Mary Killen

Your problems solved | 3 May 2018

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Q. When buying a present for a friend, I would not dream of glugging from the bottle or helping myself to a chocolate. But when it comes to books, I am guilty of reading the first few pages from curiosity — then sailing on through to the end. I am scrupulous about not leaving dirty thumbprints, but as I tie a ribbon around the wrapping paper I am nagged by the feeling that I have done wrong. Have I?

— L.F., 3ème, Paris

A. Technically a present should not be ‘pre-used’ but it’s different in the world of letters. A book should never be an impersonal present but one which is chosen to chime with the personality and intellectual abilities of the recipient. Therefore it is almost essential that the giver should be au fait with the contents. As long as you handle the book with delicacy then the fact the giver has already ‘reviewed’ it confers many benefits. You need not spell out the fact that you have done so, but you can strengthen your bonds with the recipient by discussing it after they have read it too. This will elevate the status of the present from tokenistic to bespoke.

Q. A co-worker who sits by my desk has just discovered a brain tumour. The problem is this allows him to pity himself noisily towards us. He coughs and sneezes and groans in our faces all day long. This impolite behaviour obviously disturbs concentration, so the productivity falls as much as our life quality at work. Nonetheless, we are good friends. How can I ask for a respectful silence without underestimating his illness?

— Y.S., São Paulo, Brazil

A. This malade pas imaginaire is probably unaware he’s been overdoing the sickness signalling. You will do him a favour if you point this out because the truth is that he will get more from his colleagues in the way of sympathetic support if he doesn’t conflate himself with irritation. You can use the Pavlov method to kindly retrain him. Each time he expresses some self pity, stop working, look across from your screen and say a heartfelt, ‘Oh poor you!’ After a bit he will begin to find the predictability of this response annoying and will naturally curb his output.

Q. May I pass on a tip to readers who, like me, have rented London flats through Airbnb? There’s no need to drag heavy and unwieldy bags around with you all day when visiting the capital. Use the Stasher website ( which lets you deposit such bags in small shops and hotels for only £6 per item per day. It leaves you able to stroll unencumbered to lunches, galleries and drinks parties.

— T.R., Florence

A. Thank you for this invaluable tip. Stasher, which is fully insured, has more than 300 storage facilitators and is half the price of railway station left-luggage offices.