Q. Is there a polite way of halting a wannabe novelist from reading his oeuvre aloud to an unwilling audience? A neighbour on the residents’ committee happened to be leaving as friends were arriving for drinks and I felt I should invite him to join us. It was all going swimmingly until he told someone he was writing a novel, and she made the mistake of pretending she would be interested in reading it. No one had reckoned on this (very insensitive) man having a copy of the wretched thing on his iPhone and he read aloud at length, pausing only to laugh at his own genius. It killed the atmosphere stone dead.
— S.R., London W2
A. As the host, it was your responsibility to come forward and remove the iPhone from the soliloquist’s hand, insisting, ‘A work of this quality needs a sober audience. I can’t allow you to waste this brilliant material on drunks.’
Q. Our son did exceptionally well in his GCSE results and is expected to go on to great things, but we worry that his success has been at the expense of harder-to-learn communication skills which have been blunted by the necessary hours in front of his books and the all-pervading screen culture from which it is impossible to remove a teenager these days. The school seems only to value grades and is less concerned with producing ‘rounded’ characters. Without the support of the school, how can he further such skills?
— R.G., Faringdon
A. There is no short cut to resocialising a teenager. The skills you speak of must be learned firsthand through appropriate social contact. Suggest he joins a wandering club cricket team whose fixtures tend to be played from 11 a.m. till 8 p.m. in varied locations with many occasional players. Over the course of the day, especially while his side is batting, he will find it essential to engage in at least bantering conversation with the strangers from his team. The day will include a proper lunch and tea where more formal skills are required. It will be a course in communication skills.
Q. I have read your advice for many years and cannot recall your having been crude before, but your suggestion that a woman should use the application of sun cream as a means of determining whether a man would ‘welcome further intimacy’ was unworthy of you. I am shocked.
A. I apologise for the confusion but am shocked myself at how many readers misunderstood this advice. The applicant was advised to sit behind the applicee in ‘rowing team mode’, so there would have been no opportunity for her to view the sort of biological phenomenon you are plainly referring to. Subtle body language signals from the dorsal area, general shivering and twitching would have been eloquent body language enough.