20 NOVEMBER 1999, Page 87


Dear Mary. . .

Q. Recently at a drinks party in Sydney I was introduced to one of our famous, expat celebrity authors. 'And what are you doing here?' I asked. 'Just standing here,' she said. And what do you do when you're not stand- ing here?' was my admittedly weak response. 'I sit down,' she said. What, except for keep- ing my mouth shut in the first place, should my initial reply have been?

R. Y., Cobbitty, NSW, Australia A. Bear in mind that even the most success- ful of creative types tend to suffer from paranoia. The celebrity author might have interpreted your innocent inquiry as really meaning, 'What on earth are you doing here?' If you had wanted to reassure her you could have replied, 'Oh, I meant what are You doing in Sydney? Are you promoting a book or on a lecture tour or something?' If, on the other hand, you felt like parrying, you could have replied, 'Oh good, well if you're not busy, could you fetch me another drink?'

Q. In these blessed antipodean islands with their excess of clear skies and clean air, where native bird life and cultural expression are extinct (apart from rugby and that not so Popular nowadays), my friend Zelda, in the leafy suburb of Merivale, is plagued by that peril of modern life — the fearless whistling neighbour. For hours on end, with no recog- nisable tune, note or tempo to cling to, he trumpets around his property. Mary, dear,

what can she do to end this tuneless tirade and return from behind closed doors to the beauty and tranquillity of her own garden? W.D., Christchurch, New Zealand

A. First your friend should approach her neighbour with an apologetic expression on her face. 'I'm so sorry about the bleeping, it must be driving you mad,' she should say. 'What bleeping?' he will ask. `Oh,' she can explain, 'I lose my keys all the time so I've bought myself one of those whistling key- rings that bleep at you if you whistle. And, of course, because the air is so clear here, every time one of our neighbours whistles, it starts bleeping. How amazing you haven't heard it! It's been going on and off all day, every time you whistle.' Should the neighbour be insen- sitive enough to continue whistling, your friend must put a more Pavlovian punish- ment into practice, spending a day broad- casting amplified (pre-recorded) bleeping to be broadcast from her own house in direct response to each burst of whistling from his

garden. Subliminally the message will sink in that whistling results in painful electronic bleeping. Although this method is time-con- suming, it will be preferable to a full-scale house-moving operation.

Q. A recent incident has caused the rela- tionship with my partner to be somewhat less enjoyable than heretofore. We had recourse to family planning, but did not anticipate how expensive the precaution could be. The problem is that my partner is not willing to share the cost. I suspect it is not for financial reasons only. I sense a tacit moral objection. His family has strong connections with the Catholic Church. How can I overcome this problem before the sore festers, Mary? Any advice which you could offer would be much appreciated.

A.F., Dublin

A. Force your partner into admitting his carnal collusion. Borrow a 20 punt note from him one day, then stage-manage a car journey where you suddenly require him to pull up at a shopping outlet. 'Oh, that reminds me, I must pay you back,' you can say, as you bring another 20 punt note from your purse with one leg sticking out of the half-open car door. Then catch him unawares by withdrawing the note suddenly and asking if, actually, he would mind if you put it towards the purchase of some precautionary measures.