Mary Killen Mary Killen

Dear Mary | 10 August 2017

Also in Dear Mary: how sneezing powder can rid you of an unwanted gift and a clever gift for a sporting host

Q. I was brought up to stick rigidly to any invitation accepted and never to ‘chuck’ when a better one came along. Recently, therefore, when invited to lunch at Boisdale to meet my favourite actor on the same day as a long-standing invitation to lunch at White’s with an old friend, I didn’t chuck the first invitation for the ‘better’ (because unrepeatable) one. Later, I wondered if it is ever acceptable to play Invitation Trumps — to just be honest and say: ‘I’ve had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet X on the same day as I’m meeting you. Would you mind if we postponed our lunch?’ What is the protocol, Mary?
— Name and address withheld

A. Invitation Trumps only works if the person being chucked is brimming with self-confidence. Such people are generally thrilled to be chucked at the last minute. They have more than enough demands on their time and would welcome a three-hour window opening up. Chippier people would take it badly, despite the lack of logic — and selfishness — in this. It could be a real blow to their self-esteem. As a general rule, unless the invitation issues from the top of the royal household, you should stick to your original commitment, but by all means let a third party reveal what you have passed over to honour it.

Q. My gardener has imposed two straight lines of ghastly striped petunias, gifted from his own excess stocks, on the approach to our otherwise beautiful 15th-century country house. Creeping about by night with weed killer feels undignified, and that part of the garden has anti-rabbit fencing, so emulating a targeted leporine attack is also out. What should one do?
— M.R., Norfolk

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