16 MARCH 2002, Page 76

Q. When arriving to spend the weekend with friends I

always find the first few moments a little tense and embarrassing. Have you any suggestions on how to break the ice more quickly?

P. W., London SW1 A. Tenseness on arrival is most usually connected to the guests' own needs following a long drive. They invariably require sustenance in the form of tea or alcohol, to say nothing of other human comforts such as lavatorial relief. These things may not be instantly forthcoming if the host is distracted. The solution is to plan your journey so that you stop for tea just before reaching your destination. By answering all calls of nature shortly before arrival, you will be in a position to enter the household feeling dignified and relaxed rather than exhausted and desperate.