Q. What is the etiquette of hospital visiting? A friend in his fifties is about to spend six weeks in a London hospital recovering from a heart operation. He will be in a private room. He is going to be fine but he will feel a bit fragile, so can you advise me how long I should stay, what I should bring, and, since I am one of his closest friends, whether I should organise a rota so that people don’t overlap? He is a very popular (and newly eligible) man, so he will have no shortage of visitors.
— S.B., London W6
A. The classic gaffes to make when hospital visiting are to eat the food you have brought as a present, talk about ‘lifestyle choices’ and whether they led to the health condition the patient has been suffering from, enquire about the patient’s relationship with God or — when the patient is ‘eligible’ — to bring along a singleton who your friend hardly knows. Don’t get involved in organising a rota. It will be too stressy when London traffic causes people to cock up. The kindest thing you can do for this patient is, with his agreement, to put a note on his door saying: ‘He is very tired. He will say he wants you to stay as long as possible but he doesn’t mean it. Please stay for no more than 20 minutes.’
Q. I have been invited to spend Christmas in a very grand house. What could I possibly bring to my hosts in the way of a Christmas present? I can’t think of anything they don’t already have. In the past I have successfully used your advice that a large sheet of first-class stamps never goes amiss, but this house has an estate office attached which does all that sort of thing for the family. Any bright ideas, Mary?
—Name and address withheld
A. Why not go for a piano clamp? These can be seen in the lobbies of five-star hotels in Northern Ireland where they are installed to curb the exuberance of unmusical guests or children who want to play Chopsticks or Für Elise. No doubt some of your fellow house guests at Christmas will be marvels on the piano and their musical contribution will be sought after, but no host wants to lose control in their own home. He who pays the piper calls the tune. Piano clamps are now digitalised so they can only be unlocked by a person who knows the code. Either way, the clamp will provide a marvellous talking point.
Q. My daughter, who is now in her fifties, so she should know better, always fills my kettle right up to its maximum capacity when she comes to visit. No matter how much I complain about the waste of energy, she will not change her habit. This is causing a bad atmosphere. What do you recommend, Mary? Please rule that I am right.
— Name and address withheld
A. Of course you are right. The solution is to buy a camping kettle which takes only a pint of water at a time, and hide your old kettle.