Mary Killen

Dear Mary | 24 April 2010

Your problems solved

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Q. My wife and I live in a very pretty, modestly sized farmhouse. It comes with two barns to scale and since long before I met her, friends, and friends of friends, have been in the habit of asking my saintly wife to store things for them, while they get their lives and accommodation together. Now both barns are completely full and we cannot use them ourselves at all. The worst offender is taking up one whole barn. This dear woman, who was turned out of her previous house, perhaps for having 22 cats, had moved all her possessions into professional storage and was paying an iniquitous £125 a week. We told her she could pay us £50 a month but that she must pay, and the things must stay with us for no longer than six months. She did pay two months’ rent, but the grot has been here for two years. We want our space back. What do you suggest, Mary?

Name and address withheld

A. The kindest thing would be for you to force these people out of their lethargy. Announce that you have thought of a really good way of helping them all out. You are going to have a barn clearance sale which could raise some money for them — and yourselves, since you will take a 10 per cent commission. Why don’t they come along and decide which things they don’t mind selling and which they genuinely want to keep? Items in the latter category must be taken away within, say, four weeks to avoid being mistakenly included in the sale or sent on to a professional storage house which will charge them an iniquitous fee. Do not be sucked into explaining why you need your barns back. Stick to your deadline. In time these sloths will be grateful for your dynamism.

Q. My daughter, aged 15, is learning the piano and has the potential to give and receive pleasure for the rest of her life, but she resists my chivvying her to put in the essential practice and calls me a ‘pushy parent’. What to do, Mary?

S.T., Chirton, Wiltshire

A. Take heart from the story of Elton John, who loathed being bullied by his grandmother to practise the piano, but now confesses that without the pressure he would never be where he is today. Why not test human rights legislation? Lock your daughter up each day to practise. Say that, by not doing this, you could be charged, in later life, with culpable negligence and failure to act in your child’s best interest. She will soon begin to enjoy the drama of being disciplined in this way and the unique status it will afford her amongst her peers.

Q. I wonder if you could advise me on the correct facial expression to adopt when watching a television advertisement for ‘feminine hygiene’ products. I am no prude, Mary, but if the TV is on in our house you can guarantee my three teenage sons are also watching it and I do find these advertisements increasingly explicit. I don’t know whether to laugh if off and pretend it is all perfectly natural or just say nothing.

Name and address withheld

A. Today’s desensitised broadcasters tend to find concepts such as dignity and privacy too subtle to grasp. Unfortunately, therefore, these outrages are bound to continue. You should prepare for the inevitable by always keeping reading matter to hand and pretending to be engrossed in it during TV advertising breaks.