Q. A close friend is dating a renowned decorator. Meanwhile, on a limited budget, I am trying to smarten up my flat. I could not afford to pay her but I would love to ask this decorator advice on one or two questions. She is very friendly and nice but can I reasonably ask her the next time she comes round to my flat? I wonder if such questions would be off limits, just as you should never consult a doctor in a social situation. How should I tackle this, Mary?
— Name and address withheld
A. When chatting, steer the conversation around to the decorator’s business and, when the moment is right, ask her how she copes in social situations when asked for advice by someone who clearly does not expect to pay a fee. Her reply will give you your cue about how to proceed.
Q. A cousin in the north of Scotland does an especially good avocado dessert which I long to copy, but she is pathologically secretive about her recipes. How can I get this one out of her?
— N.F., Chagford
A. Ring your cousin one night and, in a panicky voice, explain that you have high-ranking officials about to come for dinner, but you have forgotten to provide a pudding course. Has she any advice for making an emergency pudding? The only ingredients you have to hand are some beautifully ripe avocados.
Q. How can I discourage mere acquaintances from calling me Rach? There are only two friends I don’t mind using the appellation (let the record state they are called Emma and Rachel), but if anyone else does I bridle. For example, I had an email from my gym this week that began: ‘Hi Rach’. My very old friends and family call me Rake, and for historic reasons my husband calls me Bob, as I do him.
— R.J., London Wll
A. It would be perfectly normal to ask your gym to refer to you as Rachel in future, but with people you know, just don’t respond to the name Rach. Stare into space instead. When they press you for a response, say: ‘Oh, I didn’t know you were talking to me! No one calls me Rach except Emma and Rachel.’ In emails, answer with the signature ‘RachEL, please!’ You’ll only have to do it once.
Q. A friend has sent her daughter to lodge with me while she does a course. The otherwise lovely girl has two front teeth like cricket bats. Her unpretentious parents are the type to accept what nature ‘intended’. How can I help the girl without seeming interfering?
— E.W., London SW1
A. It is not widely known that teeth can be filed down by the dentist in a matter of minutes. Find a way to present her to one who will make the suggestion.