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David Tang, entrepreneur and founder of ICorrect, offers advice on questions about property, interiors – and modern manners for globetrotters

Should attics and basements be simply storage spaces and is decorating them a complete waste of time? Or could they be turned into something more useful?

A dank and dark basement without too much storage could be offered for rent to film companies specialising in finding locations for horror movies. Don’t we often watch rubbish films featuring a basement with a dim swinging lightbulb as the setting for some ghastly murder or torture or kidnapping? The images of all these gruesome episodes prove to me that Mary Whitehouse, an irritating busybody though she was, was completely right about the debilitating effect of horrible sex and violence on the screen. I can hardly open a basement door without a sense of trepidation. That’s why I always leave a baseball bat at the entrance to a basement just in case I need it against an intruder or a nefarious poltergeist! The attic is no different. Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho has left an indelible memory in my mind of a rocking chair with a brittle corpse and a sharp knife suddenly stabbing into my right-hand vision from behind. These attics and basements are bad news.

I once sat next to Mr Axl Rose on a plane and had no idea who he was. I found an old issue of the Financial Times in which you were incapable of defining what it is to be middle class or upper class in England. I was always under the impression that those of us who worked were considered middle class and the ones who didn’t were upper class.

I once gave a dinner for Mr Axl Rose and deliberately sat my mother-in-law next to him. She, like you, had not the faintest idea who he was. I did try to be a bit provocative because I knew Mr Rose had a propensity to go berserk on stage and I was intrigued to see what he might do, if provoked. As it turned out, Mr Rose was charm personified and afterwards my mother-in-law said what a nice young man he was!

As to the second part of your question, I would say that the middle class consists mostly of people who are constantly anxious about how they compare with others and worry about status all the time. The upper class are more confident because they regard their blood as blue and don’t much care about others whom they regard as inferior. I am certainly not upper class. Four generations ago my family scrambled from Canton into Hong Kong as refugees, and my family and I became quintessentially middle class, even if I have grown to abhor all the superficial values of material comparisons that underpin it.

Do you consider those who call Indian cities by their “new” names, rather pretentious. After all, they don’t say “Wien” or “Bruxelles”.

You must distinguish cities and countries whose names have been deliberately changed by the government of that country, for political or other reasons, from those cities whose names are misidentified through ignorance. The former category includes Lourenço Marques to Maputo; Salisbury to Harare; and Upper Volta to Burkina Faso. And I suppose Bombay, which is now “officially” known as Mumbai, although all my Indian friends continue to call it Bombay.

Beijing is the classic example of a howler. The name of China’s capital has never been changed and its English name remains Peking. Indeed, the letters BEIJING belong to an artificial language called “Pinyin” which means, in Chinese, “phonetic transliteration”. It was Chairman Mao who demanded everyone in China speak in only one dialect: Mandarin. Zhou You-Guang went on to invent Pinyin. He is still alive at 107, living in a modest flat in Peking. I introduced him to Stephen Fry when he made his programme on international languages. The first question Fry asked Zhou was the secret of his longevity. Zhou replied, in perfect English: “God must have forgotten about me!”

What is the best response to unsolicited phone calls from those trying to sell you something? Is there a standard way to deal with bad telephone manners?

When I get someone trying to peddle some dubious product on the telephone, I routinely leave it off the hook and just ignore the babbling, which will come to a natural end when the peddler realises that he or she is talking to the ether. Also irritating is when someone rings you and asks: “Who’s that speaking?” My standard reply is: “You are”.

Email questions to david.tang@ft.com

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