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

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Dear Serena,

Living in a London street, I don't know my neighbours well, though obviously we say hello when we pass. The problem is, there is one thing about them with which I feel I am intimately acquainted: their sex life. I think he must work shifts, because they only ever seem to have sex at two or three in the morning, but his work life obviously isn't arduous enough to wear him out, as they're at it every single night, and the gusto with which they approach the activity never fails to wake me up. Obviously, I'm losing sleep, but I also find the whole thing a bit embarrassing: I find it hard looking my neighbour in the eye when I know that her pet name for her husband's penis is Big Boy. What should I do? As I say, I hardly know them, so I can hardly slap him on the back and say, "Your wife's a real screamer, isn't she?"

Tracy, Battersea, London

Ah, those terraced dwellings. Unless they're exhibitionists, in which case there's not much you can do apart from move out or sell tickets, your neighbours probably don't realise just how much you can hear. It may well also be one of those odd acoustical effects of having the bed against the adjoining wall. Try moving your bed to the same spot and having sex as energetically as you can muster at four o'clock each morning for a week. If you don't have a partner at the moment, hire someone, and if you don't want to hire someone, use the bed as a base for trampoline aerobics.

A year ago, I lent a friend in financial difficulties a couple of hundred pounds. I haven't seen any of it since, and he shows no signs of wanting to pay it back. What should I do?

Mike, Grange-over-Sands

This is hardly a modern problem, Mike: friends and usury don't go together. That's why there's a prohibition against it in the Bible. We all have a duty - a karmic one, if nothing else - to help people out when we can, but it is far better to make a gift of what you can spare, and throw yourself behind your friend in terms of helping them sort themselves out - finding them work, giving them meals, slinging the odd bottle of vodka their way - than to lend them a sum that will, in the course of time, cause resentment. One should always treat money advances as gifts; that way, you will probably only give money to people you genuinely value, and will be pleasantly surprised if repaid. If you're actually in trouble and need the cash, explain and ask for it; but you will probably find that help in these situations comes from a far more unexpected source.

I run a small PR agency and am convinced that one of my people is not only trying to set up an agency of her own, but is trying to steal my client list. After everything I did for her, taking her in, showing her the ropes, introducing her to contacts, taking her to parties - I treated her like a daughter, or at least a younger sister, and this is how she repays me. What do you think I should do?

Carla, London W1

Stop taking cocaine. Now.

An old friend is always falling out with people, having her heart broken, etc and, frankly, we all find it hard to keep up. The problem is, whenever one of these incidents happens, she tries to involve everyone else by demanding that we don't ask the individuals involved to parties, dinners and so forth when we invite her. This causes endless social awkwardnesses, and I really don't think it's fair of her. What do you think, and what should I do?

Cindy, Muswell Hill, London

This is different from the who-gets-invited-after-a-divorce question, which is a far more sensitive issue. As it is, each time you acquiesce to her demands, you are enabling her to continue living at this essentially immature level. Next time she tries it on, say "Sorry, but I can't do that" kindly but firmly. If she then says that she feels unable to attend if someone she's not talking to will be there, say: "Well, that's a shame. I hope I'll get to see you soon, then." She will, eventually, get the point.

Is it fashionable to be a leg man or a breast man these days?

Frank, Caerphilly

It doesn't really matter. The main rule in the modern world is "Breast is best, but silicone sucks".

What's the best way to strike up a conversation with a young lady on the Internet?

Maurice, Harpenden

How about "I have no social skills, which is why I'm not talking to women face to face"? She will probably recognise in you her own mirror image. Check, though, that she really is a woman. Try asking her to explain the offside rule. If she can't, there's a 90 per cent likelihood that she's a woman.

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