Q. My husband and I have made friends with two distinguished, although fairly eccentric, writers whose company we thoroughly enjoy. However when we go to stay with them in their large London house they give us rather too many jobs to do. Of course we don’t mind helping out with food preparation, dishwashers, laying tables — we would expect to do this as, unlike us, they have no staff. However, they also ask us to clean windows, vacuum, clean silver and rake dead leaves as though we are all students sharing an Airbnb. Unfortunately we are in our sixties and these demands ensure that we return from the weekends exhausted. What should we do, Mary?
— P. and R.D., Bruton, Somerset
A. You might kill two birds with one stone by exploiting the distinguished status of these writers. Source from within your friendship group’s grandchildren a young Londoner with literary ambitions, who would relish the chance to help out while you are in residence (and go home for meals and bed). Put it to your hosts that the young person would count it a privilege to undertake this unpaid work experience. If they agree, then quietly pay the wannabe out of your own pocket.
Q. I have a small hand-printed wallpaper business and usually sell to friends with a 10 per cent discount. An acquaintance recently bought one roll and asked if she could have it ‘at cost’, which I agreed to as I thought it was a one-off purchase. However she has since told me that she is trying to buy a house in Wales and is thinking of decorating it throughout with my wallpaper. Mary, how can I politely make it clear that I cannot sell substantial amounts to her for no profit?
— G.W-S., Cheshire
A. Send her a BCC email with the greeting ‘Dear all’, giving the impression that it is a round robin. Apologise that due to your ‘fierce accountant’ you can no longer exceed your 10 per cent discount on wallpaper. The recipient will have no idea that you are singling her out and the result should be that she will not ask again.
Q. I join old university friends for BYOB dinners which are always fun except that our usual host insists everyone put their phone in a bowl by the front door, so that we aren’t tempted to text or scroll. This has become an issue because I’ve been missing texts from my (admittedly overbearing) boss. How can I negotiate these equally important but conflicting demands?
— D.B., London E2
A. Texts can be more discreetly viewed on an Apple Watch or Fitbit synced with your iPhone. Should one from your boss flash up, go ‘to the loo’ to reply to it, grabbing your phone en route. Incidentally, it is possible to set up a ‘focus’ mode on your iPhone to reply with an ‘away from phone’ message, indicating virtuous detachment from your devices.
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