Q. I live alone, happily and remotely, but many miles from my immediate family. My son’s wife has very kindly taken it on herself to telephone every day to check on my wellbeing. Apparently she feels that, by so doing, she is giving me the chance to have ‘a chat’. I am grateful, of course, but my problem is that she talks for at least ten minutes each time and, unfortunately, what she has to say is not exactly scintillating. I am concerned that if this goes on, she will start to worry that I find her boring, so can you think of a tactful way in which I can discourage her from the lengthy conversation part of these calls?
— Name and address withheld
A. You shouldn’t discourage the chats. Even the dullness of them is informative. Instead make them enjoyable by secretly doing a jigsaw during their duration. Discipline yourself so that you only tackle the puzzle once a day — while your daughter-in-law is on the line. The satisfaction will animate your feedback, and your sigh of longing when she winds up the call will convince her that you found it stimulating.
Q. We have been invited to a shoot in the Borders but it has all been arranged by WhatsApp so no names of fellow guns have been provided. The couple hosting are well connected, so I would like to come fully briefed. I had imagined myself in the car merrily googling the names and backgrounds to relieve the boredom of the journey for my husband, who will be driving. I know it’s very rude to ask ‘Who else will be there?’ so how, without seeming sycophantic or pushy, can we find out?
— Name and address withheld
A. Why not telephone your host to offer to help out by driving up the guns, to spare the airport nuisance of anyone else who might be coming up by plane? While considering whether licences allow, the roll call will be conversationally released with no scope for suspicion.
Q. I now live abroad for most of the year, leaving my small London house unoccupied. Young friends would like to stay occasionally — and I would like them to — but the (totally unmodernised) house has so many idiosyncrasies in the way it is run, starting with the way the keys need to be jiggled in the lock, to how to light the oven, that their eyes glaze over when I am trying to explain. I simply know there will be problems if I’m not there — yet I feel bad not sharing the house. Any ideas Mary?
— C.B., Malaga
A. Young people can only take information in through a screen. So film yourself inserting the key in the lock, lighting the oven etc, and droning out the other safety details. Once you have sent the film to the phones of your potential junior guests, you can be confident there will be no safety issues during their occupancies.
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