Q. As everyone knows, it is very hard to find non-cowboy plumbers in London so when our boiler broke, we went straight to an established firm of professionals. We paid £90 per plumber per hour but the job was done properly — by uniformed men who turned up on time and gave us a five-year guarantee. My problem is that my housekeeper, who I have had for nearly 30 years, kept trying to chat to the men while they were working, despite her knowing how much they were charging. The plumbers were very professional but she definitely distracted them. She even brought in her family photograph album, and asked them to look at pictures of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. How can I, without causing offence, let her know that, by holding them up, she certainly added to my already sky-high bill and that she must never again impede the progress of workmen in my house in this way?
Name and address withheld
A. I am sorry but housekeepers tend to regard this sort of interaction as a legitimate perk of their job. Often it offers a rare opportunity to enjoy the sensation of having colleagues. Who could blame her for finding the plumbers’ company irresistible? Do place the nuisance in the context of 30 years of faithful employment. If you really want to rob the poor woman of these few moments of happiness and identity-reinforcement, then next time you need to call in workmen, you will have to employ non-English speakers.
Q. I do a one-hour commute to London each day by train. Before the crunch I used to reward myself with a frappuccino or cappuccino for the return journey, but I’ve had to shave that expense. I still want a little treat on the way home but I don’t want to carry a thermos around all day.