Mary Killen

Dear Mary: how can I stop my husband from chopping down all our trees?

Plus: how to get past a pavement gang

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Q. My husband — currently unemployed — has started ‘sourcing’ logs from our own smallholding. Chopping down perfectly good trees, sawing logs, drying them … to say nothing of trying to get a fire going without proper kindling or firelighters, is now taking him up to three hours per day. I realise that this is displacement activity but I would rather he was doing something using his brain. When I tell him I am going to order seasoned logs from the local sawmills (at £90 per cubic metre) he says it would be emasculating for him if I did this, as he is gaining self-esteem by providing for his family.

— Name and address withheld

A. It might be subtler if, having explained the situation to a sympathetic local landowner, you asked if you might get the sawmill to deliver a seasoned load to a site on his land. The landowner might then approach your husband saying he has more logs than he can possibly use and requesting that he help him out by using as many as he can throughout the winter. In this way your husband could collect a wheelbarrow-load at a time, still gain the frisson of pleasure from getting something he perceives to be ‘free’, and still provide himself with a displacement activity — though not one which takes quite so many hours per day.

Q. I never know what the etiquette is when I am walking along a pavement and find a group of maybe three people walking towards me. Often such gangs seem barely aware of anyone else. It’s as though they own the street. Is it up to me to step into the gutter or squash myself up against the wall to let them past? Or should I say ‘Excuse me?’ until they mind their manners and make way?

— J.W., London SE1

A. Children at proper schools are taught never to walk more than two abreast in the local town. If a phalanx moving towards you is showing no instinctive signs of regrouping, then assume they don’t know any better. You can sidestep unpleasantness by looking downwards as you walk. Oncomers will become aware that you may not have seen them and will reform to pre-empt collisions.

Q. I have a better solution to the one you offered to the children whose parent and step-parent leave their seats in club class to visit them at the back of the plane to ask if they are all right. Rather than answer ‘Yes, why do you ask?’ it would be far better to gasp appreciatively: ‘Why? Are you offering to swap?’

— A.C., London W8

A. Thank you for this suggestion. It would certainly curb the bogus hand-wringing, though for children it verges too close to cheekiness. It could be useful, however, when one adult in a party has been upgraded and keeps coming to the back of the plane to ‘commiserate’. This would put them on the spot.