Dear Serena

Modern Manners: Your Cut-Out-And-Keep Guide To Surviving The Minefield
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Dear Serena,

Can you tell me why it's so damn difficult to get a passport from this country? I mean, isn't my money as good as everybody else's?

M, London W1

You're probably not observing the proper dress codes. You wanna get in, you show the proper respect: no torn jeans, no micro-skirts and no dreadlocks. This is more than a country, it's a national institution. And don't try to buy your way in via football. The few decision-makers who give a damn about sport support Chelsea anyway.

I am dreading the advent of summer and the cricket season. My husband, who is in his mid-thirties, is a member of a cricket team made up of people he went to boarding school with, and every other Saturday during the season, I and all their wives are expected to make picnics and provide transport to wherever their fixtures are. The thing is, whenever he gets together with these people, they seem to relapse into a form of pre-pubescent bonding ritual which involves getting plastered and sitting around making aeroplane noises and quoting catch-phrases from events in the mid-Seventies. Despite the fact that they have repeated each one a thousand times, these still seem to tickle them pink. The wives, meanwhile, sit around trying to converse with each other and having a Pimm's in preparation for pouring a gurgling lump into the back seat and driving him anything up to a hundred miles home. None of the team ever make much effort to befriend the wives, but unanimously treat us as cooks-cum-chauffeurs who should be grateful to walk in their shadows. If I have to go through another season, I think I may file for divorce. What should I do?

Adrienne, Hampshire

You probably already feel better just for getting all that off your chest, don't you? You have two options. Refuse to go along to more than one of these matches in the season, and let your old man organise his own fun. Or form a team to indulge in a pastime that is equally boring to those not directly involved - synchronised swimming, perhaps, or garden- visiting - on the free Saturdays, and insist that all the menfolk provide the catering, driving, entertainment for that: he will soon get the message.

Do not, however, consider for a moment trying to put an end to these awaydays. Men need to partake in these peculiar rituals, however banal, as the poor things get very twitchy without the sense of stability they provide. Besides, you should be glad: not many men are caring enough to maintain such close contact with the first people they slept with, 20 years on.

After a brief flirtation with politics, I find myself, since the elections, with time on my hands. Can you suggest any hobbies to fill it?

Sean, Bahamas

Why don't you try something a bit meatier next time, something that befits a man of action, and involve yourself in Indonesian politics? You don't live there, either.

Some years ago, I lopped a decade off my age, as my career took off rather late in the day. Now, I'm nearly 40, though everyone thinks I'm nearly 30, and I can hear my biological clock ticking away loudly. I burst into tears when I see ickle puppies, and long to buy all the cute dresses in the windows of Bond Street shops. Everybody says that I've got plenty of time left, but I know differently. I want something now that's all mine and will love me unconditionally for who, not what, I am. What should I do?

G, London W2

Next time you burst into tears over some ickle puppies, buy one and take it home with you. A few years of taking responsibility for another life, remembering to come home to feed it, walk it and generally give it the care it needs rather than just the kisses, might just lend you the maturity to cope with a baby. And seriously, love, I don't suppose that many people believe you're in your twenties anyway.

How do you get rid of visitors when they have outstayed their welcome?

Polly, Cumbria

My father has a glass into the bottom of which is etched: "haven't you noticed? Everyone's gone home!", but this assumes that your visitor can read.

Be blunt. Start clearing up around them. Go round the house locking the doors and windows. Empty the kitchen bin, fill the liner up from the living- room, and ask them to take it out for you. When they reach the front door, hand them their coat, kiss them firmly on the cheeks (or pump their hand, whichever is your style) and say: "Well, thanks for that. It's been lovely to see you. We must do it again some time."

This nifty technique works every time, and has the added bonus of ensuring that they are pretty unlikely ever to come back.

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