Q. I will be 80 in March and all my friends will expect to be asked to the celebration. My problem is that our dining-room table only fits 16, and everyone is too old for a buffet as we will spill the stuff down ourselves. How can I avoid offending the uninvited friends?
— M.D., Norfolk.
A. Are you a grandparent? If so, there must be grandchildren and easily 16 members of extended family. Save hurting your friends’ feelings by allowing it to become ‘unintentionally’ a family party on the day itself. During the year fulfil any social expectations by hosting a series of alphabetical lunches. Ask friends in batches of 16 (or less), in alphabetical order so no one need be left out.
Q. We came up to London for the first time in almost five weeks having been travelling and in the country over Christmas and the New Year. As soon as we walked into our drawing room we were shocked to see a new set of eight cushions dotted around the room. They are vibrantly coloured and would not look out of place on the set of Teletubbies. It emerged that our very lovable and conscientious live-in helper/housesitter, feeling that she was not earning her keep during our absence, has put all her energies into hand-sewing these horrors as a present for us. We would never want to hurt her feelings,and we have pretended to be pleased, but we really cannot live with them. Mary, how can we break the news that we long to reinstate the previous shabby chics which, thankfully, she has not binned?
— Name and address withheld.
A. Tell the helper that you are so excited by the covers that you are going to take them down to your country house where you can see more of them and where they will enhance the decor scheme there. Since she presumably never visits your country house you can safely store them in your attic.
Q. Further to your advice to F.B. (9 December) regarding the annoyance of people getting out their smartphones during lunch, may I pass on a tip? The person I most enjoy having lunch with is 20 years older than me but knows how addictive smartphones can be. During a lull in conversation, she will say: ‘Shall we have an iPhone break?’ and the two of us will spend guilt-free minutes scrolling through messages and Instagram likes that have piled up. We then put our phones away and enjoy each other’s company, free of the anxiety that (regrettable but true) builds up after no ‘screen time’.
-— M.B., Florence
A. It is appalling that your advice needs to be taken seriously. However it presents a reasonable compromise in this age of addiction where so many people feel anxious if they can’t monitor their screen. We need look no further for the reason behind the drop in church attendance figures.