27 APRIL 2002, Page 63

Dear Mary. . .

Q. I must correct a mistake in your column of 6 April. When I arrived in Oxford as an 18-year-old. I was astonished to observe the confusion that was occasioned among my new Southern friends by my habitual use of the traditional Brummie (and Scouse) salutation 'All right'. They made the same mistake as you and your correspondent of assuming that this greeting — perhaps understandably, given its form — is interrogative. Even though uttered with a slightly rising, apparently mildly interrogative inflection, 'All right' is not a question. The only correct response is 'All right'. Anything along the lines of 'Oh, not so bad or 'Well, been better but, you know.. . 'is at best very gauche and possibly rather rude. I hope that this helps.

S.S., House of Commons, SWI A. Thank you for this most useful intelligence from northern climes. I have reported it back, orally, to A.C. of W8. Her retort was, .That's all very well, but the trouble is that most of us aren't associating with Brummies.'

Q. I have a quartet of very good (female) friends, but they seem to have fallen for the latest (and, I think, disgusting) trend. I know that it crops up in plays and films, and also in women's magazines (one even seems to encourage it), but my friends will

giggle over their experiments. Perhaps they are pretending, just to wind me up, but I find the very idea of anal intercourse (to use the polite phrase) offensive. Am I being silly? Should I tell them straight how I feel or should I drop these friends?

F.M., Petts Wood, Kent A. You are not being silly — nature's intentions are clearly indicated by her precise location, on a woman's body, of the ripple effects linked to romantic love. However, no one under the age of 25 can be blamed for ignorance of romantic love, or for making a mental link between 'sex' and irony and/or athletics. It is rarely portrayed in any other light in the media. But you must not drop these friends. As an independent thinker, you are in a unique position to steer them away from what might be described as 'junk sex' towards a consideration of the benefits that might accrue from the more organic variety. Q. Recently, my colleague, my whippet and I have been involved in presenting a local low-budget programme for HTV Bristol, called Particular Pubs. During the making of this we were frequently asked, 'How on earth did you ever get involved in making this programme?', the various inflections and emphases placed on particular words displaying the extent of disbelief and envy in the inquirer. We have only a very general idea of how the choice originally came about, so, in anticipation of a further series being made, how can we, without causing offence, persuade all questioners to desist from pursuing this line of inquiry?

R.S., Malmesbuty, Wilts A. Deflect them by answering kindly, 'Why? Would you like to have been involved?'

Q. How can I cheer up a hopeless old friend who is down on her luck through nobody's fault but her own?

WS., London SW4 A. If she genuinely is old and hopeless, the chances are that she may have an unclaimed Premium Bond prize. Telephone 0845 964 5000 for a tracing-service request form.

If you have a problem, write to Dear Mary, clo 56 Doughty Street, London WON 2LL.