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

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Dear Serena,

Help! I spread some gossip at the beginning of the week, and it's backfired on me. Now no one will speak to me, and they're all talking behind my back. I've apologised publicly, but it doesn't seem to be doing any good. All I wanted to do is show the world what a fun, lively person the woman in question is.

Dave, London E1

Yeah, right, Dave, and Lawrence Dallaglio was only showing off.

I'm shortly off on holiday with a friend to the south of France. He's looking forward to doing the rounds of the topless/ nudist beaches, but I'm rather worried about the prospect, as, despite my best efforts - doing the 17 times table, imagining I'm in a room with my headmistress etc - I still tend to get a bit, well, excited when I'm confronted with young ladies' naked bits. How do I cope?

Sam, Hounslow

First: ditch the headmistress fantasy, as, being English, you're probably getting some sort of subconscious dominatrix stimulation which is not helping the situation. Try putting yourself in a room with Geri Halliwell and her therapist instead; you should find it works a treat. If, however, this isn't enough, make sure that you take a broadsheet newspaper, a mask and snorkel, and a pair of flippers with you. The newspaper should cover your blushes while seated, and, should you feel the need to head for the water to cool off, you can carry the flippers in front of you on your way to the sea and put them on while sitting in the shallows. The mask and snorkel should act as an effective disguise should any unfortunate slippages occur during the walk.

My other half and I work in the same industry, and he has just informed me that my dream job is about to become available at the company where he works. What are the ethics about letting people know that we live together? Should I tell them at the interview, or not?

Belinda, Redruth

Yes. Definitely. They will find out soon enough, and being caught out in a lie at the beginning of a professional relationship will leave you in an invidious position, where trust is concerned, for a long time. Obviously, if your bloke is involved in any way in the interviewing process, he should declare his interest up front and withdraw. Otherwise, say, in the "any questions" bit at the end, if the opportunity hasn't arisen before, say, "by the way, I think I ought to let you know that I live with so-and-so". It shouldn't count against you, unless you're going to be working directly together, in which case there might be worries about holiday cover and so forth. But you shouldn't for a minute consider working directly with your partner within an organisation: you'll end up bringing boardroom politics into the bedroom, and you'll never have sex again.

Ever since my friend bought a mobile phone, he has been late for absolutely everything. It's taken me a while, but I've realised that this is a product of the phone: because he knows he has it and can call up to tell people he's running late, he never leaves sufficient time to get from one place to another. Meanwhile, I get left hanging about waiting for him. Is this a common phenomenon, and how should I tackle it?

Ben, Warwick

Yes, it's an increasingly common phenomenon, though it doesn't affect everybody. Selfish people, who regard their time as more precious than anyone else's, use the mobile as an extra weapon in the armoury of their ego. Similarly, people seem to regard e-mail as set in stone: I recently waited an hour for someone, only to find that he had cancelled our date by e-mail without checking that I'd gone online to collect the message. If your friend is late by a consistent amount of time, say half an hour, always make a point of telling him to meet you half an hour before you wish to turn up. Nastier, but it might jolt him, is to turn up an hour late on several occasions and say: "Oh, well, I knew you'd be late so I thought I might as well not bother myself." And enjoy this period while it lasts. If he keeps using the mobile with any frequency, you'll be lucky if he remembers he has a date at all in a couple of years.

My daughter wants to get married in our village church, but my wife and I have not attended there since they appointed a woman vicar. Can I get in a vicar of my own choice to perform the ceremony?

Gerald, Lincolnshire

Probably. But it would be better for your long-term spiritual growth if you grew up and accepted that female vicars are a fact of life. Women have been having to tell male vicars the details of their lives for centuries, after all, and no one thought that there was anything wrong with that.

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