Q. What should a host do when a guest says something so embarrassing in front of the assembled company that conversation grinds to a halt? Is there a way to pretend the gaffe never happened and jump-start the chatter? A dear friend (who drinks too much) recently regaled the dinner table with some excruciating information about her marriage. Everyone was struck dumb and I could not think how to break the conversational paralysis.
—Name and address withheld
A. The expression ‘But why bring this up now?’ can often stop a self-saboteur in her tracks. If the damage has been done, however, the host’s duty is to trump the indiscretion with something more sensational. For example: ‘Well, if I can offer an indiscretion of my own — I shouldn’t be talking about this but has anyone else here heard about the Manx referendum?’ Every guest will feel compelled to contradict you. There is no Manx referendum. Answer that it seems incredible but apparently Richard Branson wants to buy the island and they’re going to have a vote. Spin out the uproar by insisting that you’ve ‘had it on the highest authority’. Once they have been fully distracted from the gaffe and moved on to other topics it will be safe to climb down and admit you may have got it wrong.
Q. An old friend has begun to let a wing of his house where in the past I have often been a guest. The price is not advertised on his website. I would like to take the wing for a holiday but wouldn’t want my friend to feel pressed to offer me a whopping discount because of our friendship. Equally I may find out I can’t afford his going rate, discount or no discount. This would be so disappointing for us both it would be better if I had not inquired. How can I resolve this?
—Name and address withheld
A. Enlist the help of someone unknown to the owner to make a price inquiry for the dates involved. If you can afford to pay, even without a discount, ring to book the wing yourself. If a discount is later offered, insist you would prefer to pay full whack as otherwise your friend will be effectively paying you to visit him.
Q. I have ruined two pairs of expensive suede shoes while cooking for guests, because I was too lazy to change out of them while darting between kitchen and drawing room. Now, when entertaining, I make sure I stand well away from the cooker and lean forward but this position looks ridiculous and is uncomfortable to maintain. What do you recommend, Mary?
—L.G., Fosbury, Wilts
A. You should buy disposable elasticated galoshes from B&Q: £1 for five pairs. Not only are they also useful if you need to dash on to a wet lawn for any reason, you can use them to set nervous guests at their ease by continuing to wear them in the drawing room.