Mary Killen

Dear Mary | 28 July 2012

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Q. Time is running out, but I hope you might be able to offer some last-minute help. An indulgent godmother is lending my 18-year-old son her immaculate mews house in London for the autumn while he ‘works’ on his gap year. He has no idea how to keep a house clean and tidy and any attempts made by me over the last few months to encourage/bully him to smarten up have met with failure. I do not want this extremely generous offer to spoil a special relationship but I fear he is going to mess up the house within minutes of arriving there.

—Name and address withheld

A. Incentivise the boy by explaining that he will have to hire a cleaner for the mews during his occupancy. This will cost £70 per week or £10 per hour for one hour per day. He will have to pay this out of his own earnings. Give him time to think about this and how annoying it would be for him to pay out this money when he is trying to save and then suggest that he do his own cleaning. ‘It will be just like earning an extra £70 per week!’ Insist that you make a 360 degree inspection of the mews each morning by Skype. He will just have to walk around with his laptop to facilitate the viewings. If he fails to meet your standards, then you must hire a cleaner and recover the cost from him.

Q. For many years we have happily owned a weekend cottage but now the council will no longer come down the drive to collect rubbish. They want it put out on the road in special bins on a Tuesday (when we are already back in London) and then they want the bins removed from the road again within a few hours. We do not have live-in help so what should we do?

—Name withheld, London W8

A. Fill your Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea recycling bags with your country rubbish and drive it back up to London where it will be collected from your doorstep. This is not morally wrong as you would have been generating rubbish in the Royal Borough had you not gone away for the weekend. Meanwhile compost the food waste or hand it to a local farmer for chicken feed. 

Q. I have just bought a chihuahua. Expressions such as poo, mess or doings seem inappropriate when used in connection with a little being with all the elegance of a canine Audrey Hepburn. Nevertheless instructions do need to be given when asking someone who may not speak English terribly well to take her to the park and collect and dispose of the said substance. How can I get around this difficulty? 

—P.S., London W8

A. Please use the expression ‘dog litter’. This gets the message across very ably. Everyone knows what is meant but the mental image is of paper rather than you-know-what.