If there’s any ordinary person worse off than yourself, you’ll find them in the problem pages of newspapers and magazines. Do you seek comfort in problem pages? A prurient frisson? An incredulous giggle? Much depends probably on the demographic catered for by the publication. The further downmarket you go, the juicier, sexier and more exotically sordid the emotional quagmire. You get none of that on the problem page of the establishment Spectator magazine. The problems which most baffle our upper echelons concern, it seems, delicate matters of etiquette. Problem solver Mary shows her petitioners how to extricate themselves from invidious social situations in ways which would have drawn gasps from old man Machiavelli himself.
When I was convalescing last month, sitting around idly reading magazines and sipping iced water, I experienced a whim and wrote to the Spectator’s Mary about a problem which exercises many funeral hosts and readers of this blog: what to call the ‘do’ afterwards. This is what I (mendaciously) wrote:
My mother is presently succumbing to old age and an attendant cancer. She is fortified by serene courage and cheered by the arrangements she is making for the party after her funeral; every day brings fresh finishing touches. But what to call it? We observed that you recently acceded without demur to the term ‘wake’. Inasmuch as this applies to a vigil held over a body before a funeral, we have rejected it, along with everything else we can think of including, of course, the intolerable ‘reception’ and the unbearable ‘refreshments’, leaving us only with the unobjectionable if inadequate ‘do’. With time fast running out, can you gallop to our rescue?
My letter was published (to my inordinate pride), and received this reply, which I think helpful:
Why not refer to the event as a ‘remembrance party’? This has a bittersweet poignancy and is perfectly dignified. Readers are welcome to submit rival suggestions.
To date, no Speccie reader has submitted anything better.