Modern Manners: Your cut-out-and-keep guide to surviving the minefield

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Dear Serena,

My modelling and acting career seemed to have ground to a halt until recently, when I got a new manager. He has got me some walk-ons in soap operas, and a few weeks of waving my hand over the prizes on a game show. But now he has come up with a new suggestion: that I have a whirlwind romance with a member of an up-and-coming boy band. If it goes well and we get our pictures in the papers enough, he suggests that we could eventually become engaged. The problem is that, though I know it would be good for my career, I don't actually fancy the man in question. In fact, I'm not sure if he isn't gay. What should I do?

Miranda, Basildon

Has your manager said anything about actually sleeping with this guy? Surely not. You will be what is technically known in the trade as "a beard", and your job will be to turn up partially dressed to launches, to give interviews to glossy magazines (don't worry: they'll hire a house for you to show off) and to tell all about your heartbreak when it doesn't work out. Then again, showbiz engagements are a bit old hat these days. Perhaps you should have an affair with someone in an up-and-coming girl band? This would certainly get you noticed, and will lend you a gravitas that will probably get you a part in a Britpack movie. Well, it works in Hollywood.

What should I do with my fish knives?

Eric, Streatham

Eat fish with them. Anyone who sneers has been reading etiquette books because they're afraid people will think they're common.

What is the most effective way to get rid of Jehovah's Witnesses?

Jane, Huddersfield

What is the problem here? Jehovah's Witnesses aren't exactly tarmac salesmen, you know. All you have to do is say "no, thank you" and close the door. They're not going to break your windows or pelt your house with eggs. If you suffer from the British disease of not being able to disappoint strangers to their faces, I would suggest a quick trip to the Cordino emporium in Republic Street, Valetta. They sell little cards you can fix under your bell which say, in Malti with a convenient English translation: "Jehovah's Witnesses will be hung, drawn, quartered and forcibly converted to Catholicism" or words to that effect. I haven't had a ring on my bell since I bought one.

My flatmate bought a rubber plant in a furniture warehouse shop, and has put it in pride of place in the living room. I don't know what to do. It's horrible. Aside from the fact that I don't like plants that neither grow nor flower, it makes it look like the landlord's tubular furniture is actually to our own taste. What should I do?

Antonia, Pimlico

Washing-up liquid works well. A quick squirt on the roots twice a week should do the trick. Hopefully you can then convince her that it died for lack of light.

I was travelling on the bus between meetings recently and received a business call on my mobile phone. A woman in a nearby seat started going on about being disturbed and not being interested in my conversation. What should I do in similar situations?

Maxine, Soho

Say: "This is a bus, not a theatre", and ignore her. You are perfectly within your rights to use your phone on public transport, though gossiping should be kept to a minimum. If she had someone with her, she'd only be blethering on about her grandchildren.

I remarried some time ago, and took my husband's name, but my children's friends have a very annoying habit of calling me by their surname when they ring up for them. How do I put a stop to this?

Norma, Sheffield

Does it really matter, Norma? Do you really think that your children's friends either give a damn or are interested enough in you to be trying to wind you up? Are you really so insecure that you feel that everyone has to be constantly informed of your marital status? The poor little bunnies are doing their best to be polite by calling you anything at all. Really, life is too short. Please remember that the name is your children's, not just your first husband's. It is difficult enough juggling step- families without your own mother going on about how hateful she finds it to be associated with you.

What should one wear to a Burns Night dinner?

James, Salisbury


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