Mary Killen

Dear Mary | 5 January 2017

Plus: Is it polite to ignore someone’s unsightly tattoos?

Dear Mary | 5 January 2017
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Q. I have bought a second-floor flat which comes with a bow-shaped balcony which overlooks a communal garden. My problem is that I will want to go on to the balcony to smoke but I won’t want my neighbours to see me doing this. Nor will I want them to be able to see who is standing on the balcony smoking with me. Solution?

— Name withheld, London W11

A. Why not take a tip from the late Lucian Freud? When the reclusive painter had his own bow-shaped balcony, he concealed his doings from neighbours with a 7ft high wall of tightly packed Chinese bamboo. This device allowed Freud to see out through the gaps, while the light made fabulous patterns as it filtered in and over the small pools of water on the floor of the balcony.

Q. My daughter-in-law invited a recently separated friend (aged about 40) to join us at Christmas. I had met her previously. Despite the rather chilly day, she was wearing a strapless sun frock (requiring frequent hitching) which revealed newly acquired tattoos covering all of her back, as well as much of her arms. Was I correct in not commenting on this artwork, or should I have acknowledged its presence with insincere flattery?

—P.W., Auckland, New Zealand

A. The world is now divided into those who would never dream of gilding their natural lily and those who inexplicably think it a good idea. Insincere approval would have been wrong as it might have encouraged further disfigurement. Silence would have spoken louder than words.

Q. May I pass on a tip to readers? I was very keen that my six-year-old twins write thank-you letters for their Christmas presents. I know from giving presents to godchildren myself that one feels increasingly disinclined to bother if acknowledgements are not forthcoming. However, I am only human and was dreading standing over the twins as they wrote, helping them spell, etc.

But this year my husband invented a wonderful system. The twins took it in turn to ‘dictate’ their short thank-you messages using the microphone app on the iPad. He then corrected the spelling and printed out each message for them so that they could copy it in handwriting. This worked so well that I would recommend it strongly to other parents.

— S.G., London SW3

A. Thank you for passing on this very good tip. The resultant communication would have all the authenticity of natural childish expression and therefore be more highly valued by the recipients. It is almost worse if an email arrives which has clearly been written by a spineless parent but purports to come from the child. Incidentally, a misspelt letter is better than none — and often more valued in the long run for its charm.