We regret to announce that we will no longer be able to answer the rhetorical questions in the Guardian Weekend magazine. Following a week in which seven questions were asked – including “Or are they?”, “What’s next?” and “A new society that has an executive government and where people are fighting for drastic change but are also emotionally contained?” – we are forced to conclude that the Weekend letter-writers have shifted from their longstanding interest in factual matters. Instead they have become increasingly involved with a more philosophical and abstracted range of questions. These new problems are by their very nature not easily solved by deduction or research, and over the past several months we have felt increasingly unable to provide useful answers.

We wish the Weekend’s letter-writers well as they venture into these increasingly rarefied waters. We may still answer occasional questions that seem susceptible to research, though not on a weekly basis; but for now, we leave you with answers to some of the questions that puzzled Weekend readers most regularly, in the hope that this will help future inquirers in the absence of our more devoted attention.

Who chooses Alexis Petridis’ clothes, and why?

Petridis’ clothes are selected by a stylist – frequently Aradia Crockett – with input from Petridis himself. They are worn for the purposes of illustrating his regular fashion column.

Why do Pam and Valerie, on the “All Ages” fashion spread, frequently wear their own shoes?

Their feet are slightly unusually large, at sizes 8 and 9, and they therefore are less likely to fit into samples sent to the Guardian by shoe providers.

Why do the people on the Blind Date so rarely go somewhere after the date?

Generally they decline to go on elsewhere because it is already quite late and they wish to go home, or because they do not fancy each other very much.

Where does Tim Dowling live?

Dowling lives in London, not too far from the Westfield shopping centre.

Why do people in the magazine frequently mention driving from one place to another, when walking is in many ways better?

Because driving is often much faster, and additionally makes it easier to transport bulky, heavy or awkward objects such as groceries or children.

Dave Johnstone asks:

Anything for the Weekend, sir? How about Tim Dowling? He’s from the States (do love him, though). How about Dear Rapist…? She’s from the States. Or how about Jesse Eisenberg? He’s from the States. Nearly every week, you seem obsessed with things “over there”. Well, I like here, too, and Europe.

We always appreciate it when readers answer their own rhetorical questions, but it’s not quite clear to us what Dave’s questions were! From the answers, we suspect he was curious about the nationalities of Weekend contributors and subjects Tim Dowling, Jesse Eisenberg and Liz Seccuro, who as Dave confirms are all (at least initially) from the United States of America.

It seems Dave would prefer contributors from the UK and the rest of Europe, which makes it unfortunate for him that he happened to pick Dowling, Eisenberg and Seccuro to read! Almost any other selection of three articles would have been more to his taste. Still, perhaps he’ll have better luck this week!

Simon Gretton asks:

If Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s simple Sri Lankan bream curry (30 April) has 21 ingredients, how many does his not-so-simple one have? Has he been spending time with Heston?

As far as we can tell, Fearnley-Whittingstall has published only one Sri Lankan bream curry – the simple version under discussion. Simon therefore has no reason to fear a more complicated recipe lurking in the wings!

In answer to Simon’s second question, Fearnley-Whittingstall has indeed been spending time with Heston Blumenthal: both men were involved with Channel 4’s Big Fish Fight earlier this year.

Bob Rice asks:

Will you be featuring the Wreck Of The Week on the cover every week, or was 23 April just a one off?

Gosh, that’s a confusing question! The Wreck Of The Week is a regular Weekend feature, showing a house that is, though in poor condition, a good choice for a home-buyer who is interested in property that requires a high amount of renovation. The cover of the 23 April Weekend magazine, on the other hand,  showed Ronnie Wood, a rock guitarist and bassist who is a member of the Rolling Stones.

Bob’s question is therefore a puzzling one, based as it is on a false premise! After some investigation, we’ve concluded that the most likely explanation is that someone read Bob’s copy of the Weekend before him, opened it to page 111 (where the Wreck of the Week was featured), and then folded it over so that it seemed, to a casual observer, as if page 111 was the front page. Don’t panic, Bob, this is easily fixed! Just look through the magazine until you find a picture of a dark-haired man in a leopard-print shirt, accompanied by the words “It’s the heavy-drinking drug-taking marriage-breaking newly-dating rock legend Ronnie Wood”. This is the real cover, so just fold the magazine back so that it’s on the front!

Alan Gent asks:

I roared with laughter at Julia Sweeney’s article. Was I supposed to?

Yes. Sweeney is a writer and comedian with a background in improvisational comedy, and was a cast member on comedy show Saturday Night Live between 1990 and 1994; she has also written and performed several comedic “autobiographical monologues”.

