4 NOVEMBER 2000, Page 87


Dear Mary. .

Q. I believe myself to be a reasonably amusing conversationalist, yet occasionally the person to whom I am talking at a drinks party will repeatedly look elsewhere, with a smile or a wink acknowledging the proximi- ty of other, presumably more diverting, fel- low guests. When I was young this did abso- lutely nothing for my self-confidence. Now it merely irritates me, as I recognise the behaviour for what it is: bad manners. But how, Mary, do I reprimand the culprit?

IL., Cape Town, South Africa A. Next time this happens, grip your inter- locutor lightly by the arms and swivel him or her around, ballroom-dancing style, so that your positions are reversed. Then you can chuckle merrily, `Do you mind? There's obviously someone very mesmerising stand- ing behind me and I'm longing to experi- ence their power for myself.'

Q. I am one of two females working at a small, suburban optician's practice. We have two separate staff lavatories, one for gentle- men and one for ladies, so the male propri- etor remains blissfully unaware of my female colleague's increasingly malodorous bath- room visits, which I attribute to some chronic medical disorder. She masks the smell with strong perfume, but this merely makes the odour more offensive. Indeed, it permeates into my adjoining consulting room, which is unpleasant and embarrassing, both for myself and for my patients, who suspect that I am the cause. Have you any suggestions as to how I might alleviate this unfortunate problem, in the most delicate way possible?

Name and address withheld A. Disable the female staff lavatory by inter- fering with some key gadget in the cistern. Announce that you have telephoned an emergency plumber whom you can personal- ly recommend as not being a cowboy. In fact, you will have done no such thing. No one will be surprised if a plumber does not turn up, and you can let day after day drift by with your own lavatory 'out of order' so that your female colleague is forced to make use of the male staff facilities. Once the ball, or 'fall out', is in the proprietor's court, you can look forward to a new level of professional under- standing. Perhaps during this honeymoon period you can suggest that, in the circum- stances, the kindest thing for your proprietor to do would be to implement Bupa-style, all- over, well-woman health screenings as part of your employment package.

Q. Some weeks ago an old friend invited me to come and stay in his house in Tarn et Garonne. I hedged my bets — I had some unfinished business to do, the petrol crisis was on — and so we agreed that I should leave it until the last moment before giving him a firm yes or no. The trouble is that I never got around to telling this old friend whether I was coming or not. To be frank with you, I normally rely upon my wife to nag me about these things and she had gone away on a short holiday herself. I now feel very remiss since I have realised that I should not have behaved in such a way with an old — in both senses of the word friend. The man is due back soon. How can I explain my behaviour, Mary?

GA.W, Wiltshire A. Why not simply say, 'But didn't you get my fax/email?' Since the elderly are gener- ally confused about new technology, your friend will redirect all his aggression on to the new-fangled methods of communica- tion. He will react like this regardless of whether he actually has an email or fax facility or not. He will assume he does have one but, because of his own computer illit- eracy, is simply unable to activate it.