Q. Every day a small child wakes me up obscenely early by shouting down the street, "GOODBYE DADDY, I LOVE YOU." Is there anything I can do about it? Complaining seems so mean-spirited! Lisa B, Clapham
A. There are some people, Lisa, who would see this as a life-affirming wake-up call, a heartwarming way to start the day. Thank goodness you are not one of them. This kid needs to learn to tone it down. No one likes a loudmouth. Try not to think of yourself as the crabby old Scrooge in this story. You're simply teaching the little one a useful early lesson in the ways of the world. Like a sort of crotchety godmother. Target the mother (ALWAYS target the mother) and say you are concerned about all the shouting and terrible commotion down the road in the mornings: is little dinkum all right? Pretend that you can't hear the content, only the volume. If the mother has any tact, the child will soon be turning down the volume. If she doesn't, there are other options. Cold water. Buckets. I say no more.
Q. Dear Martha, please settle this for me and my friend: is it more polite to eat pizza with fingers or a knife and fork? KC, Cheshire
A. If you are eating pizza, it is generally too late for such considerations. Next you will be asking me whether you need a fingerbowl with your chicken nuggets. Still, one rule does apply: as with asparagus, it is generally considered best practice to follow your host's lead and only ditch the knife and fork if and when they do.
Q. Forgive me for being pedantic, but in your reply to the father who takes his daughter out to dinner the word you wanted was egoist not egotist. An egoist thinks only of himself, whereas an egotist only talks about himself. Your correspondent may well be that as well, but egoist is the correct word. T Lansdown, by email
A. Thank you, Tim. For someone in your predicament I recommend taking up a hobby – umpiring professional Scrabble tournaments, perhaps, or self-publishing an original dictionary ( Lansdown's Correct Usage has a nice ring to it, don't you think?) until gradually you start to lose the urge to write to agony aunts about their linguistic solecisms, and – lo! – you will be cured of what is known colloquially as "clever bastard syndrome". PS Actually, I'm jolly glad to know the difference, thank you for pointing it out. Would you consider a job as an agony aunt's amanuensis?
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