Q. My partner and I have been living together for 26 years, but now that he’s asked me to marry him, friends seem determined to give us a wedding present even though we wrote ‘no presents’ on the invitation. We had both been married before we met and already had more than enough ‘stuff’. Since then we have both inherited collections of furniture from our parents. Without wishing to seem ungrateful, we need to have a plan to prevent more belongings coming into the house. Since the one thing that would really improve our lives is if we could reduce our clutter, rather than add to it, we thought we might ask guests to ‘bless’ our marriage by each of them taking away something that they genuinely like from a collection that we would lay out in our barn. (I am talking high-quality things, for example Le Creuset casserole dishes, Royal Worcester tea services, not grot.) Would this seem arrogant?
— Name withheld, Oxford
I can warmly endorse this initiative. However, you can never underestimate the innate greed and ruthlessness that lurks inside the most well-behaved people. To avoid displays of sharp-elbowed jostling, you must have a ticketing system with guests drawing numbers out of a hat and taking their turn to choose.
When we first moved from London to France, we swapped a four-bedroomed terraced house for a rambling château, and encouraged friends to visit. At that time we were able to work from home and hosted many happy house parties, but our professional services have recently been rendered obsolete and we are having to live by Airbnb. Our problem is that we now can’t afford to give up rooms that could be generating income to accommodate old friends. It is difficult if they ask themselves far in advance because at that time we may have empty rooms which may or may not be filled by the time their week comes round, but we can’t take the risk. Most of them could not afford to pay what we charge, but even if they offered to we would find it very uncomfortable. Can you suggest a permanent extra excuse to stop people from coming?
— Name withheld, Normandy
A. Be straightforward with these old friends. Refusal will not curtail their affection — indeed it may enhance it, as they will briefly feel superior to you. Moreover they will look back with increased appreciation on the cost-free holidays they enjoyed in the past.
Q. I am 15 and am beginning to attend parties at which there is an expectation that everyone will get very drunk. How can I say no and still stay popular?
—P.F., London W6
A. Tell those who are trying to ‘fill you up’ that since you’re heading to another party after this one, you have to keep your wits about you so you can find your way there.