Q. David and Samantha Cameron, their family and two armed policemen have moved to the house opposite us. Do you think we should organise a small drinks party to introduce them to the neighbours — or just pretend that we haven’t noticed their arrival? My son has promised to remove his ‘Leave’ poster before we send out invitations.
— Name & address withheld
A. While your gesture may be well-intentioned, the reality is that the Camerons, like many successful couples in their late forties, are probably suffering from ‘new friends fatigue’. Do they really want to be introduced to another tranche based on their doorstep whose invitations will be more difficult to turn down? On the other hand, it is always cosy to know one’s immediate neighbours (and would be helpful for the security detail). Then the Camerons could easily work off all their neighbours in one return match at their own house. But do not make a direct approach. Slip a card through their door asking if they would like you to hold such a party in the first place.
Q. I am in my sixties and have a godson in his early teens whose mother, I fear, is making a misguided attempt to train him to be ‘charming’. When he first started to greet me with compliments on my appearance I was pleased, but now they have become formulaic and come across as, at best smooth and, at worst, patronising. I believe this charm offensive will backfire and it’s my duty to say so. But his mother is very defensive so I would not dare say anything to her. Should I tell my godson that this flattery cuts no ice with me, and nor will it with others who know they certainly don’t look as good as they once did?
—Name and address withheld
A. In many scenarios compliments are the very oil that drives a happy social engine. But their currency is devalued when implausible flattery is purveyed. Next time he greets you with a compliment, chuckle fondly as you reply, ‘Well, that’s exactly what John Smith said to me the other day and I replied, “At my age, I’d much rather you said ‘it’s lovely to see you’ or even ‘Thank goodness you’re here.’ Then I would know you were sincere.”’
Q. A barrister friend has been sent back a bundle of documents from a senior judge in a box file which also held a pair of blue underpants. Should he return them? Or might this prejudice any future appearances in front of the judge?
— Name and address withheld
A. To return the underpants would involve an inherent shifting of the social balance. Moreover, to be forever associated with someone’s pants might also shift the clarity of judgments being made. Therefore discretion should hold the day and your friend should do nothing.