Q. For the past two New Year’s Eves we have ducked an annual party given by some acquaintances, who are very nice although the husband is a bore. His wife has recently been unwell and they have decided to corral us New Year refuseniks for a curry supper, date to be confirmed when all are available. We do not want to go, but would hate to upset the wife. Is there any way to avoid going convincingly, other than last-minute flu or a fictitious crisis?
—J.M., London SW3
A. Compromise with an enthusiastic call to the couple inviting them to you for drinks à quatre. Explain that you would love to see them but your diary is offering no windows for the curry, and you don’t want to hold up the other refuseniks. Having set the date for the drinks, pre-empt any expectation of dinner by adding ‘Come at six. Then we can have a full 90 minutes before we have to go out at 7.30.’
Q. I am a compulsive hoarder. I have five years’ worth of Christmas cards that I cannot bear to throw away but my wife says something must be done. Can you suggest anything other than the recycling bin?
—Name and address withheld
A. Given your status (revealed to me privately), your wife’s injunction is ill considered. Since the private papers of even some of our most minor writers have been sold to the Harry Ransom Centre at the University of Texas at Austin, which already houses 36 million literary manuscripts, including shopping lists, why not offer your collection of cards from the great and the good as a donation? It would be an act of philanthropy, not vanity, and would give the cards an extra hundred years or more of lifespan.
Q. I seek your advice in relation to behaviour in the shooting field. During a wonderful day at Euston in Suffolk this week, one of our guests, mid-drive, ran out of cartridges. The gentleman concerned (who was wearing what looked like a skirt at the time) has been active in the field for more than 40 years — so he really should know better. But it was a moment of significant embarrassment and discourtesy. How should one respond in this situation?
A. I referred this query to my sporting expert, who replies: ‘It is indeed rude to run out of cartridges — it’s an insult to the host because it indicates that you were expecting fewer birds. However, a good host can only sympathise, offer to supply more cartridges, and do everything he can to make it less embarrassing for the unfortunate guest. The host has to accept some of the blame, because he should have given the guest an indication of how many he would need. This is especially true if there is going to be more than one drive before the guns return to the transport.’