Dear Serena


Dear Serena,

Do you have any advice for me at this solemn time?

William, Washington DC

Nothing much, William dear, except for one of my dear, wise old granny's adages. Playfully wagging her finger, she used to say, "Serena, dear, it always pays to know how to pronounce a country before you bomb it."

As usual, my husband insists on taking us all down to see his family in Cardiff over the weekend, so what with the motorways, we will be spending at least 12 hours locked up in the car with a nine-year-old and an eight- year-old. Have you any games we might play to pass the time?

Mary, London

Of course. I know how difficult it is to throw sticks for the young in confined spaces, having recently spent a couple of hours on the train with a group of programme-developers when all the loos were locked. Fortunately, there are plenty of games to hand; now that all suburban pubs have been turned into Harvesters, which afford no runs at all for pub cricket, the main alternative is to play Pampas!, a game that involves every individual shouting out the word and pointing when they pass a patch of Pampas grass. A responsible adult - possibly yourself - should keep score. Combined with Dish!, this can produce hours of fun. Alternatives include Gallagher, where people compete to come up with the most imaginative interpretation of words that consist of a lead letter and end letter linked by a row of asterisks (this is known in some families as Tabloid). Or you could try Rock Star, Politician or Businessman, a more sophisticated version of Animal, Vegetable or Mineral; you'll be surprised by how much the little dears will have already picked up about current affairs. Try also "Brightman", in which contestants take it in turns to sing Lloyd Webber songs in the manner of a scalded cat. "Draughts" involves opening the window at high speed and seeing how many bits of paper fly out; in bank holiday traffic you will have little opportunity to play this more than once or twice for five minutes at a time. Or play Monopoly, in which contestants take it in turns to start with the line "I hate [insert name of Global corporation, eg Microsoft, or business figure, eg Bill Gates] because..." and compete to come up with the most extreme libel. If all else fails, prime your husband, on a given signal, to say "Darling, what did you do with those Boyzone Easter eggs?" to which you can reply "They're somewhere in the luggage in the boot". A riotous game of Scrabble should quickly break out.

Ticket sales to my stately home have plummeted this year. Can you suggest any methods by which I could boost them?

Charlie, Northants

Yes. Try giving the money to charity this time.

I can't decide: should I have my belly-button pierced or not?

Tara, Lymington

Not, Tara. The habit's already old-hat enough to have made it into fast-food advertising; and think how embarrassed you'll be this time next year to look like an All Saint.

On the subject of stag nights, I would dearly love to have one, but my fiancee, a lecturer in gender politics, is strenuously objecting to the idea. What do you suggest?

Dan, Islington

Your fiancee's job is interfering with her home life, something to which women have objected loudly about men for generations. While I agree that large groups of baying men are at best a nuisance and at worst threatening to women, it is also better that men get to exercise the lycanthropic side of their personalities under controlled circumstances in places designed to cope with them, than that the same traits come bursting out unexpectedly at home. Tell your fiancee that you believe in honesty in relationships, and that you would rather have a stag night with her knowledge than conduct it in secret. She may not like it, but if she expects to live life in liberty, she should be prepared to offer liberty to her partner. And besides, I suspect that your fiancee may not be as rigid in her values as you think; marriage being traditionally regarded by the gender lobbies as a means of subordination of women (which is also why the Iron Johns are so fervently in favour of it), she's already slipped quite drastically by opting for the old rings-and-flowers option in the first place.

Any quick-fire tests to see if I'm fit to handle the lawnmower after an afternoon down the pub?

Bruce, Milton Keynes

If you can say "Seven slit sheets slit by slippery Sam the professional sheet-slitter" seven times in rapid succession, you're probably OK. A quicker version is "Asif's office", though no one has been known to do this one more than four times without hesitation, however sober.

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