11 FEBRUARY 1995, Page 55


Dear Mary.

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Q. We work in an office with a colleague who has an infuriating habit of conducting lengthy personal telephone calls during working hours. We do not object to her making personal calls as such, although we do wonder why she would not prefer to conduct them in the privacy 9f her own home. The calls nearly always seem to be about some upset or concern in her person- al life and are carried out in a querulous muttering, loud enough to disturb but not for the actual content to be audible. We have no desire to be privy to the details of our colleague's private life, but the office is very small and these calls are an irritating distraction. How can we encourage our col- league to desist from her annoying practice without offending her or without seeming to indicate a prurient desire to know her private business?

Name and address withheld A. Next time your colleague begins one of these personal calls one of you should advance towards her desk in exaggerated tiptoeing mode and, pulling a ghastly gri- mace of sympathy, mouth or scribble the words, 'Would you like us to leave the room?' With each subsequent call you

should step up the numbers of sympathis- ers accordingly. Continue this course, if necessary, until the desk is completely surrounded by concerned co-workers mouthing, 'Would you like us to leave the room?' in unison. Once deprived of all enjoyment the habit has been affording her, your colleague should soon lose the taste for it.

Your letter from the couple in Malaysia (4 February) reminded me, for some rea- son, of the time when Somerset Maugham wanted to get rid of Paddy Leigh Fermor who had been staying with him at Cap Fer- rat. (I think Maugham had caught Leigh Fermor imitating him.) After dinner Maugham simply came towards Leigh Fer-

Q. How should one respond to young women who march through a door I hold open for them and do not have the man- ners or breeding to acknowledge my cour- tesy?

B.G., Hale, Cheshire A. Although it is a tremendous nuisance to carry a loaded water-pistol at all times, a short sharp spurt aimed at the necks of offenders as they swan by will send them spinning round in surprise. Water is a harmless substance and this method can be applied to other commonplace discourte- sies. It is also invaluable for catching the eye of a recalcitrant waiter. mor and shook his hand, saying, 'You know I always get up very late, so I'll say goodbye to you now.'

J.G.H., Binham, Norfolk A. Thank you for contributing this material.

I can see its relevance, as it could be used to discourage unwelcome guests from stay- ing for more than one night.

Mary Killen