Mary Killen

Dear Mary | 17 August 2017

Also in Dear Mary: how to banish phones from the dinner table and how to rouse a stay-in-bed son

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Q. Mary, I am what you would probably call a Sloane Ranger. I have great numbers of close friends and I’ve always attended confirmations, weddings, christenings and funerals without even thinking about whether it was convenient. But at my age a lot of friends’ parents are going downhill fast, and I now work. Many funerals will be out of London and require a whole day off to attend. I just can’t do it every week but neither can I let down my close friends.

— S.C., London SW11

A. You won’t be the only person who is needed at work and can’t be in two places at once. But you can be the only person who gives a dinner in London to cheer up the bereaved in compensation for your absence. Put a date in your diary for this at the same time as you break the news that you can’t make the funeral. At such a dinner you can provide extended succour, whereas at the funeral itself you could utter a few sentences of sympathy at most. Many of the bereaved will get more out of you hosting an event for their personal consolation than they would from your swelling the numbers at an event all about their parent.

Q. Whenever I have friends for dinner, someone’s mobile phone will always ring and they will always answer it at the table. When I extend my next invitation, how do I request that they turn their phones off on arrival? I do find such behaviour at the dinner table unacceptable but many treat their phones as a natural extension of their arms.

— K.T., Chesterfield, Derbyshire

A. Next time, ask guests if they would like to attend a 1980s-themed dinner party. They will have to help recreate the era by clearing their digital decks before they arrive. They will be able to leave their mobiles in another room where an attendant (employ a child or teenager to perform this role) will monitor the screens for genuinely urgent calls. Don’t be over-ambitious. Ninety minutes is probably the maximum time they will be able to go without having anxiety attacks. This will be long enough to allow you to serve three courses.

Q. While my wife and I were abroad we were trying in vain to get hold of our school-leaver son back in London. It was clear he was going to oversleep and miss an important interview. We’ve just moved and we don’t know our neighbours. Then I remembered I had an account with a minicab firm. I rang them and told the driver to just keep knocking and ringing until the boy woke up, then wait while he got ready and drive him to the station. I would pay for the waiting time. It worked. I know this was helicopter parenting and expensive, but I decided it was not worth teaching my son a lesson if it meant ruining his whole career. May I pass on the tip?

— O.P., London W4

A. Thank you for your consideration in sharing it.