The Lady Guide to Modern Manners: 25 May

Dear Thomas

I am in a quandary. Some relations of ours have encouraged their student son (plus girlfriend, whom we have never met) to apply to us for a free week’s holiday in our holiday cottage, which normally we would rent out. They only want the most expensive time of year! We said yes but asked for a small contribution to cover the cleaning costs, with the result that the young man is now not sure he wants it. Meanwhile we are prevented from advertising the cottage. Also, I have a sinking feeling, if he does say yes, that he will later on back out when it’s too late for us to find a paying tenant.

What do you advise as the right way to deal with family (or friends) who ask these favours? Are there rules? Should we just say yes each time and reflect on our good fortune in owning the house, forgetting that it is part of our retirement income?

Alison Bankes, Suffolk  

Dear Alison

You’re too nice. You feel you should help those less fortunate. You’re guilty that you’ve got a holiday cottage.

By the sound of it, your relations haven’t got a clue. No commercial sense. I expect their ‘thinking’ barely extends beyond some vague notion of a spare cottage that their son might as well have. If pushed, ie, if you explained firmly that you expect to gain income from the property, they’d mark you down as mean and greedy.

The trouble is, it’s too late now. You’ve gone too far down the path of trying to be generous and patient. So there’s not much you can do but grin and bear it. But in future, if you get any more enquiries from friends and family of this nature and if you want to stick to the idea that your cottage is a source of income, just say that it’s already booked. Then you will avoid any awkwardness or nasty accusations.

In general, people do offer ‘mates’ rates’, or no rate at all, for their professional or commercial services. They do this, to be brutally frank, for the sound commercial reason that their ‘mates’ will bring in more business. But getting preferential treatment should never be taken for granted or taken advantage of. In the end, people run a business to earn a living. It’s not a charity. And if, suddenly, ‘mates’ rates’ are no longer available, well, it’s just too bad. Nobody has any business feeling hard done-by.

On the other hand, it’s not desirable to be ruthlessly mercantile without ceasing. As you suggest, sometimes we have to stop and consider that others have less and we have more. We don’t want to get trapped on the wheel of round-the- clock money-making. But your relations have treated you in such a presumptuous and casual fashion, they don’t deserve any kindness.

Please send your questions to or write to him at The Lady, 39-40 Bedford Street, London WC2E 9ER

WHAT TO DO ABOUT...Dog-poo hotspots

I must be careful not to upset any more pet-owners (letters, 4 may). Nor give the impression that I am somehow the anti-dog corner of The Lady. I love dogs, I really do. In fact, Amanda Carlin, who has been spearheading a revolutionary approach to the menace of dog-fouling in her village of Wimblington in Cambridgeshire, is herself a dog owner. So there. Amanda has come up with the idea of an interactive online map where furious (or perhaps merely indignant) passers-by can report sightings of dog outrage. The scheme is called doodoowatch. What’s huge is that councils from all over the country and even as far away as Kuwait (do they have councils there? I expect they do) are taking a beady-eyed interest in Amanda's methods. About 60 council and community groups from Yorkshire to Cornwall to Sussex have been sent her ‘how-do’ pack. A community group in Euxton, Lancashire, has already begun with the scheme. The interactive map, although a neutral reporting tool, if used by enough people becomes an expression of calm and orderly majority protest, without, presumably, individuals being named. A simple idea – always the best.