From the archive of Kaz’s ye olde etiquette column, Keep Yourself Nice which ran in the Saturday Extra section of The Age. There are references to her assistant, Mervyn Purvis, who has since left her employ (and her turret, come to that.)

These columns are from 1993 and were kindly retrieved by a newspaper librarian, Mr John Langdon:


Dear Kaz,
SOME time ago, a young lady below-knee amputee queried as to whether she should keep herself nice when wearing skirts which exposed her stump.  As a male above-knee amputee, may I comment on the matter?

“If he must,” muttered Mervyn, my Tantalisingly Vapid Assistant, under his breath. “I had hoped to watch Donahue’s program called My Wife Is A Werewolf and the Furballs Are Murder, but don’t mind me. I’ll be fine.  No, just go ahead. He writes:
“I wear a prosthesis for work, but often leave the leg at home “out of hours for socialising, theatre, restaurants, even jury duty …”

“What a shame,” mused Mervyn. “A leg could have come in handy for whacking the foreman with.” “Shut up Mervyn,” I remonstrated. “The man hasn’t finished yet.” “Pish,” he barked.

“… as I enjoy the comfort and freedom of leaving the plastic appendage off.  To keep myself nice and neat, I have the trousers with “amputated” and sewn-up legs; pinned up or tucked-in legs can often look tacky and untidy, or even as if one is expecting the leg to regrow any time.  I even wear shorts in summer, and on those occasions more formal than thongs and shorts, I discreetly hide the surgical scar and asymmetry of the stump with a matching amputated long sock or a portion of suitably colored pantihose …

“Symmetry,” interjected Mervyn, “is, in my view, overrated.  Pass the Yo-Yo bikkies.” …  “There are, no doubt,” continued our correspondent, “Some whose sensibilities would be offended at the sight of the terminated limb …”

“There are some people who ought to retire their sensibilities altogether,” growled the Mervyn.

Our correspondent again “… These some people preferring not to think about the technicalities of why a person would only have one foot on the ground.  As they say, “disability is in the eye of the beholder”.  They also say, “If you’ve got it, flaunt it!” or flaunt it even if you haven’t!  On keeping parents nice, there are no more accurate observers than children: “That man has only got one leg”, or “Where’s that man’s other leg”, etcetera.

“The advice to parents is to simply acknowledge the comment or provide a simple explanation.  The child will not want full details …

“Certainly not if they have been imbibing red food coloring, which can render some of them incapable of concentration for longer than a twinkling.” … nor to be told “shut up”.  Much less does the child need a whack behind the ear for perceived rudeness!  My closest encounter was with a boy about four years old, he ran in behind me, touched the end of my stump and raced off.  Apparently, seeing is not necessarily believing.

“A final world of advice then, to the young lady – Keeping Yourself Nice is mind over matter: if you don’t mind, they don’t matter.”

We thank our correspondent.

Dear Kaz,
THE problem is that when watching television, my brother holds the remote control, and then just when you have settled down and he can see that you’re interested in a particular program, he proceeds to switch across the channels as if it is a commercial break or something.  And this is definitely on purpose.
– Frazzled, Please Don’t Reveal My Suburb.

Hide the batteries.

FURTHER suggestions in the search for a word to describe a “Significant Other” have arrived in the mailbag: “comrade” (comprehensively rejected by nine of 10 Young Nationals), “delight” (yes, but just try saying that without causing nausea), and the succinct “spunkrat”.  In the reject pile: “skirt”, “talent”, “hunkarama”, “main squeeze” (a little undiscerning, under the circumstances), “other half”, “little woman” and “the bloke”.

The more proprietorial suggested simply prefixing any description with the word “my”, as in “my boyfriend”, “my little angel” or something even more Shakespearean (ahem).

Etiquette inquiries should be sent to Keep Yourself Nice, The Age, 250 Spencer Street, Melbourne, 3000.  Letters may be edited.

A Certain Age

Dear Kaz and Mervyn,
I am a certain age (approaching 30) but look considerably younger, so insist to those with the audacity to ask, that I’m 23 – a particularly nice age, I feel.  My problem is that I become most upset when treated as a “young person” – I have a mortgage and the same problems most people my age have.  How can I look young but demand the respect of my real age?  
– Twenty-three Forever, Yarraville.

What can I say but “Liar, liar, pants on fire”?

I suggest you tell people you are 87. It works for me, although I haven’t crossed a road alone since 1973.

Dear Kaz,
I am a full-time tertiary student, studying an applied science course. Being one of the only few females in an extremely male-dominated course does on occasion have its advantages, but sometimes there are jokes or pranks pulled at our expense.  On National Secretaries’ Day each of the girls in the course was presented with a card by two of the guys who I am usually happy to call my friends but on this occasion was not. The cards read “Happy Secretaries’ Day from all the blokes”.

I do not appreciate this chauvinistic and, in a way, insulting gesture.  I highly respect secretaries for all their hard and efficient work for little praise.
I would like to get my revenge, but am lost for good ideas for how to do so.  How am I to get to the “blokes” in an amusing but innovative way?  
– Disgruntled Physicist, Camberwell.

Mock-up some letterhead and send a memo to all the blokes involved, informing them that as science students they are required to turn up at room 36b in the chemistry block for a lecture on sexism and cultural sensitivity by Dr Miriam F. Harbinger from the Department of Women’s Studies. They will be set a 2000-word assignment, the results of which will count towards their final result for the year.  Be prepared for hostilities to escalate if you choose this course.  Co-conspirators should travel in pairs armed with super-soakers.

Let us just say we are very pleased that the people who will one day be in-charge of the nuclear industry are displaying such an admirable degree of maturity.  Excuse us while we go out on to the battlements to ululate.


Dear Kaz,
In order to keep yourself nice, you should try to talk and write nice, wouldn’t you agree?  So what do you do when you see ungrammatical sentences or missing possessive apostrophes, or qualified words that are unqualifiable, like “quite unique”?  And why do we have to read such horrors as “retirees” or “escapees” as if they had the retiring and escaping done to them?  When I see these nasties I want to be un-nice.  I want to scream.  I want to grab the offending writer by the jugular and yell: “You ignorant buffoon, stop it or you’ll go blind!  Back to school with you, to learn to write English and not that illiterate drivel.”  And now you, too, have offended.  How could you?

Pray say, oh scribe of the sharp statement, which of your spent slaves sweating in your shadow to seize every shade of scintillating shrewdness from your swift speech suffered the solecism to slip into the script? Your quote: “If you’re (sic) children are old enough …”  Ugh!  Come now, some honesty: how many at Spencer Street let it pass uncommented upon, uncorrected, unseen?  If you’re going to advise others on being nice, ya gotta get it right.  Right? Woefully,
– Suffering Syntax, Burwood.

Mervyn, the Icon of Manhood, denies all responsibility (and has been accused of insubordination and chased around the turret with the cattleprod we like to call Gareth).  Personally, I think it’s the Typo-pixies, wee things in tea-cosy hats and weeny scarves who drink the last of the milk, hide the socks and gallop over keyboards in the dead of night while singing whispery, high-pitched pixie songs, but I have no photographic evidence.  So, I take full responsibility. You’re right, it was shocking.  Shocking.  I have referred myself to the UN Security Council.