3 MAY 2008, Page 79

Q. Since I now live alone and have spare bedrooms

my house in London has become something of a destination for old friends who want to stay overnight. I love seeing them. I love making them welcome and giving them drinks and food if they want it but the one thing I have to admit I do resent is the domestic drudgery aspect. I cannot bring myself to pay the going rate for a cleaner and it seems to take four hours or more to bring the house up to scratch. Even if people left tips — for some reason those who do in the country never seem to do it in London — they would be unlikely to leave £60 which is roughly what I would have to shell out to professional cleaners to come in for four hours on a random basis. What do you suggest, Mary?

Name and address withheld A. When your friends arrive ensure that a vacuum cleaner blocks their passage as they come into the house. Draw their attention to it and explain that you were just in the middle of cleaning up, having broken off from some boring paperwork which took longer than expected. Leave various cleansing agents propped visibly throughout the house and cleaning fluid and cloth in the bath they will be using — in a display hygenus interruptus as it were. Appear to be faintly distracted. Far from being insulted by the mess your friends will be reassured by the visible evidence of cleaning intentions. In any case it will be no bad thing if there is a degree of inadequacy in the facilities you offer. It will restore the balance of your relationship so your friends do not feel too jealous of you nor that you have too much of an upper hand in your patronisation of them with these very convenient lodgings.