Q. I have moved from London to the centre of a historic market town, now becoming famous as a foodie destination. For some reason people who would never have dreamt of dropping in without ringing when I lived in Kensington now think it almost de rigueur to knock on my door without warning when they are staying locally for the weekend. I like many of these people — but such unplanned visits are disruptive. Can you suggest a way I might retrain people to give me notice without seeming middle-aged and crusty?
— Name and address withheld
A. Make it a policy to always put on a coat and hat or sunglasses before answering the front door and to be holding your keys. In this way you can show your enthusiasm for the friends by gasping with dismay that you are just going out. If only they had given you notice! Now, sadly, you have an appointment. Can they come back in an hour? The likelihood is that they will say ‘No, we’ve finished shopping and don’t really want to hang around, but why don’t you come to us tonight for supper?’
Q. What is a witty response when addressed in a restaurant or shop as ‘you guys’ when it is clear that I am with my wife? Despite being married to me for over 30 years my wife remains attractive and very feminine: there can be no mistaking our sexes.
— D.H., Clitheroe
A. Make no witty response — the waiter is trying, in a misguided way, to be friendly and upbeat. Just take comfort in the knowledge that such personnel have a use. They ensure that others who share your sensibilities will not patronise the restaurant a second time and instead you will find a higher concentration of like-minded souls in premises where such annoyances would be undreamed of.
Q. Four good friends and I have organised a house share for our final year at university. I thought at first I had been incredibly lucky to have pulled the straw which got me the best room in the house — a high ceiling, a bay window, a huge bed, and a view of the street. Now it has dawned on me that it just means my room will be where everyone congregates and I will have no privacy. When we move in, how can I make it clear without being mean that my room is not a communal space?
— Name and address withheld
A. Since all students now seem to smoke continuously, why not install a smoke alarm on one of the high ceilings? Glue this firmly on so it cannot be dislodged by someone juddering at it with a broomstick below. Explain to the others that the smoke alarm is a precondition insisted on by your parents as part of the deal that they will pay your rent. Social life will centre on the kitchen instead.
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