27 JANUARY 2001, Page 83

Q. I am a single working mother blessed with a

beautiful I2-year-old girl. We depend on and appreciate enormously the help of a motorised, energetic, 60-year-old lady, Della, who chaperones my daughter after school. Della has independent means of support; she accepts what I can pay because she likes the company and the activity. Every summer my mother takes my daughter to a little town in Brittany for two months. I join them for three weeks, the only vacation I can enjoy every year. Intrigued by our regular trips to France. Della has now decided to accompany me to Brittany next summer; she plans to stay in a hotel nearby and to spend three weeks 'with us'. Della is from a totally different culture from ours and we have very little in common other than the six basic life processes of living species: reproduction, getting energy, growth, releasing waste, adapting to change and reacting to change. I would greatly appreciate it if you could advise how I can dissuade Della from ever accompanying me to Brittany.

P.C., Santa Monica, USA A. Allow Della to see you reeling from the bombshell news that this year your French holiday will be affected by the presence of an elderly cousin, recently diagnosed with Alzheimer's, whom your mother considers it would be charitable to invite. Admit that on selfish grounds you cannot help but be disap pointed. The cousin's presence will effectively rule out any socialising or entertaining since she is frightened by strangers. As you grumble, suddenly widen your eyes and cry, 'Oh, no! It means you won't be able to visit us either. What a shame! Thank goodness it's not too late for you to book somewhere else.' In this way you will spare Della the disillusionment which would inevitably result from her holidaying with you. Meanwhile, you can avoid your daughter becoming enmeshed in dishonesty by first telling Della you are not going to break the news until your arrival in France as it might spoil her anticipation of the holiday; then, on returning from France, announcing that the cousin did not join you after all. since her carers considered her too ill to travel. You can repeat this process every year for as many years as necessary.