Q. Every summer, just when England is at its loveliest, we have to pack everything up and make a stressy journey to go and stay with someone who has a house abroad. I can understand people wanting to repay hospitality, but we really don’t care about cutlet for cutlet. More to the point, we have our own lovely garden and pool. Yet when someone invites you six or seven months ahead, how can you say no without hurting their feelings?
— Name and address withheld
A. Bare-faced honesty has done the trick for one popular but plain-speaking society figure who replies to such invitations: ‘Obviously we like you very much or we wouldn’t see so much of you. But the very best way to thank me for my hospitality is not to be cross when I say I’m so much happier staying at home.’
Q. For my birthday in June, a wealthy friend gave me a spa-day voucher. She said to tell her when I was going and she’d book the same day. But the voucher had expired in May. The spa said they would extend it until mid-August but my friend says she can’t go before then and is going to give them hell. What should I do?
— E.M., London W2
A.Having a spa day is not nearly so relaxing if you are tense from having to chat to a bully throughout the procedures. Go ahead and book a day and act daft when your friend comes back.
Q. I am a divorced father estranged from my two daughters for two and a half years. They do not contact me, even on my birthday or for Christmas, despite the fact that I remember their birthdays and provide Christmas largesse. I receive the odd text from my eldest. My ex-wife has now told me that they would appreciate some spending money for a holiday in Malaysia. My initial reaction is to be petty and ignore her. What would you do?
– Name withheld, Queensland, Australia
A. Resist the temptation to be bitter. Forgiveness delivers better results. If you can afford it, be generous with the hint of more to come. Only request two thank-you texts. Having to compose these will focus the junior brains on your kindness and generosity so that when they are old enough to travel alone they will want to see you. Girls need their fathers and want to tell their friends that he’s a good guy, even if Mummy says not.
Q. I have no wish to upset my politically correct friends. So would you be kind enough to confirm that, when reciting that old Ballad of Eskimo Nell, it should now be Inuit Nell?
— C. A., Richmond
A. I wouldn’t provoke them. During the current ‘cluster-chaos’ we need to think more along bonding lines and how to put smiles on each other’s faces rather than how we can tease.