Q. How, in a party context, can one avoid answering what used to be called ‘nosey’ questions without being rude? A revered friend counts among his intimates a priest who, when I met him for the first time, took me aside and posed the question, ‘Do you love your husband?’
Clearly the enquiry was benignly intentioned, but I was not seeking marital or any other sort of priestly guidance. Moreover the answer was neither yes nor no and consequently I felt obliged, as the priest beamed owlishly at me, to embark on a lengthy account of how irritating my husband (who wasn’t present) had recently been but how the bitterness would likely recede and therefore his long-term prospects as a permanent partner looked generally favourable.
How could I have avoided answering and steered the priest back to more general topics without appearing standoffish?
— Name and address withheld
A. Beam owlishly yourself and say, ‘How interesting you should ask me that. Tell me, why do you ask?’ In this way you turn the tables and put the inquisitor on the spot. Nod knowingly while they struggle to explain why they posed the question. If they fail to withdraw it, laugh merrily and say, ‘Don’t get me started or you’ll be here all night! I couldn’t put you through it!’ Then change the subject.
Q. Like your correspondent of 21 June I too was previously unaware that wheeled luggage is unwelcome in smart houses. What are those of us with bad backs expected to do when travelling through an airport towards the smart house? — C.A., London
A. Back when wheeled luggage of any sort was regarded as common and virtually unobtainable at that, a handy device of clip-on wheels came on the market. These were ridiculed as a cumbersome poor man’s porter but are lately much improved in design. You can see them being used by fairly upmarket people to transport heavy document cases. Remove them on arrival outside the house and slip them inside your glamorous unwheeled case before entering.
Q. How do I stop my father washing up during meals, and how do I make him stay during courses instead of jumping up after he has finished his main course, at which point he gets his pudding hours ahead of all of us?
— E.O., Sittingbourne, Kent
A. Why not insist on doing all the washing up yourself after dinner, but only on condition that your father remains at the table and stays calm while waiting for the rest of you to finish? He may ‘lose’ only as much as ten minutes by being more patient, but he will gain ten minutes of leisure time through not having to wash up. In this way you both benefit.