Jack Fisher asks:

Tim Dowling’s front door opens at the push of a button (23 April)? Where does he live, the USS Enterprise?

Dowling lives a five to ten minute walk from Westfield in West London. The USS Enterprise, with a length approaching 400 metres, is unlikely to have passed unnoticed in West London for long, so it is almost certainly not the family’s home!

Joyce Corston asks:

For weeks I noticed that All Ages’ senior model Valerie provided her own footwear for shoots, then she disappeared. Did she go because she refused to wear the chosen shoes or because she refused to keep bringing her own? Last week (23 April) senior model Pam wore her own shoes – is it the beginning of the end for her, too?

Perhaps surprisingly, Valerie’s footwear has been questioned before! As we learnt in February, Valerie’s feet are a size 9, so the samples provided by designers are frequently too small for her. Pam’s feet, at size 8, may occasionally suffer from the same problem.

There is no reason to believe that Valerie’s less regular appearances in Weekend are related to her footwear, and therefore no reason to believe a similar thing will happen to Pam.

Roger Woodhouse asks:

How did Tim Dowling manage when his wife had a buck shop?

Gosh, this is quite a dense question to unravel! Roger is alluding firstly to Dowling’s column on 9 April, in which he is dismayed by a dentist who pronounced “tooth” as “tuth”; and secondly to the fact that his wife used to run a bookshop.

Fortunately for Roger’s curious nature, Dowling documented his experiences at the time, back in 2008. The columns are still online, but to summarise: he found it positive in some respects and problematic in others, and there was some marital conflict about whether it was appropriate for him to write about the shop in his column.

Adam Rowland asks:

Would it be too much to arrange the Blind Dates on a Friday or Saturday night? I’m sick of hearing that, instead of going on somewhere, they went their separate ways because of work the next day. None of them will ever get laid at this rate.

Surprisingly, we’ve covered this topic before! Back in January of this year, Scott Wallace posed the question Perhaps the blind dates should be rescheduled to non-school nights?

It seems that things haven’t changed since then, but it can’t just be that it hasn’t occurred to anyone to schedule the dates on Fridays and Saturdays: Scott’s letter ensured that wasn’t the case. It seems likely, therefore, that the Blind Daters themselves are picking weeknights for their dates – perhaps partly in order to have a polite excuse for not accompanying their co-dater home for sexual intercourse, should the idea of doing so not appeal to them at the end of the date.

David Browning asks:

Was it by accident or design that you created such bathos by the juxtaposition of your “natural” disasters reports with ads for cars, intercontinental travel, rescue spray, perfume, anoraks, biscuits and bathing products?

To answer this question, we need to look not just at the article under discussion, but at the advertisements throughout last week’s edition of the Weekend magazine. The Weekend editorial team don’t get to choose who places an advertisement with them! But they may have some control over the specific placement of those advertisements. If the advertisements placed next to the natural disasters story were anomalously bathetic, then we can assume that they were put there deliberately; but if they’re representative of the advertisements as a whole, then this is less likely.

The advertisements in last week’s Weekend were for:

  • 7 different holiday destinations (Cyprus, Canada, the Cotswolds, Norway, Tuscany, Croatia, guided tours to various European cities)
  • 6 different items or retailers of clothing (four general, two for outdoors use)
  • 5 different cars
  • 3 different perfumes
  • 2 different food products (soy sauce, daisy-shaped wafers)
  • 2 different house extension companies (glass conservatories, loft conversions)
  • 2 different charities
  • A music system
  • Olympic tickets
  • Designer wallpaper and paint
  • Leather sofas
  • A street photography course
  • Mouth spray
  • A camera
  • Bespoke home interiors
  • A weight loss programme
  • Bathing products

With the possible exception of the charities, it seems fair to assume that David would have found bathos in the juxtaposition of the natural disasters article with any of the advertisements above! So it’s unlikely to have been a deliberate placement policy on the part of the Weekend editorial team – it’s simply an inevitable result of the nature of advertising and consumer goods.

Elizabeth Funge asks:

Should we assume that all of us who agreed with Rebecca Asher (Call This Progress?, 2 April) were just too busy or tired to write in last week?

No: this may be the case for some readers who agreed with Asher, but it’s likely that many more were simply not moved to write in to the Letters page. It would be unusual if only the extremely busy and tired were to agree with her – particularly since the less busy and less tired are more likely to have had time to read the article.

Alasdair McKee asks:

Do the cruel but brilliant satirists behind the Weekenders’ characters ever perform live?

