4 AUGUST 2001, Page 55


Dear Mary. . .

Q. Having retired to France midway between the Channel ports and Spain, we find that many friends/relations stop off en route for free B&B. Naturally, they all enjoy the 'cheap' Bordeaux that we offer at meal times. Helping himself, one visitor drank one and a half litres, while another took a litre bottle to his bedroom to finish off on his own. How do we curtail those who drink us out of house and home without referring to their seeming alcoholism? There are no pubs, so if we are taken out for a meal our guests invariably restrict their purchase to one 75c1 bottle. Going teetotal would not be much fun in our old age, so, not having a locked cellar, how can we politely reduce their intake without seeming mean?

E.M.T., Cowpignac, France A. Forcing, say, 420 francs on to them, ask your friends to help out while you are doing some domestic admin by nipping down to the supermarket where they will find reserved a six-bottle case of `cheap' wine awaiting your collection. In this way, you will disabuse them of one of the Englishman's most fondly held beliefs: that wine in France is virtually cheaper than water (the other being that drinking huge quantities of it is linked to French good health). As you have noted, when faced with the bald facts of pricings — in black-andwhite on a restaurant menu, for instance — these drinkers' excesses are often curbed.

Once in the house, the crate can be propped at eye-level near your dining table so that as the bottles go down, your guests are given an egg-timer-style reminder of the connection between cost and consumption.

Q. Like me, my 13-year-old daughter is fairskinned. Yesterday she showed me a faint, peachy down of tiny blond leg hairs, which glimmered in the sunlight and looked very flattering. However, she announced that since her two best friends now shave their legs, she wishes to follow suit. The two friends in question are swarthy, dark-haired girls for whom shaving may well be appropriate, but I know from personal experience that the very, fair-skinned need never shave their legs if they never once do so. My daughter does not seem to believe that shaving only promotes hair growth. How can I prevent peer-group pressure from condemning her to an unnecessary lifetime of shaving?

Name and address withheld A. As an older woman, you must turn yourself into a human sacrifice. Shave a test strip of your own legs in front of your daughter. Let her view the consequences over the next few days as new hair starts to grow out 'like a yardbrush', as they say in Ireland. This should dissuade her from taking the irreversible step of shaving her own, junior legs.

Q. I have planted chervil (posh people's parsley. as I believe it is sometimes called) and red basil this year. Please can you tell me if these are in fashion, and which herbs are in or out?

C.B., London A. You are correct in identifying these herbs as fashionable, chervil having a slightly more subtle flavour of aniseed than does parsley. Where gardening is concerned, my husband is usually ahead of his time and this year he is growing salad burnet, with its aroma of fresh cucumber, and purslane. Purveyors of fashionable seeds include the Organic Gardening Catalogue (01932 253666) and Terre de Scmences (01227 731815). My husband tells me that you can also cock a snook at Brussels and grow 'heritage' and discontinued seeds incompatible with EU strictures by joining the Heritage Seed Library (02476 308232).

Mary Killen