Dear Mary

Dear Mary

1 December 2012

Q. My son attends a drama school and, while I have always encouraged him to be open about his background, I was somewhat alarmed when he reported the following. He was talking to his fellow students about shooting, how much he enjoyed it — his father did it a lot, too, he added. His audience became more and more horrified until one exclaimed ‘Whoa, far too heavy — I mean I smoke spliff, but heroin? No way!’ Should he put the record straight?
— T.L., Wantage, Oxon

A. Your son should refuse to be drawn on the subject, should it come up again. It will be far better for his career as an actor if it is believed that he comes from a family of addicts rather than one which shoots defenceless animals for pleasure. 


Q. One woman in my book club invariably chooses a disastrous novel each time it is her turn. She always goes for difficult reads which never repay the effort involved in ploughing through them. We all love this woman but because our club is very small, she gets to choose quite often and we resent the time we have to put into reading her terrible choices.  How can we steer her away from these pretentious tomes without undermining her self-confidence in her intellectual ability?
— Name and address withheld

A. Since you all like the woman, she is probably kind. Why not therefore take her to one side and confide that you are worried that your brain is not what it was, as you found the effort of reading her last book choice a real struggle. Ask whether, as a special favour, she would choose an easier read next time, with clarity paramount. Then she can gain self-validation from your warmly expressed gratitude that she has been good enough to ‘dumb down’. She will lose her taste for the meretricious if she associates less pretentious works with being love-bombed by members of her group when she goes for them.

Q. I have another suggestion to solve the problem of A.S. from Petersfield — that is, to prevent waiters whipping away plates at the wrong moments. Take to the restaurant one of those little flags on a pole — usually perhaps a British flag, but from another country if you have a guest from there. Indicate to the staff that when the flag is up you need no attention at all — neither service nor intrusive enquiries as to whether everything is satisfactory. When the flag is down you would like them to assist. This has an advantage for the waiters also, as they can see from far across the room whether you are happy to be left alone.
— D.D., by email

A. Thank you for suggesting this tactic. It might well appeal to Simon Lotion, the Time and Motion Man from the comic Viz, but would cause most waiters to bridle at the implied criticism and could therefore backfire.

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