Oh dear – unfortunately for Alasdair, he’s misunderstood the “Weekender” feature. It profiles a variety of real Guardian readers, not actors or satirists at all! They’re therefore very unlikely to perform live. Some of them do give details of where they like to spend their weekends, if Alasdair wants to seek out a glimpse of them in real life… but that might be  a rather creepy thing to do!

Victoria Johnstone asks:

Motherhood is what you make of it. Would Rebecca Asher have allowed herself to be that whiny and defeatist about the challenging early stages of, say, her career?

That depends! Probably not… but then, the early stages of a career rarely involve many of the specific problems associated with her experience of motherhood: being woken several times a night, spending twelve hours a day focused on the project with no assistance, and working with a largely absent colleague who benefitted from the project’s advance but was significantly less involved in its development.

Richard Stainton asks:

No feedback on the previous weeks interview with Ed Miliband (Letters, 26 March)? Strange – and on the very day he showed that his humility is matched by the courage to risk media criticism and address half a million marchers for an alternative.

No feedback indeed… however, this is no comment on either the article or on Miliband. It’s a simple fact that Weekend letters only rarely focus on in-depth profiles or intensive reporting – much more frequently, they deal with regular columnists, fashion shoots, the Blind Date feature, and even the Letters page itself!

Karen Harrison asks:

Sali Hughes on hot cloth cleansing (Beauty, 26 March): so that would be a flannel, then?

Yes: an “old-fashioned terrycloth”, in fact, is Hughes’ preference, as specified in the column itself! However, she also suggests that the sensitive-skinned may prefer softer muslin cloths.

Suzanne Channer asks:

Does anyone else read Weekend and try to work out what people will write in to complain about?

Definitely! In fact, sometimes readers even write in, not because they are themselves complaining about an article, but in order to anticipate the complaints of others!

Jonathan Lake asks:

How could you fail to mention Denmark’s gift to the world, Lego?

The article under discussion concentrated on recent Danish creations: the television show The Killing, currently being shown in the UK; two films to be released in April and August this year; a restaurant that opened in 2004; books from the last few years; and current knitwear. Even the article on Danish design, which mentioned artefacts from the 50s and 60s, focused on recent designs.

Lego, on the other hand, was first sold in 1949, and therefore outside the primary scope of the article.

Name and address withheld asks:

Please, Daughter Of A Sperm Donor (What I’m Really Thinking, 19 March), stop marginalising your parents. All your biological “father” ever did for you was deposit some stuff in a tube. Your real parents are the ones who supported you as you grew up and who made the conscious decision to have you in the first place. Does it matter that those who have given so much time, effort and love to us did just one thing differently?

It does indeed matter, at least to the woman who wrote the column! In fact, she explicitly addresses the concerns of the letter-writer: When I tell people I’m trying to trace him, they often can’t understand why. They say things like, ‘But you already have a family. Why do you need to find him?’. I love my parents, but that doesn’t change the fact that the man who helped create me is my kin.

Simon Penny asks:

Is it editorial policy that Weekenders should be astonishingly self-absorbed, of just a coincidence?

It’s neither! The “Weekenders” are readers of the Weekend who have written in to express their desire to be featured on a full page of the magazine, complete with photograph details of how they spend their weekend. The group of Weekenders therefore naturally excludes the shyer and more retiring Guardian readers, without the need for any editorial policy or coincidence.

Graham Larkey asks:

How to deal with a black ring left by an iron candlestick on an oak dining table (Ask The Experts, 19 March)? Easy: put the candlestick back where it was so it covers the mark. Next!

Graham’s suggestion is an ingenious one. However, it assumes that the owner of the table is happy to have a candlestick atop it indefinitely – for table-owners who feel candles should be restricted to special occasions, for example, this would be less useful. Since the person who was asking for advice specified that they had placed the candle on the table for “a birthday meal”, it seems likely that they fall into this category! For this reason, the “Ask the Experts” suggestion of a light sanding might turn out to be more suitable than Graham’s alternative.

Conor Whitworth asks:

Hilary Swank’s most embarrassing moment (Q&A, 19 March)? Wearing a Christian Dior and it not looking like a Christian Dior. Like, OMG, that is, like, so dreadful, yeah?

Conor’s sympathy is admirable, but perhaps a mite misplaced. The incident Swank describes was indeed an embarrassing one for her – she wore a “terrible dress”, in which she was very widely photographed, to the Academy Awards (her industry’s most public event), which resulted in her appearance on “Worst Dressed” lists and widespread mockery in the media. However, embarrassed though Swank understandably was, it’s now seven years later; she’s clearly comfortable enough with the incident to refer to it in newspaper interviews, and Conor need not fret himself unduly.