Q. I am the co-owner of a chocolate business which regularly receives requests for donations of goody bags and raffle prizes. I take a dim view when these come addressed to ‘Dear Sir or Madam’. It seems that the larger the charity the less likely that anyone can be bothered. How can I, without being pompous, politely explain to people that if they only write a round robin-type impersonal letter, we are unlikely to support their cause?
— N.C., London SW1
A. You have enough on your plate already, so take a passive approach and let the results of these slapdash applications speak for themselves.
Q. I am wheelchair-bound, and sometimes hire a carer from a (very expensive) agency to accompany me to various events. Recently, I was accompanied in this way to a hospital outpatient appointment. As soon as we reached a waiting area, the young woman looked round for an electric socket and plugged in the charger for her mobile phone. What should I have done?
— L.K., London W2
A. When she began charging her phone, this expensive carer’s message was plain: I don’t plan to give you my full attention. The point of a carer is to lighten the load of the enfeebled one, not add minor annoyance to it. You should have shown her your own mobile, saying pleasantly, ‘Do use my phone if we get into any sort of trouble — it’s already fully charged.’ Then, blinking blandly, added, ‘But, should I be worried? Do you think you might need to make a call?’
Q. My brother, a friend and I had spent a blissful weekend alone at our family HQ (our parents were away). The three of us were on the platform of our local station waiting for the London train when we saw someone from our village rushing up wanting to sit with us. Mary, we were looking forward to continuing with our little folie à trois and our private jokes and our private language for the long train journey but this girl’s presence spoiled our fun and made conversation stilted. Was there a way we could have said ‘no’ without being hurtful?
— Name and address withheld
A. Experienced travellers arrive on station platforms fully prepared for these social emergencies and ready to gush with excitement on spying a wannabe fellow traveller. Calculate a station no more than half an hour from the finishing post and gush, ‘Promise you’ll come and sit with us after Reading’ (or similar), explaining, ‘We’ve just had a pact that we’re going to work the whole way but if you come and sit with us for the last half hour that will give us an incentive to really concentrate.’ Wait till the wannabe is seated before choosing your carriage.