22 JULY 1995, Page 47


Dear Mary. . .

Q. A regular tennis partner is driving me nuts with her constant moanings about this or that ache or pain — even during a match. I have already tried what I consid- ered might be a Killenistic approach — say- ing, 'Oh, I know, my legs ache too, but isn't it boring talking about it?', but that hasn't helped. Nor has my suggestion that she play less often. I am tempted to come right out with, 'For heaven's sake, do stop complain- ing', but am sure you can come up with something less harsh (and more creative).

D.B., London NW3 A. Next time you see this person tell her she will be relieved to hear that you are looking out for another tennis partner. When she protests you should shake your head sadly and say, 'I just feel too guilty seeing you lumbering around the court in agony. It makes me feel like I'm the most terrible bully and I don't think I ought to put you through it any more.' This should serve to bring her to her senses.

Q. A very good friend of mine, in a moment of well-intentioned madness, has volun- teered that her garden be one of a number 'open' to visitors, mainly members of the local church community, on a forthcoming Sunday afternoon. From what she has told me it is clear that she was carried along on a wave of enthusiasm at a recent parish meeting. The problem arises because she has now realised that her garden falls far below the standard expected by the organ- isers. She does have a few petunias in bloom and she will ensure that a shopping trolley which has been left in the shrubbery is removed. She does make very good scones, but appreciates that they will not be enough. How can she resolve this difficult situation?

J.M.A., London Ni A. Why not suggest that your friend pro- mote her 'open' day as a 'garden open with a difference'? Were she to hire a celebrity gardener, such as Robin Lane-Fox or James Compton, to lecture the visitors on how to go about making the most of a gar- den which is neglected and not very inter- esting anyway, there is no doubt that the day would be a great success. Q. A childhood friend is a compulsive book-'borrower'. Every time she calls she can't help snooping through my latest read- ing list and, seizing a volume, saying, 'Do you mind if I borrow this?' She is so gener- ous to me in other ways I can't demur, but I never see the book again. Polite enquiries about a volume's whereabouts only elicit a vague response that it must have been lost or passed on to someone else, although I am sure that many of my books still lie on her shelves. It seems so rude to accuse her of negligence or theft — what should I do?

R.H., Woolahra, NSW, Australia A. Next time your friend comes round show her your latest books with excitement, crowing, 'Look at these? Isn't it marvel- lous? I've started a reciprocal arrangement with another person who buys books. She's going to let me have full access to her library and I'm going to let her have full access to mine. It means we can double the books we'll be able to afford!' When your friend says, 'Oh good, can I borrow some of these too?' you can say, 'No, I'm afraid you can't because those are her books.' You can then add casually, 'And I'm afraid no one else can borrow any of my books any more because the deal is that she must have first