From Michael Fabricant MP
Q. When I go for intimate meals at a restaurant with a friend, I am invariably asked by other diners for a selfie or have embarrassing questions about my hairstyle directed at me. How can I turn these down — particularly the latter — while not seeming churlish?
A. Confuse the applicants by saying you’ve promised yourself you’ll stop talking about your hair. And you’re asking everyone who wants a selfie for a £10 donation to the party. As the coffers fill, you can conflate the stress of these impertinences with a good cause. Soon your frown will turn upside down.
From Anthony Horowitz
Q. All year round, and particularly at Christmas, I am asked to provide quotations to go on the covers of other people’s books. Being something of a soft touch, I usually agree, with the result that my name is now on many more books than I have actually written. My problem is that a close friend, someone who has been very helpful to me, has asked me for just such an endorsement but I really don’t like his book at all. He’s too sharp to accept a mealy-mouthed line from me. How can I turn down the request without offending?
A. Explain that for security reasons you cannot be associated with this particular book. By a terrible coincidence, one of your most stalky and obsessive fans has sent you a manuscript almost identical in plot. His is unlikely to be published but if he sees your name endorsing a ‘rival’s’ book he will imagine plagiarism by proxy and will sue, or worse. Indeed, why not use this idea as a kick-off for the third in your series of thrillers featuring yourself as a character? Later your writer friend will understand how you blurred fact and fiction.
From Richard Madeley
Q. Christmas could be tricky in our home this year: roughly half our dinner guests are Remainers, the rest Brexiteers. Before I carve the turkey, should I announce that any discussion about the EU is strictly off-limits, or would it be wiser to divert differences of opinion into a harmless party game afterwards (charades would seem appropriate)?
A. Traditional Christmas resentments will be heightened if Brexit differences are used to wage proxy wars — so yes, do decree the toxic topic off-limits. Distract with proxy referenda. Take votes on whether you attend Midnight Mass, bother with Brussels sprouts etc. With luck you will have landslide Yes votes for roaring log fires and roast potatoes, which will help with bonding. Incidentally, Strip Brexit — in which an article of clothing is forfeited for every mention of the EU — while unsuitable for family occasions, is becoming a popular dinner-party game.
From Kathryn Parsons
Q. When I tell my millennial friends that I’m working on my BEIS (Business Energy and Industrial Strategy), they think I’m talking about BAEs (‘Before Anyone Else’ — the millennial term for a love interest). How can I correct them and, frankly, which one’s more important?
A. As CEO of a company seeking to demystify tech, you must not mystify conversation by using acronyms outside of the relevant circles. A BAE is of course more important than a BEIS, but any potential BAEs who don’t understand what you mean by BEIS will feel small.
From Humphrey Butler
Q. On discovering that I am a jewellery dealer, some women thrust their ring hand across the table and exclaim ‘Oh! What do you think of this?’ I understand doctors suffer a worse form of professional harassment, but this can be embarrassing, particularly with a husband within earshot, as the hand is often adorned with a piece that severely tests the boundaries of good taste. How can I respond without causing offence?
A. Nod with approval as you ambiguously reply: ‘Well, as we say in the trade, “Each woman gets the ring she deserves.” You must be very pleased with this?’
From Liz Truss MP
Q. I love a nice piece of British stilton at Christmas but one of my relations has gifted me some gorgonzola. What do I do?
A. Rise above this goading over your Brexit stance and reciprocate in full Christmas spirit — with a gift of superior British stilton.
From Piers Morgan
Q. I know someone who is prone to deliberately winding people up, posting inflammatory and outrageous things on social media, picking fights with all and sundry, arguing incessantly and often over the most trivial of matters, and refusing to ever apologise for anything he says or does even when it’s blindingly obvious he’s in the wrong. My question is this: what can I do to persuade Donald Trump that I’m not as bad as people say, to stop him unfollowing me on Twitter?
A. Mr Trump seems as amenable to flattery as he is sensitive to criticism. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery so if you really wish him to continue to follow you, then carry on posting inflammatory and outrageous things yourself and lay on the personal flattery with a trowel.
From Allegra Stratton
Q. This year I made a rare foray into first-person journalism and wrote about how unkindly one of my TV editors had treated me when I was eight months pregnant with my first child. It was very cathartic to write and I received lots of backslapping by way of feedback. But the lingering effect is that my current editors occasionally look terrified whenever I am a bit grumpy, and there is much joking about how I may denounce them in future if I am upset. What should I do to put them at ease?
A. You did well to shed light on the difficulties that can arise in the workplace, which usually go unreported. You deserve the positive feedback you received, but no one can blame colleagues for walking on eggshells. Make it clear to them that you have moved on by having a bespoke sign on your desk reading ‘eggshell-free zone’.
From William Sitwell
Q. I have a new friend called Selene who is vegan. Almost all my friends love meat, fish and dairy and they love talking about it. How can I invite her for dinner and avoid a row which might spoil the occasion, once they discover her dietary requirements?
A. You must not get into any more trouble as a result of teasing. Apparently some vegan wines are quite palatable if you spend enough, so if you really want to cement this friendship, give a drinks party instead of a dinner. Serve nuts instead of canapés. Tell your friends to suppress their natural urges to gang up on Selene. It’s Christmas!