Q. An old friend has been complaining to mutual other friends that I have dropped her because I have become ‘so grand’. The truth is that we are members of the same profession and currently I have to work incredibly long hours and travel a lot while she does not. But, to reassure her, I invited her to dinner on the first night I have free, which happens to be in early December. We arranged to meet at eight. Now, as luck would have it, I have been asked to something vital on the same night which I would not be able to leave till 9.15 at the earliest. Although my old friend lives virtually next door to where this event is happening, I can’t invite her along because I would not be able to give her any attention at it; she would not know anyone, and she would feel even more chippy and think I had only brought her along so as to show off how ‘grand’ I am. Mary, how can I show this oversensitive friend that she is still important to me without missing out on an event which I must attend for the sake of my career?
— Name withheld, London NW3
A. It is not too late for you to ring now to secure a 10 p.m. table for two on the night in question. Choose a restaurant such as the Ivy or the Wolseley where the fun and people-watching potential goes on into the night. Make your friend feel she is in the driving seat by asking her which of these restaurants she prefers. Text her the day before to announce that you could not get a table until ten o’clock! But you have booked it and can’t wait to see her there! It will be too late to argue. Once she is installed in her seat with a good view of the goings-on, and with you sitting opposite with your back to them, she will feel better disposed towards you.
Q. I have just returned from Scotland where I was a guest of a charming couple in a lovely lodge. Among the party was a recently elevated Irish peer who, on returning from the hill, and having had his bath, appeared in the drawing room for a cup of tea wearing only a very colourful dressing-gown and his slippers. He then proceeded to give a lively rendition of ‘Paddy McGinty’s Goat’, much to the astonishment of the other guests. Mary, should this sort of behaviour be excused as mild eccentricity or would you consider it to be inappropriate?
— O.H., Pewsey
A. At this time, many of the premier court jesters have been snapped up by ‘foreign buyers’ and are wasting their wit and wisdom on audiences whose language and cultural barriers inhibit full appreciation. Although the behaviour you describe is hardly Wildean, in these straitened times house parties must be grateful for whatever entertainment is available and volunteers should be encouraged. At least it gives the assembled company something to talk about.