The question 'So what do you do?' is, The Guardian tells me, an offensive, boring and predictable way to launch conversation at gatherings. I can see the problem, but a ban on it removes vital social ballast. 'Can you still do handstands?' is an alternative that I've tried occasionally, but people tend to smile and edge away. Predictability is desirable among strangers.
Now my social life is impeded by a further taboo. A casual acquaintance is battling severe depression. 'How are you!' is a frivolous greeting as we wait twice daily at the school gate for we both know full well that she is drowning, but a solitary 'Hello' seems abrupt. 'Lovely day!' won't do either for it's dark as pitch in her world. But silence, when you're wedged close, is only acceptable between intimates and strangers. And so I've worked my way through her wardrobe, admiring stray garments to fill the gaps and I longed for the season to change so I could start on her winter wear.
The man who hails me on the way home is, however, oblivious to the perils of cliched social overtures. 'And how are you today?' he asks heartily, shoving a clipboard into my left eye ball. I recognise a 'chugger', primed to coax from me my signature and bank details for one of the richer national charities. I subscribe to several charities. I give money to hunched Big Issue Sellers and people who don't rattle their tins in my face, but I do not like to be accosted.
Chuggers, however, don't accept polite refusals. In my corduroy and collapsing hat I'm visibly a vicar's wife and they pursue me down the street imploring my bounty. This time, though, I am ready. 'I'm so glad that you care,' I answer piteously. 'I've battled projectile diarrhoea all morning and noone else will come near me.'
And I enjoy the unprecedented sight of a chugger reversing at speed. Fizzy with victory I devise canny repellants for the cold callers who interrupt my dinner to ask if I've drawn up a will and for the gas salesmen and Jehovah's Witnesses who take root on the vicarage doorstep. But from now on, whomever I'm greeting, I shall steer clear of the hackneyed 'How are you?' It will serve me right if people answer me truthfully.
Could anyone give me more tips on how to repel bounty-seekers? There's only so much one can do with diarrhoea.