When Christopher shelled out pounds 10,000 a year to send his daughter to the sixth form of a mixed boarding school he was confused when she told him that, though she didn't mind, she was sharing with a girl who not only drank and smoked, but had boys in her bed as well. Should he complain to the school? Or would that be seen as telling tales behind his daughter's back? And anyway, to what extent should a 16-year-old be left to sort out her own problems?

Since readers were completely at odds with how to react, it did seem a bit much to expect the girl to extricate herself from such a situation. Even so, many thought that leaving her to it was the best bet, particularly Andrea (no surname, no address), herself a 16- year-old at a co-educational school in Gloucestershire.

Rather sharply, she commented: 'If the girl is too wet to ask her housemistress to change rooms - pretending, say, that she can't work if she's sharing - she shouldn't be at boarding school. Her father shouldn't interfere at all.'

'Setarcos', of London (no more name, no more address), wrote: 'If the bedroom antics really bothered her to the extent that they infringe her privacy, and the room-mate was not prepared to come to a private arrangement, then she would be entitled to issue an ultimatum. But apparently they don't bother her. So do either Christopher or his daughter really want to wreak all that potential havoc and humiliation just because the room-mate is breaking the school rules? Personally, I'd be inclined to leave the poor kid alone.'

One experienced voice implied that Christopher should have known better in the first place. Jane Williams, of Norwich, has taught for 25 years in a variety of boarding and day schools, both independent and state, and she found it 'amazing that parents send their daughters to mixed sixth-form boarding schools without realising what goes on in them. I would never send a daughter of mine to a mixed boarding school'.

And someone else who knew what she was talking about suggested the daughter should have kept her mouth shut. Amelia Torode, of Hampstead, who spent her sixth-form years as one of a small number of girls at Rugby School, felt that, though it was a bit much to expect a girl to put up with a couple petting in the next bed, smoking and drinking are common even though both are against the rules - 'and sometimes it's wiser not to let your parents know exactly what goes on behind the scenes at a boys' boarding school'.

But the point was that the girl had told. And, rather like faithless husbands who leave lipstick marks on their collars because secretly they want to be found out, it might well be that the daughter had told her father, despite swaggering protestations that she didn't mind, as a cry for help.

As Mrs P Rawlinson, of Hexham, Northumberland, pointed out: 'Of course she minds. Girls of 16 simply aren't capable of coping. Christopher must sort it out with the houseparent.'

I agree. I think the girl does mind. And what, later, she will mind particularly is the fact that her weedy old dad didn't come to her aid in any way, despite the fact that to have a couple bonking in the next bed to yours can be a kind of sexual abuse. ('I solved it at university,' wrote Barbara (no surname), of Preston, 'by saying that bonking was out, they could do that when I wasn't around, but that my room-mate's boyfriends could stay the night. They were very understanding and we had rather jolly nights in the end, all three of us giggling and gossiping.')

And I sympathised with Simon Wheeler, who gave Christopher a tap on the wrist for not taking action at once. What kind of father is it, after all, who can stand by and do nothing in a situation like this? 'If the school has expressly forbidden the things which have been reported to him, what right has he to keep silent?' he wrote. 'When he sent his daughter there he must have been aware of the declared aims and ethos of the place. If they are not being met, what is the dilemma? If he doesn't mind, then he should shut up and remain a closet hypocrite . . . if he does mind, then he must act.'

Some readers, such as B Thompson, of Cheshunt, Hertfordshire, suggested that Christopher could help by simply being there behind the scenes, giving good advice on how the daughter could deal with the situation herself. But Jennifer Gregory, the wife of a housemaster in a co-ed boarding school (no address), upped the ante a little: 'Of course Christopher must inform the school. He should not go in with guns blazing, but speak to the houseparent or another member of staff the girl trusts. There are plenty of ways of muddying tracks in the subsequent investigation to ensure that the culprits do not find out how the gaff was blown.'

Escalating into an angrier flow came Dr C D V Wilson, of Wirral, Merseyside. He wrote: 'Christopher should take prompt action to expose the goings-on at his daughter's school. As he is paying pounds 10,000 pa . . . he should make it clear that unless immediate action is taken to restore discipline, he will remove their daughter from the school and/or write to the governors.'

However mature the daughter thinks she is, or even appears, she needs someone on her side, either to advise on her every move or to go behind her back and sort the situation out for her. But of course she needs advice and support at the very least. Most of us would, at any age, in the same situation.

Failing that, perhaps the best answer came from Juliet King-Smith (no address), who wrote: 'Christopher should simply remove his 16- year-old from this extraordinary establishment where boy prefects are allowed to rule the roost.

'If I had a daughter in that school, I would be more worried about her safety than the ethical considerations of whether or not to sneak on the sybaritic room-mate. Send her to the local comp's sixth form, Christopher. That's where my 16-year-old boy is: no students have 'total power and freedom within the school', and I save pounds 10,000 a year. Simple.'

Dear Virginia

I WANT to have a party this Christmas, but my flat is big enough for only 30 people, and even that's a tight squeeze. I have a good friend who I would like to ask, but her husband gets completely drunk whenever he comes round, and I really don't want them coming to the party. However, I'm sure that they will be offended if I don't ask them. How can I get out of asking them without hurting their feelings?

Yours, Miranda

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