Q. I have a small flat in a northern seaside town which I use when visiting my son, whose own property is an hour’s drive away. He also stays there when visiting for business meetings, so keeps a set of keys for my flat at his home. His 17-year-old daughter recently asked me the address of the flat, without saying why. Then, when last I arrived there, I found La Senza underwear on the floor, strange shampoo in the bathroom and curtains drawn. No doubt in my mind who had been there. (I can definitely rule out my son.) Mary, my son now denies that my granddaughter would ever do such a thing as stay in my flat without permission. Clearly if she had asked, I would have been delighted to allow her to stay, but I’m upset that she didn’t.
So how do I prevent a family row? Should I change the locks?
P.B., London SW6
A. Give the girl the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps she went to the flat to check that all was well after your son worried to her that he had left the heating on or something. But tell her that things of hers left at the flat suggested to you she had visited. While you appreciate her vigilance you would much rather she told you if she felt there had been anything to worry about, rather than trying to protect you by not mentioning it. Does she feel you should install security cameras to monitor comings and goings?
Q. I recently attended a 40th birthday party. We were all seated at a U-shaped table in a private house, and although by midnight everyone was very tired, no one wanted to be the first one to stand up and say they were going home. It would have been disruptive to have to go round the tables kissing everyone and feeling responsible for breaking the evening up so nobody did until finally someone said, ‘OMG it’s 2.30.’ Then everyone got up to go. How could we have better tackled this, Mary?
R S., London SW9
A. Having read the temperature of the room, you could have stood up to give a short speech of thanks to your host before inviting the entire room to get to their feet and raise a toast. The sight of everyone in a party standing up at the end of an evening implies and even endorses the natural — and good-natured — exodus which would have spontaneously followed.
Q. Many of my staff have put in heroic levels of work this year, at no extra pay. My problem is that I have so many people to single out for praise that the annual party would become boring were I to mention them all, but it is divisive to mention only some. What should I do, Mary?
B.B., London WC1
A. Put the names of each deserving worker on to an index card and into a hat. Give your speech and announce that you will have to ration the number of tributes you give to, say, five. Then pull five names out of the hat and focus on each one. The tension will ensure a captive audience. After your speech you can then circulate through the room with the remaining index cards and deliver your thanks privately. You could do worse than to commission bespoke company mini-medals for the deserving. Fully grown adults are endearingly childish about such tokens of recognition and covet them fiercely — especially when they can be added to on a yearly basis.