Q. When staying with a friend some months ago, I foolishly dropped a small Clarice Cliff dish which broke into several pieces. Knowing his penurious state, one in which as a pensioner I share, I offered to pay for it. He accepted, telling me that he had paid $500 (approximately £200) for it. During a recent telephone conversation he casually mentioned that he’d been able to repair the dish with little evidence of the accident. Am I being unreasonable in wondering why he has neither given me the dish for which, after all, I’d paid, nor offered to refund at least part of the $500?
M.H., NSW, Australia
A. Even when invisibly mended, the overall integrity of the dish will have been compromised in the eyes of a collector. Consequently its value will have been reduced — although not quite to the tune of $500. Jog your friend’s memory by procuring some merit-free, pre-damaged china from a charity shop. On a return visit clumsily drop this within his earshot. ‘Thank goodness you are here!’ you can cry. ‘Now how was it that you mended that Clarice Cliff piece without going to a professional? Perhaps you can help me.’ As the two of you pore over the pieces there will be opportunity for you to naturally re-enact the earlier breakage drama and your handing over of the $500 and thereby trigger an explanation.
Q. How can I tactfully ask friends from the city who are coming to stay with us in Tuscany not to carry on doing deals by the pool? I appreciate that, with billions of pounds at stake, they can never afford to switch their BlackBerries off, but it is very unnerving for everyone else.
A. Make a point first thing on day one by colluding with a child who will agree to receive a full dressing-down for having taken a call at the pool. Give your lecture in front of your guests then turn to them inviting them to agree that it is wrong to import the stress of the outside world into the holiday paradise.
Q. A friend of a friend has invited me to lunch for the second time. He is a journalist and last time he openly mined me for information for his column. Last time I not only provided information, I also paid the restaurant bill, despite its having been his invitation. He must have an expense account but our mutual friend tells me he is a notorious tightwad, even with his employers’ money. I enjoy this man’s company but how can I make it clear that this time I expect him to pay?
Name and address withheld
A. Why not take a tip from Lord Lamont
who once made his expectations clear at the end of dinner with journalists by saying, ‘Do you think your newspaper would run to a cigar?’ You could simply say, as you view the pudding menu, something like, ‘Ooh, I rather fancy crème brûlée. Do you think your newspaper would run to that?’
A special Dear Mary will appear in The Spectator’s forthcoming rugby supplement. Please send your rugby-related problems to Dear Mary, c/o The Spectator, 22 Old Queen Street, London SW1H 9HP.