Dear Mary

Dear Mary: What gift can you buy for the hosts who have everything?

1 August 2020

9:00 AM

1 August 2020

9:00 AM

Q. I am not expected to pay rent at the cottage which has been lent to me by a super-kind friend-of-a-friend who stepped in when she heard I would be homeless in the short-term. Unfortunately she didn’t mention that, although there is wifi in the cottage, the signal is so patchy it effectively means I can’t work here. Even mobile phone calls keep cutting out and I have to walk for a mile up a hill to be able to speak to anyone. How can I, without seeming ungrateful, get across the message that, generous as she has been, in 2020 a cottage without reliable wifi is no good to anyone except a hermit?
— Name and address withheld

A. Rather than grumbling, why not take the reins on this issue and ring the broadband provider to see what the difficulties are? Then find the solution — for example, you may have to switch to a rival provider to get a better service. With this data under your belt, telephone your patron (from the hilltop), speaking in jokey and unbitter tones, to say that if she is trying to get in touch with you sadly the wifi seems not to be working at all now. Would she like you to go ahead and take on the palaver of having it upgraded, liaising with the engineers and paying for the whole project yourself — adding (correctly): ‘It’s the very least I can do’?

Q. We have cancelled going to Italy for fear of being quarantined on return. Friends in the same position have invited my husband and me for a staycation in their own house. My problem is what to bring as a present because their house is (normally) open to the public and they have a backlog of unsold chocolates, soaps, books etc and I cannot think of anything they could possibly want. Mary, do you have any suggestions?
— M.H., Hay-on-Wye

A. Bring a brace of the most expensive electronic insect-swatters on the market. This year’s versions come in the shape of tennis rackets and are suitable for both indoor and outdoor use. Maddened by the excess insects of this year, even the mildest-mannered will gain satisfaction from despatching flies, mosquitoes and especially horseflies at the press of a button.

Q. May I pass on a tip to readers? There has never been a better time to visit Scotland. I was in a restaurant struggling to understand Scots, as one does, but because the waiter was wearing a face mask I was able to keep asking him to repeat, without having to look like an English person who couldn’t understand the accent. In fact this is a good time to go to any ‘foreign’ restaurants, because if you do not understand the waiter then you can blame it on the fact they are wearing a mask and thereby duck a charge of cultural insensitivity.
— R.H., London SW1

A. Thank you for contributing this tip.

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