Q. My former cleaner has now retired and lives nearby. I visit her with clockwork regularity and always enjoy seeing her, but the problem is that although we may have just been chatting and laughing or sitting in companionable silence, as soon as I say I must go, she chooses that moment to open a sort of conversational Pandora’s Box, e.g. to communicate some bad or worrying news. Suddenly I can’t leave but must sit down again and talk for another half hour. How can I make her tell me these things at the beginning of my visits, when she always greets me saying she’s really well and everything’s fine?
— C.C., Bristol
A. This syndrome is familiar to GPs, as many patients only admit their true worries when, having been reassured about a mosquito bite, they turn at the surgery door to mention that, by the way, their tongue has turned blue and is that normal? They need time to build up the courage to ask. The solution is to give a false deadline for leaving, i.e. half an hour before you really have to. This will serve as the trigger for your cleaner to open the Pandora’s Box and reveal her true worries in time for you to process them.
Q. My husband has begun working from home. Now, when he has something to say to me, he calls for me from whatever far-flung room he is in, so that I have to get up and walk through the house to find out what he wants. I have tried not answering him until he’s made the effort to come to whatever room I am in, but then he arrives in the room fulminating with rage, saying, ‘I’m a busy man. I haven’t time to look all over the house for you.’ How can I retrain him?
— L.W., Northampton
A. Share with your husband your new-found enthusiasm for listening to music or podcasts on a iPod through high-quality headphones. Then begin to wear headphones during conventional office hours, removing them theatrically when you see his enraged figure in your door frame. ‘Were you calling?’ you can ask sweetly. ‘I can’t hear a thing when I have headphones on.’ He will soon learn that there is no point yelling his lungs out from a far-flung room and will make an effort to either install an intercom or stop wanting you.
Q. When a guest leaves a large, unwieldy item behind, e.g. a tennis racket, do I really have to go to the trouble and expense of bubble-wrapping it and taking it to the post office? Is it unfriendly to say ‘come and stay again soon and collect it then?’
— D.M.C., Dulverton
A. Turn the chore over to your forgetful friends by suggesting that they go to an online car-sharing service such as BlaBlaCar and have their forgotten items couriered door to door. The fee can be surprisingly affordable.