Modern Manners: Dear Serena

YOUR CUT-OUT-AND-KEEP GUIDE TO SURVIVING THE MINEFIELD

Dear Serena,

At 38, I accepted that the chances of my finding a reliable man to father a child while I was still fertile were slim. Dearly wanting a child and being in a position to have one without needing any financial help, I had a child by donor. Jack is now six, and a healthy, happy child in every way. The only problem is this: he is beginning to show interest in where he came from and, particularly since he started at a church school where most of his classmates are in standard nuclear families, in why he doesn't have a father. What do I tell him?

Emily, Huntingdon

Oh, blimey, Emily, you mean you've only just started thinking about this now? You've had seven-odd years to work out a story, and you expect me to come up with a solution just like that? Please remember in future that if a truth is unpalatable, it's best to get it out in the open as quickly as possible. Secrets imply shame. And shame implies that you've done something wrong. You must let him know about the facts of life in all their permutations as quickly as possible, before someone else does and makes the turkey-baster option seem freakish. Also: do consider moving him to a secular school. He'll find it easier to cope with his conceptual circumstances if he's not surrounded by little Christian children and their smugly natural parents.

My au pair has been helping herself from the drinks cabinet while we're out. The quantities aren't huge, and she's certainly not drunk in charge of the children, but it's still theft. In all other ways, she's ideal. How do we tackle this?

Jane, Newbury

Presumably your au pair is 18? Buy cheaper brands, and make a point of saying: "By the way, you must be desperate for a drink some evenings. If there's a bottle of wine open and you really want a glass, do just say." The poor child's meant to be living as part of the family, after all, and she will probably get the message if you look knowing enough when you say it.

My boyfriend and I have decided to move in together and see how it goes before we commit further. We don't want to buy together until we are sure we can cope with sharing the same space long-term. The thing is, we can't agree on who should move into whose flat. His flat is larger but mine is better furnished (although, of course, he doesn't agree with that). What should we do?

Donna, Birmingham

You have two choices. You could rent a whole new flat and pay for it by renting out both of yours. This might seem like a load of hassle, but couples often find that the political problems produced by one moving into what has so far been the other's space are insurmountable, and it might be better in the long run.

The other option is this: move your furniture into his flat and his into yours, then rent yours out. That way, you maintain some level of equal power over your mutual space and, hopefully, by the time you decide to pool your resources properly, his furnishings, which were probably bought, like most men's, in a single afternoon in Ikea, will have been irrevocably destroyed by the lodgers and you will never have to give house room to them again.

I was thinking of marrying a footballer, but I'm worried because of the high divorce rate in the business. Also, I'm unsure about the effect on my career. What do you think?

Kirstie, Liverpool

Go ahead. At the very least, you'll have lots of fun choosing marble dinner tables and leather settees. And if it ends in divorce, you are guaranteed your own cable television chat show.

I was feeling a bit run down recently, and a friend suggested I try a session of reiki healing. Having handed over pounds 35 to a woman in a tie-dyed viscose dress and Bo Derek plaits, I spent 45 minutes lying on my back with my eyes closed while she cupped her hands and held them over various points on my body. After half an hour, I got so bored I fell asleep, waking 15 minutes later to find my healer beaming at me and telling me how well I'd responded. I am still knackered, and pounds 35 poorer. Can I ask for my money back?

Shaunagh, Hampstead

I have consulted my pet guru, who closed his eyes, pinched his fingers together and, after some time, said: "My Daughter. Remember the words of the sages. Tired person easy mark to part with money." Be philosophical. Accept this experience as a lesson in being more judicious in your choice of adviser. Also: cut down on booze, eat your greens and try going to bed early for a few weeks. You will be amazed at the regenerative effect it has upon your chakras. And that will be pounds 20 plus VAT, please.

Knotty problems with the world today? Write to The

Independent, 18th Floor, 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL, where they will be treated with the customary sympathy

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