Dear Mary

Dear Mary: How can I stop friends asking to stay in my holiday cottage?

24 July 2021

9:00 AM

24 July 2021

9:00 AM

Q. My beloved wife has been studying Chinese metaphysics for 18 months. Our house and garden have been badly neglected as a result — as have her husband, and nine-year-old daughter! She claims she needs the mental stimulation, but how can we detach her from her obsession?

—F.O., Dorset

A. You could outwit your wife by developing your own obsession: namely how she can monetise her new interest by giving lessons to acquaintances and neighbours with intellectual pretensions and time on their hands. There are always plenty of empty heads ready to be filled and the study of Chinese metaphysics could easily fit the bill — ‘bill’ being the operative word, since the snob appeal could allow her to charge fancy prices. You could canvass some likely students behind her back and urge her to take them on with such venal enthusiasm that you quite put her off the whole subject. She will soon find the easier option of managing house, garden and child more appealing.

Q. Thirty years ago I bought a tiny terraced holiday cottage in a then unfashionable seaside town. Few friends ever visited as they always had better invitations to bigger houses where they could bring children (I don’t have any). Now the holiday landscape has changed: going abroad is problematic and many of the grander friends of my generation have moved out of their big houses. Casting around for somewhere to go, people are beginning to remember that I own a cottage quite near the sea and, faute de mieux, are asking to borrow it. I don’t want to tell them that I now have a love interest who lives there full time. It is none of their business, but how can I say no without explaining this and thereby invading my own privacy?

— Name and address withheld

A. Tell your friends that the cottage is now rented out permanently to a very agreeable person who, in exchange for an affordable rent, is prepared to accommodate you when you want to come and stay yourself.

Q. I have a delightful grand-daughter, a businesswoman in her mid-twenties, who invariably substitutes ‘absolutely’, ‘definitely’ or ‘yeah’ for ‘yes’. This, and her habit of throwing her arms about when she speaks, must be as jarring to others as they are to me. Mary, I should be most grateful if you can suggest a way I can tell her without hurting her.

— J.P., Abingdon

A. It seems likely that these histrionics are only manifestations of her eagerness to please you, and you should take them as a compliment. Best not to say anything as this may inhibit her behaviour when with you. You should consider yourself fortunate that your granddaughter is not staring into an iPhone and grunting dispassionately when you try to engage in conversation.

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