Q. Most of my friends have small children and being mostly media types in west London, have given them silly names: Zedechiah, Tiger etc. I’m used to that. What is driving me up the wall is that some of them have begun to use the definite article before referring to their offspring. As in: ‘I’ll bring The Zed to tea, shall I?’ Or ‘I’m taking The Wolf to swimming.’ What irritates me is the implication that we’re all expected to join in with the parents’ (understandable) assumption that their child is special and unique. I see that my irritation is mean-spirited, Mary, and I know that to mention it straight out would be unnecessarily upsetting to the doting parents. Is there anything I can do or should I just lump it?
— Name withheld, west London
A. It’s quite normal to refer to pets with a definite article, as in ‘We’ll bring the Puggles with us.’ How about omitting a place setting for the special infant and putting a dog bowl in the corner of the room? You can express apologies on the grounds that your daily help obviously mistook the name for a four-footed guest. Additionally, prime one of your small children/guests to express dismay that it isn’t the real wolf or tiger they were expecting. And you can mutter sympathetically that you suppose this must often happen.
Q. Following Defra regulations, I have dutifully shut my free-range hens into a shed to prevent them from catching flu. The shed is now disgusting from accumulated faeces, and I am obliged to spend time mucking out. Furthermore, it is no longer a pleasure to eat the eggs: the yolks are pale and they taste no better than eggs from the supermarket. None of this is what I had in mind when I became a poultry keeper. What shall I do?
— Name and address withheld
A. Why not let them go on ahead early? Then get a new lot when the restrictions are lifted.
Q. My daughter is being confirmed this weekend. One of her godmothers, apart from a token christening present, has not taken any interest in her in the intervening years, and not remembered her at Christmas or her birthday — but has frequently said to us, ‘Sorry I’ve been so hopeless but I’ve got too many godchildren.’ I decided to punish her by not inviting her to the service but am now getting cold feet. What should I do?
— Name and address withheld
A. Of course you must invite her. Not least because forgiveness is one of the central tenets of Christianity. Also you don’t know what fate has in store. At the age of 25, a well-known one-time pauper whose godmother had been similarly negligent became the surprise joint beneficiary of that godmother’s will. The sum was enough to buy a flat in London. The godmother had been too busy to have children herself and, faute de mieux, had divided her estate between her godchildren.