Q. We have recently installed security cameras in our remote holiday house in the south of France and I was surprised to be alerted to an intruder in the garden who was easily identifiable as our young female neighbour who owns a farm across the road. She was, armed with a plastic bag, helping herself to walnuts from a tree in the garden. I watched a little affronted because she had never asked permission, and decided to activate the alarm. She ran off and vaulted the wooden gates at the front of the property and ran straight across the road to her home. Later on, we heard that she has been telling neighbours that our alarm seems to be faulty. We would be delighted, if asked, to allow her to take the walnuts and any ripe fruit when we are not able to go during autumn, rather than letting them go to waste, but wonder now how we can ever broach the subject with her.
— Marc, Cheshire
A. You should not be affronted, as your neighbour is only human and it is to your advantage to have a person snooping around your garden without criminal intent. Simply send a bland note thanking her for passing on the news about your alarm and ‘btw do help yourself to any walnuts or fruit which would otherwise go to waste in our absence this autumn’.
Q. My husband and I love entertaining but I do seem to spend a lot of time plumping up sofas and chairs — which I am happy to do. But I find it annoying if people just come for a quick drink and sit down on my nicely plumped sofas. How can I persuade them to stand up for the 30 minutes they are with us? (In the summer you can march them around the garden.)
— A.E., Pewsey, Wilts
A. Tackle this quirk by taking a tip from the glorious Sir John Soane’s Museum in Lincoln’s Inn Fields. The l8th-century architect’s house is presented exactly as it was lived and worked in and therefore there are no bossy notices. However visitors are subtly discouraged from making themselves too much at home as each seat or sofa has a spiky dried teasel seed-head across it. Use the same technique in your own home and, if probed as to what the teasels are doing there, laugh pleasantly and turn to another guest as though you did not hear the question. If these receptions are only 30 minutes long, the guests will soon be heading out again.
Q. How do you phrase a thank-you letter to someone who took you out to an expensive lunch where you got food poisoning? My host very much bullied me into trying some of his oysters and the upshot is I had gastroenteritis which put me out of action for three days. I don’t think he should get away scot-free.
— G.W., London W8
A. Write to thank, adding cryptically: ‘The oyster is obviously your world, but not mine.’
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