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Dear Mary

Dear Mary

Your problems solved

10 February 2010

12:00 AM

10 February 2010

12:00 AM

Q. My husband’s cousin is clever, kind and good-looking and has his own (rather grimy) flat. He works from home, and lives alone. Despite wanting to, he has never married. He and I are good friends and often have lunch. From time to time I have noticed a faint whiff from him but recently it has become quite disgusting. My husband refuses to say anything and a mutual friend tells me it is therefore my duty to tell him because it must be putting women off. What do you suggest?

Name and address withheld

A. Find a pretext to drop into his flat. Reel with revulsion as you come through the door screaming pleasantly, ‘What’s that smell?’ Boost his confidence by saying, ‘You and your flat have always smelt divine until this moment.’ Go round pretending to look for the source. Suggest a neighbour may have been cooking cabbage — or perhaps there is a dead rat under the floorboards but, whatever it is, all the clothes in his wardrobe have also been impregnated by the smell and so has he. Say: ‘You had better start having two baths a day until it goes. Do you want me to help by driving all your clothes to the dry cleaners to start with?’

Q. With regard to the ‘you’ve already told me that story’ problem (17 October 2009), I can make an effective recommendation. When I was a headmaster I told my staff and students to say ‘ting-a-ling’ when I repeated myself. I am now using the same technique among my parishioners, friends and acquaintances and it still works, though, of course, one must use a little discretion. The advantage is that it can be used both ways without giving offence, since I can say it back. I hope this will help.


Name and address withheld

A. Thank you for giving readers this food for thought.

Q. A respectful suggestion to the parent attempting to persuade children to write thank-you letters. Assure them that if they don’t, they will never receive another gift again. I have now given up with rude teenagers refusing to acknowledge my generosity. Call it mean, if you will, but I simply send the cheque they would have received to a charity of my choice. Slowly, one or two of them are starting to get the message.

M.W-J., Cetona, Italy

A. This technique would only work were the other adults to collude with the parents and agree to send no further presents until the letters due had been received. It is for the child’s own good in the long run, so they should agree. New parents, who have not already allowed bad habits to take root, take note.

Q. Mary, I am sorry to embarrass male readers but need your guidance. I had forgotten what time of the month it was and at a dinner party had a ‘biological event’ for which I was unprepared. I could not leave the table until everyone else had left it and then I could not join the party in the drawing room because I had to get my coat and go straight home. What is the best move in this awful predicament?

E.B., London SW11

A. The correct protocol is to ask your neighbour at the table to find a rug for you since you are feeling strangely cold. In extremis an overcoat can be asked for. Once safely sheathed you can make a quick excursion to the bathroom. Continue wearing the rug, on the pretext of being cold, until it is time to go home.


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