Miscellany: Dear Serena

MODERN MANNERS: YOUR CUT-OUT-AND-KEEP GUIDE TO SURVIVING THE MINEFIELD
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Dear Serena,

I seem to have caused offence to a large group of people who, until recently, had very little ability to fight back. But they have recently equipped themselves with powerful and vocal lobby groups. As a result, I have already lost my job, but they seem still to be after my blood. Can you suggest the best way to put things right?

Glenn, Lancaster Gate

There's very little you can do to put it right, but a grovelling apology might be a good place to start. Try something like: "I am a Christian, and believe in reincarnation. The fact that I am unable to open my mouth without putting my foot in it is obviously intended by some higher power. I must have been a sententious prat in a previous life. It is karma."

I am 37, unmarried and two months pregnant. The father is currently being good about it, though I'm not sure if we're going to stay together as our history isn't entirely smooth and we were on the verge of calling it a day when this happened. I am going to go ahead with having the baby regardless, as I am afraid that time is getting tight and this might be my last chance to have a child, at least by someone for whom I have feelings. I am certainly able to cope financially, but there is one problem. How do I tell my overprotective Catholic parents? I can't believe that I have this problem at my age, but they still see me as an irresponsible adolescent despite the fact that I have been running a multinational company for the last six years.

Millie, Hertford

Of course they still think of you as an irresponsible adolescent: they are your parents. However you break this news to them, they will continue to think that you are an irresponsible adolescent. They will probably think (or at least persuade themselves that they think) that this child is the result of your first naive foray into sexual relations, and that you have been "caught" like so many teenagers before you. At least you have two strikes in your favour: as Catholics, they are hardly going to urge abortion and, because of your age, they have probably been nursing fears for some time now that you will never furnish them with grandchildren. You have about a month's grace to work out a plan, because it's wisest to keep stumm from all but your best friend until you're sure nothing ghastly has gone wrong. After that, you have a duty to tell the old folk as soon as possible, as springing the news and the baby on them in short succession would probably push them into a state of total acopia. If you really can't bear to tell them face to face, make the most of your position at work. Wait until you have to go to Los Angeles, then call from your hotel room where they can't track you down and say "Mum, dad, I'm in Los Angeles and I'm going to have a baby in October. I'll be back in two weeks and we can discuss it then." Then slam the phone down so you won't be too guilt-ridden by the sound of their screams.

How do you like your coffee?

Kenneth, Tyne and Wear

Smooth, strong and rich, with just a hint of decadence. Forget the feel of velvet and silk, as velvet has always tended to make me gag. And never serve it instant from a jar, or your party full of advertising trendies will look very quizzical indeed.

My friend Belinda has been going on about her wonderful new man Marcus for months, and we were all dying to meet him. Imagine my horror when we bumped into each other in the street one day and it turned out that Marcus was someone I had a disastrous one-night stand with 10 years ago and was relieved to have never heard from again. He showed no signs of recognising me, so maybe the secret is safe. Or should I tell her? What do you think?

Mandy, Exeter

Under no circumstances, unless he did something like steal your credit cards or torture your cat. Belinda will not appreciate knowing that you know what

her dream lover is like in bed, and he will no doubt have been as keen to forget the whole incident as you were. And don't spend too much time feeling smug about our little secret: remember, if the sex was disastrous, it's just as likely to have been you as him that got it wrong.

Is it reasonable to ask a boyfriend/ husband to buy tampons?

Richard, Acton

Only if he's passing one of the larger branches of a major chain chemist. Any man sent to the corner shop for Women's Things has a right to refuse, or at least to demand that she buy a pack of condoms the next time she patronises the same shop.

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