Q. Along with five of my favourite people, I’ve been invited again to what should be an idyllic house party in Scotland this summer. The house, the landscape, the food and the sport could not be better, and our mutual friend is a brilliant host capable of great empathy and wit — 99 per cent of the time. However it is the 1 per cent risk of a glitch that is making me, and the others, wary of accepting. We discover that each one of us has, while staying in this house party, incurred the anger of our host and received a humiliating dressing-down for a very minor misdemeanour. Examples include arriving five minutes late for dinner, leaving a piece of (one’s own) clothing by the riverbank, going into town (in one’s own vehicle) to collect necessary prescription medicine — all these have brought on explosions of wrath. It seems one guest always gets it in the neck. This means that the pleasure is almost outweighed by the tension of waiting for the reprimand. Should we tackle him about these glitches before accepting? Or do they constitute a sort of droit de seigneur with which we should put up?
— Name and address withheld
A. It sounds like the glitch is hard-wired. Instead of tackling him, why not turn the tension into excitement? Conspire that each guest pays £100 into a sweepstake with the agreement that whoever receives the tongue-lashing will sweep all the money. If, as is likely, guests begin to compete to behave badly, you can intervene. Admit to your host that you have been playing up and explain that, although you are all very fond of him, you have agreed that the sweepstake is the best way forward.
Q. Years ago a politician gave me his secret for protecting his hands during long days of shaking those of potential voters. Rather than use the fingertip-grabbing approach you describe, he would aggressively force his thumb-finger crotch as far as possible into the thumb-finger crotch of his counterpart. It requires practice and speed but knuckle-crushing grips happen when your knuckles are accessible to be squeezed. If you can get your hand far enough into the handshake that you are almost palm heel to palm heel, your own hand cannot be crushed by even the most determined grip.
— P.P., New York
A. Thank you for contributing this useful suggestion.
Q. Gerry Farrell has impeccable taste but when he says ‘top button only is the gentleman’s way’, he must be thinking of a linen jacket, which might typically have only two buttons. On a suit jacket, middle button only is the rule — broken especially by politicians trying to achieve a slimmer look. David Cameron used to do up the top two buttons.
— R.J.O., Sittingbourne, Kent
A. Thank you for this clarification with which Gerry Farrell agrees.