Q. A neighbour is hosting a party for his daughter’s 21st birthday. Adequate provision has been made for anyone who wants to sleep over but I won’t be taking up the option myself since I don’t drink and I can easily drive home. Unfortunately I am coming under pressure from some acquaintances at university that they should stay overnight with me. My parents would welcome them but it doesn’t make sense for me to have to round everyone up and lead them in convoy through winding roads to my house when they are all welcome to stay where they are. I have now discovered that their enthusiasm has been fuelled by the rumour that my parents’ historic house is ‘like Downton Abbey’. How can I, without seeming inhospitable, encourage these friends and friends of friends to make the sensible decision?
— Name and address withheld
A. Tell the petitioners they are welcome to stay if they can face bringing sleeping bags, pillows and hot water bottles. As they brood on the implications of this request, common sense should triumph and they will decide it is more convenient to stay where they are — especially if you compensate by offering them lunch at ‘Downton’ the day after the party.
Q. My father and stepmother take my brother and me and our step-siblings on amazing holidays, for which we are very grateful, but they turn left as we board the plane and we turn right. We don’t mind this at all, but what is annoying is that throughout the flight, one or other of them keeps walking through to the back of the plane to ask us, with concerned looks, whether we are sure we are all right. The consensus is that we were until asked this patronising question. What could we say in response that would not seem cheeky?
— Names and addresses withheld
A. Your spokesman should feign surprise and say ‘Well, yes, I think we’re all right,’ then whisper anxiously, ‘but why do you ask?’ Then all should remain silent while the parent struggles to find an answer. This should put a stop to the nuisance.
Q. My morale was high when I entered a new neighbour’s drinks party as he greeted me with compliments on how I was looking. However, just before I left I had the wind taken from my sails as my host introduced me to other neighbours remarking ‘She’s a wonderful woman’, adding: ‘If I was 15 years older…’. Mary, he is at least 20 years older than me and I am happily married. What could I have said?
— M.W., Pewsey, Wilts.
A. Are you familiar with the adage ‘One in four married women is only one compliment away from seduction’? You should have been pleased that your host did you the service of reminding you of the negative power of flattery.