Q. We have near neighbours in the country with whom I would not wish to fall out for all sorts of reasons. But they are disorganised and this is testing my husband’s (and my) patience. Whenever we go to supper with them we arrive at about 8 p.m. as requested but don’t usually sit down to eat till around 10 p.m. By this time we, like all the other guests, are stuffed with crisps, drunk and irritable and have run out of small talk. (I have tried asking if I can help in the kitchen and they always say no, everything is under control.) They are not the sort of people you can tease or be benignly bossy with. It’s difficult enough to get my husband to accept an invitation and I fear he will just refuse to go to them again.
— Name and address withheld
A. It was Winston Churchill who observed that ‘attitude is a small thing which can make a big difference’ — so next time have a light early supper à deux, catching up on private news. Then head to your neighbours in a relaxed and semi-satiated mood, and treat the rest of the evening as an after-dinner talking salon. Eat minimally from the courses eventually served, enjoying them as post-prandial palate cleansers.
Q. My husband’s brother is a highly attractive man with charm, wit, sex appeal, status and even money. However he smokes around 100 cigarettes a day. We can only have him to stay in summer as obviously we have to be outside most of the time, and he has told us his social life in London has virtually dried up. Of course we worry for his health (he is 35), but more to the point we think not going out is having a bad effect on him. He has become somewhat uncivilised. For example, he and his girlfriend pointed out their dog’s messes on our lawn as though they were doing us a favour, so we would know where to go to clean them up. (His girlfriend is his partner in crime and smokes almost as much as him.) Any ideas, Mary?
— P.Z., Camberley, Surrey
A. Before I go further, consider that the girlfriend may have an unconscious motive to keep him smoking. If you don’t want your highly attractive husband to run away with another woman, make him into a social pariah so he never even meets one. As regards your own situation: I understand that you are not financially stretched, so next time you invite them why not splash out on including a professional hypnotist in your house party? This solution may sound a bit Jeeves and Wooster, but they are bound to be tempted to take up his kind offer of a free session.
Q. Mary, what is the correct tip to give to a black-cab driver in London?
— R.H., London SW1
A. Tip as much as you can — they are an endangered species. Give at least 12 per cent.