Q. I gave a copy of Dan Russel the Fox by Somerville and Ross to a couple I know to be very keen on hunting. It’s an out-of-print novel, hard to get hold of, and it cost quite a lot, but as I know it to be such a deeply enjoyable read, I thought it would be well worth the effort of getting it so I could give it to them when they kindly had me to dinner. Frustratingly, however, every time I run into this couple and ask what they thought of Dan Russel the Fox, they reply that they haven’t got round to reading it yet. It’s not an arduous read and, as I say, is deeply enjoyable. I realise they are free to do what they want with an unsolicited gift but I can think of several other people I would like to give Dan Russel to. Can I suggest that if they don’t want to read it, I swap it for, say, a really nice gardening book or something else that they do want to read?
— S.T., Chirton, Wilts
A. No, don’t do that. It would make the couple associate you with guilt. Instead achieve the result you desire using a mutual friend as proxy. Prime this person to express to the couple (in your absence, of course) her longing to read Dan Russel. When they volunteer to lend it, she should insist that in exchange, she lend them some rare tome they really long to read. The important thing is to extract a genuine wish list. The mutual friend then hands over the rival read (acquired by you) and receives Dan Russel in exchange. Shortly afterwards, she tells couple she has now read Dan Russel and adores it, and asks if they would like to make the swap permanent.
Q. At a grand lunch the other day, the man on my left kept failing to turn to the woman on his left. I am afraid he rather obviously fancied me, but there was no excuse for this rudeness. After the first course he carried on talking to me, forcing me to neglect the man on my right. I was unable to murmur in his ear ‘Shouldn’t you turn?’ as that would have involved too much physical closeness to this boor, who was already leaning heavily towards me. How could I have forced him to do his duty without embarrassing or appearing to patronise the demoralised-looking woman on his left?
— Name and address withheld
A. You might have caught the eye of the neglected guest and spoken across the boor to involve her. If this was also physically impossible, then you should have forced the issue by leaving the table as though to go to the loo or check your mobile — no need to say which. Both are inexcusable reasons to get up from a grand luncheon — but since this action would have forced him to turn, it would have been the lesser of two evils.