22 SEPTEMBER 2007, Page 63

Your Problems Solved

Dear Maly Q. I work in an office where the loo is shared by three separate professions — all rather civilised ones, at that. However, we are not money-makers, and therefore cannot afford a cleaner. And yet, despite my efforts to make people aware of the mess they create, I have found that again and again it is my office which buys the cleaning fluids, cleans the loo, empties the over-flowing bins and so on. How, Mary, can I make the others share the burden?

Name and address withheld A. Start by researching a cleaning service which will perform this function for a fee. Ask for a written quotation. Armed with this document approach your two civilised co-occupees to inquire whether they would like to each contribute one third of the costs. Stage One: if they protest that the fee is too high, and undoubtedly it will be, proceed immediately to Stage Two. In the unlikely event that they agree, return later in the day to say that on thinking it through, you have to admit that you have had second thoughts. Not only are the costs absurdly high but the security risks of allowing cleaners free run of the premises are too great. Then go to Stage Three: suggest instead an alphabetically ordered monthly rota with a notice positioned at eye level opposite the loo to remind users which fitm is responsible for cleaning that month. This name and shame tactic is certain to be effective. You may even see competitive cleaning.

Q. Last week I went to a book launch in the House of Lords to celebrate publication of the new life of Pugin by Rosemary Hill. Japanese canapes were served. I thought this was a missed opportunity. Why not mini-pasties in Puginesque shapes? Trefoils, ogivals and so on? That is not my point, however. My problem is that I am slightly squeamish about Japanese food. I hate to disappoint the waitresses who beamingly present it with such a flourish as it is invariably exquisitely displayed. It seems so rude to just say 'No thank you'. What should I say when faced in the future with Japanese canapes at a drinks party where someone has gone to a lot of trouble to prepare them?

Name and address withheld A. Why not beam back and say 'What an exquisite display!' Then add the white lie, 'I wish I could but Jam going to a Japanese dinner later and must save my appetite.'

Q. May I pass on a tip to readers? If boiler-suited men turn up at your house in the country saying they have just been tarmacing the local highway and have some leftover tar with which they are prepared to fill the holes in your drive or yard for a knockdown price, just say a firm 'No'. These men are invariably conmen who throw the tar on, charge about ten times more than they quoted and menace you for the amount they are demanding. I know because it has happened to me and, when recounting my own tale of woe at dinner parties, I have heard of numerous other incidents of the same thing happening all over the country.

Name and address withheld A. Thank you. You are right. It is simpler just to send these men away rather than ny to outwit them. In any case, unless you are a trainer or have some sort of business in your yard which requires a tarmacadamed surface, it is more aesthetically pleasing not to have tar in the first place.