Q. A university friend and I want to get an invitation to a very good shoot owned by a colleague of my father. To this end we thought we could make better friends by inviting him to my club for lunch or dinner. This club is the sort of stuffy, traditional place he would approve of. I was only able to become a member because they had a special five-year deal for people who joined it the year they left school. The problem is that, as the member, I am the only one allowed to pay. How can I make sure that my friend, who is vague and disorganised, pays me back his share of the bill?
— Name and address withheld
A. Tell your friend that you’ve been told the club has a special offer on the day/night in question. They will give you a 15 per cent discount if you settle your bill in cash. Ask him to make sure he has an appropriate sum on him and that he hands it over to you in the lobby before your guest arrives.
Q. A pair of old friends came to supper recently and brought with them a box of dark chocolate mints as a present. When I opened the box I found the chocolates were white with age and tasted disgusting. The ‘best before’ label indicated they were six months out of date. When I invite people for supper I look forward to their presence, not their recycled presents. Should I rewrap the box and keep it to one side in the hope that my friends invite me for a return supper, at which point I can hand the mints over, or would that be churlish?
— A.S., Hungerford, Berks
A. Since they are old friends, this is no time to imagine an insult or to assume the present was recycled. Just ring to thank them but add that since the chocs were fusty, they should keep a weather eye on the shopkeeper who provided them. You may be doing them a favour. It is good to be alert at an age when shopkeepers may think your powers of discernment are waning.
Q. We have enrolled our daughter at a nursery school where the parents are in the habit of spending thousands of dollars on birthday parties, taking over hotels and installing go-kart tracks, for example. We don’t feel we have to compete. We gave our own daughter’s party in my studio (I’m an artist), and the children pronounced it the best ever. But the latest invitation we have received says ‘No presents’. Instead it asks us to make a donation. Half the money will go to the child and half to a charity of which this three-year-old approves. Mary, how can we tackle this absurdity without falling out with anyone? The way the donations are set up, everyone will see what we have given.
— J.V., Manhattan
A. Just pay ten dollars into the fund and act daft. The parents will assume you meant to pay more and it was a slip of the digit. If they do fall out with you, so much the better.