Q. I own a small, somewhat shabby and antiquated but well-located flat in central London which I have been happy to lend out to friends as I wasn’t using it much myself. No one was there during lockdown but four separate people stayed for various lengths of time just before. No one paid to stay there and I wouldn’t have wanted them to, but arriving there myself this week, for the first time this year, I found a vital piece of equipment broken — the glass jug of the ancient coffee machine. It’s not the cost (and difficulty) of replacement which annoys me, but the thought that one of my friends could be so inconsiderate as not to tell me either that they had broken it, or that it was already broken. It’s no fun not being able to make coffee when you need some. How can I find out who did it without offending the ones who did not?
— R.P., Norwich
A. Ring the friends in the date order of their staying. Say to each in turn: ‘I’m just back in the flat for the first time and I’m ringing to thank you for having left that cash to pay for the replacement for the coffee machine. You shouldn’t have.’ Innocent parties will reply: ‘Oh, it wasn’t broken when we were there.’ Guilty parties will hesitate before replying: ‘Actually we didn’t leave any money. We meant to buy you a replacement but didn’t get round to it — what with lockdown and everything.’
Q. Reasonably good (much older) friends have a large and impressive garden which in the past they were always keen to show off. It would make a useful pitstop for my husband and me on a forthcoming journey — we wouldn’t ask to go inside — but we have heard our friends have become rather phobic. How can we put out feelers to see if they would welcome us without putting them in the awkward position of having to say no if they are still anxious about the virus?
— P.S., London SW1
A. Without mentioning that you will be driving past, email to ask how their garden is looking and if they are yet ‘allowed’ to let friends look around it at a social distance. They will then feel free to express their phobias frankly.
Q. A long-standing male friend is working from the home of a woman he is involved with, who I suspect is reading all his emails. There are various things that he and I need to discuss in private — and no, we are not having an affair. They have no adequate signal for mobiles. He could ring mine from her landline but she is rather mean and would see the cost on her bill.
— Name and address withheld
A. Next time you speak to him, incorporate into your blether that he should send an email with a coded sign-off — perhaps two xs instead of his usual one — when the coast is clear for you to ring his landline for a lengthy chat.<//>
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