Dear Mary

Dear Mary: How can I escape the tyranny of teacher presents?

Plus: A chomper at the library, and the civilised way to share a restaurant bill

5 April 2014

9:00 AM

5 April 2014

9:00 AM

Q. It’s only April and yet I am being emailed by parents who have already taken charge and are drumming up support for collective year presents for teachers at my children’s schools. I have one son and two daughters who are all leaving their respective schools and I would prefer to thank staff members on my own terms. Am I being petty?
— H.K., Hampshire

A. Many parents would be relieved that this organisational chore was taken off their hands but others would agree with your instinctive reaction. If you wish to distance yourself from the herd and the modern tyranny of present-giving, say, ‘Oh dear — for the first time ever we have been efficient and really thought ahead about what we want to give. I couldn’t disappoint the children now.’

Q. I am a member of a library in London and some time ago introduced a friend. The library is an exceptionally civilised and tolerant place, where the few rules are enforced not so much by the unofficious staff as by a general attitude of observance by its members. One rule is that no food or drink should be taken into the reading rooms except water. Everyone seems to abide by this apart from my friend, who regularly saunters in with Starbucks coffee, sandwiches etc — and recently sunflower seeds, whose shells were then strewn about the floor around her. Feeling some responsibility and with feigned lightheartedness, I once ticked my friend off directly, only to be scolded for being such a prig. I now bristle silently whenever I see her chomping away and, ashamed to say, am afraid that she might interrupt her noshing to greet me. What can I do to persuade her to mend her ways?
— P.E., London SW10

A. Your friend deserves to be punished, not least for the distracting noises of consumption. Next time you witness the outrage, you will have to play school sneak. Either scribble a note to the librarian who normally presides over the reading room or, in his absence, hasten stealthily to the lobby to alert another member of staff so they can catch her in the act. Let a proper official take her to task while you keep your own head down.

Q. Each year I arrange for a group of old friends and their wives to meet up for dinner in a private room of a restaurant, We always pay for ourselves and none of us is hard up, but is there a gracious way to collect the 20 or more payments without too much ado or unseemly discussions of cost?
— J.H., London SW5

A. Since these are old and presumably trusted friends, settle the bill in total yourself and next day email out the individual bills with details of your sort code and account number.

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  • The Laughing Cavalier

    An even simpler idea would be to agree a fixed price menu with the restaurant and then solicit the payments when formalising the arrangements.