Dear Mary

Dear Mary: A horrid woman accused me of hogging a spare train seat

Plus: An artist with too many friends; and a knotty legal problem

12 September 2015

9:00 AM

12 September 2015

9:00 AM

Q. I regularly travel on the Ashford-St Pancras train and usually put my case on the seat next to me so that passengers can pass along the aisle, after which I put it down by my feet. Last week a woman pointed at it and said loudly, ‘Does that deserve a seat of its own?’ Irritated that my travel etiquette had been called into question, I sought out the woman and tried to explain. She was rude and dismissive, said ‘Have you made your point?’ and told me to go away. I did so, because her two young children and someone I took to be her mother were seated with her and, from their body language, had seen it all before. I fear she is a serial bossy-boots. I am a retired woman of a certain age, far from robust, and feel I was bullied. Mary, what could I have said to make her think twice before hectoring someone else?
— L.T., Lavenham, Suffolk

A. It is best to bear in mind that 5,000 mental health beds have had to be closed in the wake of overspending and that many of those who should be in secure units are instead out and about in the community. You can never be sure when abusive strangers fall into this group but it helps to assume they do. In the situation you describe you might have gained the upper hand by suddenly coming over all compassionate and mouthing ‘Sorry’ to the family in complicit manner.

Q. I’m getting pressure all the time from friends who want to see me and who assume that, because I’m an artist, I don’t ‘work’. Yet even if I was free all day I still couldn’t cope since, although I like all of them, there are just too many. It doesn’t help that I live in central London, but short of moving abroad how can I stop hurting people’s feelings?
—Name and address withheld

A. You will have to take a tip from Picasso, who in early life processed his otherwise unmanageable numbers of friends by declaring Sundays open-house day. Even if some friends require one-to-one consultations, it is better to offer them this diluted opportunity to see you than none at all.

Q. My father has just died and a friend’s daughter, whom I don’t much like, is doing her first job at the large law firm which is handling his estate. It is possible that she will not be working in the section which is dealing with it — nevertheless, the idea of her having access to my family’s finances fills me with horror. How can I find out tactfully if she has seen any of my family’s papers or is likely to? I see her parents regularly, and her occasionally.
— Name and address withheld

A. Telephone the relevant partner at the law firm and ask him or her to confirm that the files are only accessible by a restricted list of people, which would not include this girl. The partner will be used to such requests and is unlikely to be surprised by yours.

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  • Petra

    Why couldn’t you put your case on the overhead luggage rack or your knees?

    Bravo to her for calling out a seat hog. I only hope that she does it to men as well as women, but people tend to only police the soft targets.

    • MacGuffin

      I concur. The woman is to be commended. This advice-seeker should be ashamed of herself.

      • PaD

        And you should be too..for having such a miserable life that compels you to sot at a computer andmake a derogatory remark about someone who was obviously distressed and was merely seeking advice..

    • rob232

      Very possibly as a retired lady of a certain age she was unable to put the case on the luggage rack. Obviously there was no shortage of available seats as the family of young children and grandmother included all managed to sit together. Bossy people are always unpleasant even when they are right. It’s not nice to bully an elderly person especially when flanked by such an entourage.

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  • Tim Bake

    “It is best to bear in mind that 5,000 mental health beds have had to be closed in the wake of overspending and that many of those who should be in secure units are instead out and about in the community.”

    Dear Mary,

    As a one time mental health service user I am getting bored with lazy stereotypes of my kind by journalists who lack the wit to think originally.

    When someone links rudeness or dangerousness to mental illness when really there is little justification for it, do I simply ignore their crassness or call them on it?



  • msmysterygirl

    When I ride the train, I put the articles I carry on my lap. Trains are often crowded where I commute so taking up an extra seat to store my belongings is just plain rude and selfish. The writer of this letter should take a cab if they don’t want to share a seat with someone else.

  • msmysterygirl

    And Mary Killen equating the woman’s behavior (in regards to the seat hog) to mental illness is just plain asinine. What a poor example of an ‘advice columnist’.

    • Mc

      Advice columnists are known since time immemorial for often making biting comments. Otherwise the columns would tend toward limp-wristed soppiness that one would expect from a vicar or a right-on social worker – not exactly the sort of stuff to entertain readers.

  • WTF

    The problem with putting a brief case on the adjacent seat it immediately sends a message that you’re trying to reserve it for extra space even if you intend to move it if asked. Far better if you cant reach up to the overhead baggage is to put it upright behind your legs or on your lap as putting it in the aisle is not a good idea for safety reasons.

    I had a mild argument with a Ryanair stewardess once when after I put my carry on into the overhead, she told me to put it under the seat in front of me because the plane was going to be full. I said to her that due to my height, it would have to go behind my legs as both wouldn’t fit under the seat in front which of course is against the rules. She begrudgingly saw sense and didn’t say anything when a few minutes later I put it overhead anyway. Other Stewardess’s on Air Europa for instance have seen my leg space predicament just before take off and sent me to the emergency exit seat with acres of leg room..

    • Dominic Stockford

      It must be hard being 5ft 3 tall.

      • WTF

        It sure is trying to reach onto the top shelf of a cupboard but that’s not a problem I have !

  • Scylla

    VOTE UKIP! I’ll get my coat…

  • Leo McKinstry

    I, too, regularly get that train to St Pancras and back. If there is one thing I cannot abide it is selfish commuters who – even when the carriage is packed – put their bags on the seat next to them. My particular exasperation is reserved for the travellers who sit on the aisle seat, with their luggage on the window seat, and then make a great, sighing fuss when you ask them if you could manage to rearrange their affairs so some of us could actually sit down. It happens all the time and most of us – including myself – are far too diffident to challenge this behaviour. I totally agree with the supposedly “horrid woman”. If Mary’s correspondent could put her case “down by” her feet at some stage in the journey, then why on earth did she not do so in the first place?

    • so3paperclips

      You poor dear. It’s a wonder you make it out of the house without bursting into tears.

      • Feminister

        Seems like you’re quite a sensitive soul yourself. One comment and you get all defensive.

  • Sarka

    How sanctimonious some posters are being. I regularly travel on quite a crowded bus (hour journey). The upper shelf for stuff is very narrow and unless what you are carrying is a tent pole it’s rarely used by anyone – just one very full bag of shopping would be a danger there – to itself and others. Everybody always puts encumbrances on the seat beside them when they sit down in a double-seat first. The only aggressive manoeuvre is to to sit on the outside seat and use the window seat for encumbrances, but people are normally far too polite to do that. What they do is just wait and see and as soon as someone stops and looks meaningfully at the seat they just smile (as I do) and remove encumbrances to lap or by feet. The prescribed response by person sitting down is to smile and say thank you. Nobody would leap in with an aggressive comment before encountering resistance to the suggestion of the meaningful look,

    or sometimes verbal “do you mind if I sit here?”.

    Here (Czecho) train or bus etiquette is in any case to ask if you can take a seat next to someone even if they are not encumbered or using that seat for anything.

    Also – and it’s very sweet – on any longer train or bus journey, those in seats immediately next to you say, “Goodbye” when you get off.

    Jumping down someone’s throat before they have had time to move stuff is rotten behaviour.

  • Mc

    “Even if some friends require one-to-one consultations, it is better to offer them this diluted opportunity to see you than none at all.”

    In Picasso’s case, one-to-one consultations typically involved bedding said ladies. Not sure if Mary Killen was hinting at that 😉