I recently took on a cleaning lady who had been recommended by a friend to look after my two-bedroom flat. I sometimes work from home and am there when she comes round. I find this quite stressful because, in a nutshell, she makes me feel inferior. She's a few years younger than me and is working as a cleaner to see herself her through university. She's bright, clever and pretty and I never know how to treat her: should I make her coffee and have a chat, ignore her and let her get on or be distant and employer- like? It's got to the stage where I deliberately go out when I know she's coming, and sit in the local tea-shop until she's gone

Suzanne, London SW19

He says:

These days, knowing how to treat "the help" is a skill that isn't learned in the same way it would have been a few decades ago. Your relationship with this young woman is a working one - the staff tend to prefer employers who are friendly but not too "matey". By all means make her a coffee, but don't feel you have to sit and chat over it; it's fine to go back to your own work. Why should you feel inferior? You are evidently a professional with a career sufficiently lucrative to allow you to employ someone to relieve you of domestic tasks. You are probably exactly what this young woman aspires to be one day!

She says:

If it bothers you so much, why not do your own cleaning?


I am the editor of my company in-house magazine which gets circulated to several thousand staff around the country. The problem is that I collect and write many breathtakingly interesting and exciting features only to have them butchered by my superiors for being too politically contentious and other silly reasons. Consequently, the magazine, although beautifully designed with lots of lovely pictures, is rather dull. Effectively, I'm not even a proper editor because I don't get the final say. Should I risk all to say what needs to be said and go to print without telling my superiors, or do what they say and remain unhappy with a mediocre publication?

Anonymous, via e-mail

He says:

I'm afraid that you are there to do what your superiors want you to do: it's a fact of life in any workplace. When you took on the job, was there any indication that it would be more exciting than it actually is? If there was, you have grounds for bringing this up with your immediate boss. If not, I'm afraid you will just have to grit your teeth and get on with it. Remember, most people's lives aren't terribly exciting - it's not just yours.

She says:

I can't help thinking that a staff mag is hardly the place for ground- breaking investigative journalism. The whole point of these things is simply to disseminate stuff like news of Amelia in Account's new baby to a whole load of other people who have no idea who Amelia actually is: the "breathtakingly interesting and exciting" - let alone the "politically contentious"- is hardly going to shine in a publication that is primarily used for mopping up spilt coffee. A publish-and-be-damned approach is likely to get you the sack, and for what? So you can expose your findings about the MD's brother-in-law getting the contract to supply the coffee machines, or whatever, to a bunch of people who couldn't care less? Stick it out until you have the skills to move on to an organ that will welcome the new Martha Gellhorn.


I am quite a fussy eater and dread being invited to people's homes for meals because there is almost always something, usually several somethings, that I can't eat. How can I tactfully sort this out? It is getting to the stage where my social life is very much curtailed.

Anna, Sheffield

He says:

Faddiness to this degree could be symptomatic of a deeper underlying cause. Attitudes to food and sex are often interlinked: are you perhaps in an unhappy relationship or even frigid? Perhaps you should consider some sessions with a qualified therapist to see what is at the root of your reluctance to eat.

She says:

There is no shame in calling your hostess and explaining that there are some foods you don't eat. What is annoying is to have someone at your table picking dishes over with a look of disgust on their face and leaving great heaps on the side of their plates. You should call well in advance, before she has planned and shopped for a meal that you won't appreciate. These days so many people have ridiculously constrained attitudes to diet that it will probably pass without comment (oh for the days when the worst one had to contend with was the odd vegetarian who could be fobbed off with an individual portion of stuffed pepper or aubergine lasagna).


Last night I went out in a family party to a seafood restaurant for a meal that cost an arm and a leg. The food was delicious and it was a lovely evening but last night I was violently ill (everyone else was fine). Is there any point in complaining?

Helen, via e-mail

He says: Any reputable restaurant will be sympathetic; indeed they should be glad to have it brought to their attention.

She says:

Don't be such a crybaby. Shellfish and the like are always a bit of a lottery. If you can't cope with the element of risk then stick to fish fingers.