Dear Mary

Dear Mary: How do I address a magistrate of indeterminate sex?

And how can I bring a little joy to a memorial service?

19 September 2015

8:00 AM

19 September 2015

8:00 AM

Q. Some years ago, while appearing as a barrister before a bench of three magistrates in the youth court, I encountered a problem. As I rose to address the chairman of the bench I found myself looking at an entirely androgynous figure with short brown hair, soft features and any physical indications of sex obscured beneath a large woolly jumper. After a moment’s panic — the custom is to address the court through the chairman using ‘sir’ or ‘madam’ — I fell back on the anachronism ‘your worships’, a phrase only used by the most pompous and elderly of police officers, thereby making an utter fool of myself. What else could I have done, Mary?
— M.H., Monmouth

A. I am indebted to Sir Malcolm Rifkind, who suggests you could have circumvented the difficulty by addressing the court using the expression ‘to whom it may concern’.

Q. While abroad recently I had some minor facial plastic surgery. My problem is that I was unable to curtail my social life for the full recovery period and had to make various public appearances, and I noted the curious expressions on some women’s faces. I thought I had got away with it but have since heard that various friends and acquaintances think that my husband was responsible for my swollen face. I would still prefer my surgery not to be common knowledge but can’t bear this slur on my beloved husband. What should I do to clear his name without humiliating myself?
— Name and address withheld

A. Why not take a tip from the Scarlet Pimpernel? Next time you are with some of the key tongue-waggers, discreetly use a mixture of ground pepper and chilli powders in your handkerchief to trigger a sudden onset sneezing fit and general allergic reaction in front of them. ‘Oh no!’ you can cry as the tears run down your swelling face. ‘I seem to have triggered this wretched allergy again. Did any of you see me when my face swelled up last month? What on earth could I be allergic to?’

Q. I have to arrange a memorial service in the near future. Funerals tend to be a bit dreary, so how can I enliven this event?
— A.Y., London NW1

A. Why not take your lead from the family of Ann Barr, who included, at her July memorial service in St Bride’s Fleet Street, a chief mourner in the form of Ann’s parrot? The parrot, Turkey, was aged but present in the centre of proceedings and began warbling in accompaniment to singer Nico Springman as she delivered ‘When She Loved Me’ by Randy Newman. In response, laughter and joy rippled through the congregation. If no significant parrot can be traced, a significant dog or even small pony could take centre stage. These animals signify love, not loss, and their presence is cheering.

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