Q. I invited a couple to Sunday lunch in the country, giving six weeks’ notice. Having had no response after four weeks, I rang, not unreasonably, I thought, to prompt for one. The wife answered her mobile on a train. She apologised for her rudeness, claiming that she had a very complicated life and it was hard to know whether she would be in the country or not on the day in question. However, she promised to let me know within a couple of days. Nothing has happened. I am not going to chase her again, but if this couple is not coming, then I would like to invite two other people instead. Mutual friends say that the couple in question have a reputation for ringing at the very last moment to apologise for being flaky but to say they are available. I know it seems stuffy, but I can only seat eight at my table and it does not work to cram in ten. How can I therefore un-invite this couple without lying about the fact that we have not cancelled the lunch but have asked other people instead? Please advise.
Name and address withheld
A. Play the flaky couple at their own game and send a friendly but vague postcard whose last line announces, ‘By the way we have had to postpone our lunch for you on the 28th but let’s meet soon.’ The key words ‘for you’ will exculpate you from any double-dealing should they find out you have entertained others.
Q. I have a cleaner who comes in three times a week. I love her and she is very maternal towards me but she has given me a present of a really hideous skirt. She went ‘up west’ to get it, it was quite expensive and it breaks my heart to think of her spending her hard-earned money on something that I would never ever wear — although I do have to wear it at least once a week while she is in the house. I don’t even like having to see it in my wardrobe, which is opposite my bed. Help, Mary.
P.S., London SW12
A. Buy a skirt that you do like very much and sew in the label from the hideous skirt so it looks like it came from the same shop. Tell your cleaner you spilt bleach all over skirt 1 and rushed to the shop to try to replace it. They no longer had the original skirt but they had this one, which you think is really nice too! So the whole episode was a blessing in disguise because now you know about the shop! Your cleaner will feel that it was her original input that led you to it so she will be more than satisfied with this outcome.
Q. My new boyfriend was on his own for years and developed some bad habits, such as eating with his mouth open. He is so lovely otherwise and quite happy for me to kick him under the table when we are out with others to remind him to shut his mouth, but I wonder if there is some very quick way of retraining him.
J.L., London W8
A. Why not start with a dog-training collar of the type which allows the owner to deliver small electric shocks when the dog is naughty? This Pavlovian method of re-training can be conducted in your own home and should bring very swift results.