longed to escape, and unacceptably rude?
N.B., Bucks

A. Many female readers will be familiar with ‘Ski Instructor Syndrome’ wherein they fall in love with unsuitable men who have the upper hand in a foreign scenario. Your friend may well have caught the more dangerous version of this syndrome — capture-bonding, an offshoot of Stockholm Syndrome (from which Patty Hearst suffered). The victims of capture-bonding develop a psychological identification with their more powerful abuser and remain loyal to them even when freed. It takes six months to a year to get over Ski Instructor Syndrome, so have patience. No doubt your friend will come to his senses in the fullness of time and will then be appalled by his discourtesy.

Q. My brother, aged 11, got his first mobile for Christmas. He was so proud of it that he carried it everywhere. Unfortunately he had it in his shorts pocket when he went swimming at Lamu. My mother rang the insurers and they said they would never pay back money for mobiles that had fallen into water. What can we do, Mary?
T.B., Cherrington

A. Open up the telephone and blast the innards with a hairdryer until they are bone-dry. This often works to bring a waterlogged mobile back to life.

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