Q. We want to invite a rather exceptional friend to dinner. He lives nearby but he has a top job and also travels a lot so we hardly ever see him. More to the point, his wife controls his social diary. Our problem is that the wife has become a tiny bit chippy about her husband’s star status. Since he is a charismatic, life-enhancing, poetry-reciting, anecdotalising, perceptive, well-informed,witty man, he takes centre stage at any gathering. He may sound insufferable but I can assure you his fellow guests are always happy to just sit back and listen. Not unreasonably, his wife would like to occasionally take centre-stage herself. Consequently she has replied with enthusiasm to our last two invitations by saying that although her husband will be away, she would love to come herself. And this she has done. No offence, Mary, we like her very much too, but we want to expend our energy on putting on a fabulous dinner for him. How can we get around this? There’s no point in your answering that we should approach him directly; he’s a chaotic man and would simply pass us on to her.
— Name and address withheld
A. You have gone about this the wrong way. Rather than setting a date in stone and then inviting, you should identify another potential guest whom the couple have not already met and who could feasibly have some connection of interest to your charismatic friend. You may need to exaggerate the connection. Then contact the wife and co-ordinate a date which would suit everyone.
Q. Our son, aged 25, has recently had a significant career success. When people ask me how he is, my feeling is that I should play it down rather than boasting. But my husband says it’s essential to talk up his business. Please advise.
— Name and address withheld
A. In this country it is never advisable to boast about any perceived success. It brings out the worst in others. Keep your heads down and just concede that ‘things seem to be going well at the moment but we all know how quickly things can change’. If the business ‘has legs’, it will succeed without the help of spinning from its owner’s parents.
Q. May I pass on a tip? I was recently a patient in a private hospital in London. Everything went well although I only saw my consultant fleetingly. The rest of the time I was attended to by nursing staff, many of whom, though saintly, were not fluent in English. Then I found the miracle tool, Google Translate. Using my iPad, I could type a sentence into a box and have it translated into the relevant language, and even have it read aloud by clicking the speaker button. Obviously one’s ‘interlocutor’ could not engage in full chatting, but one’s basic requests could be got across.
— R.M., London W11
A. How kind of you to share this.