Q. How does one avoid power handshakes? Twenty-five years of wicket-keeping have left me with pathetically fragile knuckles, and each greeting (especially from bold young men keen to show just how ‘firm’ their grip is) brings the risk of crunching fingers and cracking bones. The pain can rule out my other hobby — playing keyboards in a band — for a couple of weeks. But it would seem terribly rude to refuse to shake someone’s hand. What do you suggest?
— C.F., Hinton Ampner, Hants
A. You should sidestep the usual full-hand shake which juxtaposes both ‘handpits’ between thumb and index fingers. Instead deftly grab only the fingertips of the power shaker. You will look inept rather than weedy, but the position means he cannot apply the leverage necessary for crunching. You might otherwise consider adopting the modern practice of power-hugging.
Q. May I suggest a good answer to the problem ‘How can I get a table in a restaurant that’s fully booked?’ Answer: Get hold of one of those decontamination costumes now being used by the police in Salisbury and just stride right in.
— C.B, Aldeburgh, Suffolk
A. My solutions are usually practical. Yours is amusing but the follow-through would not be.
Q. A childhood friend of my wife has written her first novel, which has been published. I have never met this woman, but she knows I write the occasional book review and am involved in the literary world here in New York. She has sent me a copy of the book, presumably at her own expense, with a note asking in the most charming terms whether I might give an endorsement. I hate to sound grand, but I am astonished this book has been published. It is mediocre and bland and I don’t think I can find anything to recommend it, even in the most neutral terms. What should I do?
— P.T., New York
A. Write back immediately saying you read the book with increasing horror, because you realised that it is identical in style and content to the as yet unpublished novel your sister/mother/aunt/first cousin has just completed. This relation would be furious if she found you were promoting a rival novel so similar to her own. Indeed, she may well be convinced you have told this woman the plot of her own book. You can then confide that you think it is very good, better than that written by your relation, but for family reasons you cannot be associated with it.
Q. How can I remind my son’s godmother that he is 21 soon? She is a great friend but very vague.
— Name and address withheld
A. When chatting with her, relate an imaginary conversation you have had with someone who found you clearing out your son’s bedroom, with you saying, ‘I never thought I would still be cleaning his room. He is 21 in two weeks.’