Q. We had our son’s fiancée and her family to stay recently. After dinner, expecting conversation, we were shocked to see them all slumped in our drawing room staring at their ‘tablets’ and, I presume, playing on the internet. What should my wife and I have done? I was tempted to do the crossword or read a book but this seemed rude.
— C.T., Dorsoduro, Italy
A. You would have done well to turn the discourtesy to your own advantage — namely to use it as a tool to find out more about your son’s prospective in-laws. Acting daft, you might have said, ‘Oh what fun! Are we all going to play some new-fangled game on the internet now? We don’t have tablets. May we be on your team?’ When the dolts were forced to admit they were not playing an after-dinner game, but merely satiating an addiction to bogus senses of achievement, you could have urged excitedly that they show you how the internet works and what sort of things they do on it on their tablets. Their being forced to escort you around their bespoke webworlds would have shed enormous light on their personalities. Besides, they would have soon become self-conscious and turned off the devices since the option of conversation would have by then seemed much more appealing to them than the alternative — your intrusion. In this way you would have brought them to their senses without reprimand.
Q. A neighbour in his early eighties, but hale and hearty and sound of mind, has recently lost his wife. I am a widow and have always thought he and I would get on well together. Now he is free I should obviously move fast, but how can I do this in a seemly manner? I am fairly sure he likes me but, having been with the same woman for 55 years, has probably no idea how to take things further.
— Name and address withheld
A. First sabotage your deep freeze by taking the fuse out of the plug. Then telephone your neighbour asking if you can store some things in his deep freeze while you wait for a workman to come out to mend yours. This would justify a series of informal daily visits from your house to his, and also your insistence that he allow you to cook him dinner to thank him for his kindness.
Q. I have been given a bird feeder for a Christmas present. I quickly installed it outside our kitchen window, and was briefly enchanted but then horrified to see a great big rat lurking underneath it, enjoying easy pickings. Is there any way I can get around this sinister problem?
— M.T., Marlborough
A. Why not pay slightly more for ‘no mess’ birdseed? This has already been dehusked, and so the birds are less likely to create spillage below their bird feeders to attract vermin at ground level.