From Nicky Haslam
Q. Being considered something of a guru on the subject of things common, can you advise me how to finesse the host or hostess who asks, challengingly, ‘I suppose you think my twinkling decorations/strings of cards/mulled wine/sushi/antler headband/children are terribly common?’ A wan smile won’t suffice.
A. Say, ‘Yes I do. You’re so clever to be in the vanguard. Common is the new chic.’
From Nigel Slater
Q. With each passing year (I am nearly 60, for heaven’s sake), I am finding it increasingly difficult to lie convincingly. This is a particular problem when unwrapping presents. The grateful words flow from my lips like warm jam from a spoon but what appears on my face is ‘Seriously, how could you?’ Do you have any suggestions as to how I can make my facial expression match my words? I hate to appear ungrateful.
A. This problem may be relieved with the easy expedient of alcohol. There is a reason people drink fizzy wines during the festive season — they produce a mild euphoria which masks the sense of disappointment which so often accompanies the opening of gifts. Simply ensure that you and your guests have imbibed at least two glasses before unwrapping anything. Teetotallers may like to watch Carry On films, or short clips of Terry Thomas or Tommy Cooper, before opening their presents in public.
From Professor Mary Beard
Q. I’m having a bit of trouble in the office. Where I work we teach both the ancient Greeks and the Romans. I have always been a Roman girl myself. Never mind some of their nastier sides (OK, none of us would have fancied a long day in the Colosseum), the Romans really do have so much more going for them. They were much nicer to women for a start, they freed a lot more of their slaves than any Greeks ever did and Virgil is the greatest poet the world ever saw. But most of my colleagues take a different view. I’m feeling a bit in the out crowd and, more to the point, worried about my promotion prospects. Any advice?
A. The signs are that the public mood is swinging in your favour, as was evidenced by your triumph over Boris at the recent Greece vs Rome debate held by Intelligence Squared, when a vast crowd of young classicists voted for your defence of Rome over Boris’s defence of Greece. This was the first time, since he failed to get a first in classics at Oxford 30 years ago, that Boris has not come top in a competition. Hence you are the ultimate victrix ludorum, champion of games.
From Peregrine Armstrong Jones
Q. As party planners, we are used to getting some very strange replies regarding dietary requirements, but this one, from the PA to Lord X has flummoxed us. How should we reply?
Lord X thanks Bentley’s Entertainments greatly for the kind invitation and accepts with pleasure. Regarding his dietary requirements, Lord X does not eat: mushrooms, gravy, aubergine, capers, artificial sugar (or natural sugar for that matter) & wine that isn’t from the Burgundy region. He is technically gluten-free, wheat-intolerant, dairy-free and also cannot eat fruit, however he will forgo this for apples. He does like peas and steak.
A. A hardline approach to food faddists is now being taken by many of society’s leaders. Write back that you are delighted he can attend but, having noted the complex dietary requirements of Lord X, you suggest he eats before he comes.
From Baroness Jenkin
Since joining the House of Lords in 2011, I have taken a special interest in campaigning against waste. I am passionately against waste of any kind, whether it be time, money, water, energy or especially food. The squeamish will not like this query but what would you suggest as a solution to the growing mountains of non-biodegradeable sanitary towels and nappies in our landfill sites?
A. Unable to afford or access proper menstrual products, ten per cent of girls and women in Africa rely on rags, pieces of foam mattress, leaves and banana fibre, the discomfort and infections often causing them to miss school or work each month. But in 2010, the Canadian scientists Paul and Sophia Grinvalds, while working in Uganda, invented super-absorbent eco-friendly AFRIpads, which can be washed and re-used for up to 12 monthly cycles. At a cost of roughly $2 per year, these have so far liberated 750,000 African women. Why not spearhead the manufacture of a similar product in the UK? When it comes to nappies, few women here would wish for a return to washable ones, but you might campaign for potty-training to be brought forward to 18 months, from its current outrageous norm of two and a half years.
From Edie Campbell
Q. How does one tell a reporter to eff off when they start prying for juicy gossip about your latest snog, without actually being too mean to the reporter who may in fact be a perfectly nice person struggling to become a journalist and has ended up at the Daily Beast ?
A. Say, ‘I’d love to help you but I’ve given my boyfriend a solemn promise I won’t say a word about him to the press.’
From Dr Anthony Seldon
Q. I am keen to play for England at rugby. I am experienced (aged 60 and a bit), beefy (134lbs) and tall (1ft 61/2 inches shy of 7ft). The team didn’t have a great world cup and I think I could be their answer. What would you recommend?
A. You should drop this ambition. The public prefer their heroes to be good at only one thing. When Jeremy Vine, who had a perfectly good career as a broadcaster, took part in Strictly Come Dancing, it backfired on him as his public was confused. You have already established your proficiency at raising adolescent happiness levels through the medium of education and you should stick with that.
From Nicky Dunne, Heywood Hill
Q. A much admired actor rang our bookshop to send a copy of Don Quixote, with an appreciative handwritten note, to a very distinguished fellow board-treader. Unfortunately we sent a children’s illustrated edition by mistake, putting a backhand slice on what was meant to be a compliment. How can I make it up to them?
A. Obviously you should send a complimentary copy of the real version, but don’t apologise too much. Actors have the most fragile of egos and you must not risk fomenting paranoia. Instead blame the mistake on your intern, explaining that, since colouring-in books for adults have become fashionable, you have also had a run on children’s versions of the classics and your intern assumed that the children’s Don Quixote would be the desired version.