Mary Killen

Dear Mary: How do I dodge my village’s Jubilee tug-of-war contest?

Dear Mary: How do I dodge my village’s Jubilee tug-of-war contest?
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Q. I’m 28 and lucky enough to own a four-bed house in Notting Hill. I let three of the rooms to friends. One of these now has her boyfriend over regularly. It was fine when he just stayed the night occasionally but he is now omnipresent and even brings his dirty washing over. The boyfriend contributes nothing to the running costs of the house and I feel I should say something as the rest of us are effectively subsidising him. How can I do this without causing offence?

– H.N.A.M., London W11

A. Collude with one of the male lodgers. Script him so that, at a time when all four of you are sitting down together, he announces casually that he is toying, just toying, with the idea of moving to another house nearer to his place of work. He hasn’t yet decided. At that moment you, as landlord, can turn to the female lodger to inquire whether, in the event that the room became vacant, her boyfriend would be interested in taking it on ‘as he seems to like it here, and we like him. And then he wouldn’t feel awkward about not contributing to the bills.’ Needless to say, Other Lodger can soon announce he is not moving out after all. In the meantime, this conversation will have sent a warning shot across the bows and the exploitation should ease off dramatically.

Q. I had a baby four weeks ago, but for anatomical reasons I still look pregnant. I don’t know what to say when shopkeepers cheerily ask when the baby is due. I don’t want to embarrass these well-meaning folk by saying that I have already had her. What should I do, Mary?

– K.M., London W8

A. Until you get your figure back, go along with it and just reply ‘four weeks/five weeks/six weeks’ – whatever number of weeks since the date of the birth. If questioned more explicitly, pretend you thought they had asked when the baby was born and that you had meant to add ‘ago’ but, because of baby brain, forgot to do so.

Q. A leaflet has just come through my door saying that the Platinum Jubilee celebrations on our village green will include a tug-of-war contest. The event is intended to promote community bonding, not stand-offishness, but even at school I always shunned contact sports, and at my stage of life have no desire to be forced into intimate proximity with other local men with whom I am currently only on pleasantry-exchanging terms. I am dreading people trying to cajole me into joining in on the day. Mary, how can I say ‘no’ without coming across as a snob?

– Name and address withheld

A. Tell the organisers you would like to volunteer as a litter-picker. Turn up in a fluorescent waistcoat, wielding your litter-picking tool, and head for a far corner of the green when the contest gets under way.