25 OCTOBER 1997, Page 79


Q: We were recently invited by a very old friend to spend a few days with him and his wife. We were made most welcome except for the fact that we had to sleep on a very narrow, low and hard bed. We had four very uncomfortable, sleepless nights and Were glad to get home. We have now been asked to visit them again. We should like to do so, but how can we mention the subject of the bed without giving offence?

P.A.F., Downham Market, Norfolk 4. Ring the friends up and gush with delight, adding, 'But are you sure you want what with all the nuisance about my bad back and everything?' What nuisance?' they will ask. 'Oh, haven't I told you? Well, lt s more of a nuisance for us than for you but I've developed a bad back so now When we stay with people we have to cram a double futon into the car. Then when we get to where we're staying we strip the bed We, ve been put in, lay the futon on top of the mattress, and then remake the bed.' What a palaver!' they will cry. 'Yes. But, You see, a futon brings a normal bed up to thigh height and makes it softer for my

Dear Mary.. .

back,' you can say. 'Anyway, anything is worth it just to see you!' Having brooded on your comments for a couple of days, your friends will almost certainly ring back saying, 'You said you needed a thigh-height bed — well, there is another one you can sleep in.' Or even, . so we've bought a new one.' Should they not do so, go ahead and buy a futon, and put it to the purpose I suggest.

Q. I come from Northern Ireland and now live in London. I was brought up to answer the question, 'How are you?' with an hon- est résumé of my state of mental and physi- cal health. Yet in England I find the ques- tion is rhetorical. How can I assimilate myself culturally without betraying my provincial regard for plain-spokenness?

D.W, London SW3 A. Why not take a tip from a former Clerk of the House of Lords, whose personal advancement was inextricably linked to the pleasure he always gave when encountering senior peers. 'How are you?' the peer would ask. 'Much more important,' the Clerk would reply, flapping his hand dis- missively, 'how are you?'

Q. If, as often happens in our workplace, there are friends or colleagues whom one does not see until they are about to leave in the evening, what is the most appropri- ate salutation to use? Neither 'Hello' nor `Goodbye' feel entirely correct, and embar- rassment is often heightened by the addressee simultaneously using the other expression.

P.G. and J S., Cambridge A. How about, 'Hellbye'? Or, more cheer- ingly, `Goodo'?