Q. My neighbour is really lovely and always helps me chainsaw trees. He used to be the herdsman at the farm but was laid off last summer when they sold the herd, so now he is unemployed. Friends from London often borrow my cottage when I am away and I am sure my neighbour would welcome £10 a time to collect them from the station. He is now being paid a small monthly amount to keep the garden in order for the new owners of the Big House but I don’t want to seem grand or patronising by asking if he would be interested in regular taxi work as well.
—Name and address withheld
A. Use a friend as a human buffer. Next time someone comes to stay, ring up the neighbour a couple of hours before to inquire whether he could possibly do you a favour by collecting them. Brief your friend to be a friendly and chatty passenger who, on arrival at your cottage, attempts to pay your neighbour £10. Whether or not he accepts it, your friend can protract a debate over ‘pop-up’ taxi driving, until she exposes his true feelings. This has the advantage that, whatever the outcome, you are not personally linked to any perceived humiliation and your relationship can go on as before.
Q. Re: husbands shouting inside the house (Dear Mary, 12 July), I’m ashamed it was the other way round here. I shouted upstairs, ‘My laptop has stopped working’ etc and he shouted back, ‘I can’t hear you’. We now have an intercom on our house telephone: a Panasonic digital cordless phone with three bases that cost less than £50. Money well spent and now we don’t get exasperated with each other.
—A.S., Petersfield, Hampshire
A. Thank you, although many readers will still prefer the traditional method of alert — namely the sound of approaching footsteps. Note that cordless telephones can be the repositories of stress in their own right as few people can be disciplined enough to return them to their holsters.
Q. My sister-in-law has the most annoying habit of suddenly saying she will come down and stay nearby in a B&B. She has been doing it for years to various people, including me. Presumably she hopes this will make us feel morally obliged to have her to stay instead, or over for meals.
This time her sister will be with her. But I already have a weekend planned, centred round an adorable friend from the USA who hardly ever visits, and I don’t want any more guests. P.S. My sister-in-law is in no way a cadger and is very hospitable herself.
— E.S., London W11
A. This is a storm in a teacup. Use a method that precludes dialogue — email or voicemail — to simply say, ‘That weekend is impossible. Suggest another?’ Should she ambush you conversationally, you need not enlarge on why the weekend is ‘impossible’.