Mary Killen

Dear Mary | 16 March 2017

Also: I enjoy a silent commute, but my chatty neighbour sometimes takes the same train...

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Q. Living in a large house in the country within striking distance of a motorway, we get a lot of people calling in on their way elsewhere. We love it. We are particularly glad to see one busy and successful friend who is often passing and also needs a bed. The problem is he is a commitment-phobe and leaves his plans until the very last minute. He lives alone and hasn’t any idea of how a large household is run and often won’t reveal whether he will make, say, Sunday lunch until 11 that morning — usually with a breezy ‘Don’t worry about me.’ Of course, he arrives at 12.30 and eats like a horse. Once here, he is a very easy guest and always touchingly grateful, but clean sheets and Sunday lunch need more than two hours’ notice. How can we encourage this delightful man to visit while insisting he gives a little more warning?

— A.H., West Country

A. Explain that, because you so enjoy his visits, you’re going to make special arrangements so that he always feels welcome, even if he can’t get around to giving you notice. You can’t dedicate a bedroom to him because of other visitors, but you can dedicate a set of bed linen that he can reuse a few times on whatever bed is free. Add that you’re going to buy in some microwaveable pies so that there will always be something for him to eat. Once he finds he has to make up his own bed (and strip it and store the sheets), and eat pie while everyone else is eating Dover sole, he will mend his ways.

Q. When socialising, is there a tactful way to correct an elderly friend who, despite having known you for years, has clearly mistaken you for someone else? One doesn’t wish to humiliate by correcting them in front of others.

— J.B., London W1

A. Try nipping in with an anecdote in which someone uses your name. You might say ‘I must tell you — this morning a woman rang up and said “Hello, may I speak to Joan Brown?” I replied “Joan Brown speaking” and then she tried to get my bank details. Do be careful if anyone rings pretending they are from Microsoft…’.

Q. I commute from a small village into the City for work. With a hectic home life (young children) and a busy working day, the half-hour on the train each morning is the only peace I get, and I enjoy using this time for reading. A lady neighbour often catches the same train as me. Without wishing to alter my commuting habit, how can I tactfully make it clear that I do not wish to engage in small talk all the way to town?

— Name and address withheld

A. Download a spoken version of your book from on to your phone. Next time you see her, greet your neighbour with enthusiasm. Remove the earphones as you gush over this marvellous new way for you to catch up on reading as you commute. She should try it. Then reinsert the earphones.