Mary Killen

Dear Mary | 21 July 2016

Plus: saving a marriage with earplugs; thanking a generous host; phone etiquette

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Q. Since my husband began to appear in the Rich List he has become much more popular with ‘artists’ in our wider circle and we receive enough private view invitations per year to last us a lifetime. My husband is a kind man and will often buy something he doesn’t particularly want just to be supportive. He recently made an appearance at a neighbour’s local show and bought the least awful picture he could see. Now we hear the girlfriend of this artist has been telling friends she is going to challenge my husband over his meanness because ‘it would have been no skin off his nose’ to have bought one of the bigger monstrosities. We don’t want to fall out with her because her long-suffering parents are dear friends, so what should I say when we next meet?

— Name and address withheld

A. Why not unnerve the girl by combining compliment and insult? Tell the anecdote of how the late Stanley Seeger collected Picasso. After an auction where he bought an inferior work by the master, he explained to Philip Hook that he thought it was so bad that it had to be taken out of circulation. Tell her that your husband’s choice was motivated by regard for her boyfriend’s reputation.

Q. My husband has a very bad habit. When he returns from work each evening, he grumbles for 30 minutes about his employees. He won’t let me make suggestions as to how things might be improved. He just wants me to hear him out.

— C.B, Paris

A. Why not save your marriage by inserting a pair of wax earplugs as soon as your husband walks in? Then you can muffle the diatribe while making sympathetic facial expressions or moués.

Q. I feel guilty about having been a guest in a large house party to which everyone else contributed cases of wine. I intended to buy some locally, but when I arrived my host begged me not to get any more drink, food or chocolates on the grounds that other guests had been so generous he had a glut which would have to be given to the staff at the rented house, since no one was driving back to England. What should I have done? I am not in a position to return the hospitality.

— Name and address withheld

A. Simply contact a wine merchant and ask them to deliver a case to your host’s address in England.

Q. Please settle a dispute. I have a rule against telephoning people after 9 p.m. My wife says any time up to 10.30 is fine as caller ID will tell them who is ringing and they can choose whether to answer.

— M.L., by email

A. It’s better not to call after nine, since most workaholics go to bed early. It’s better to email saying ‘Is it too late to ring now?’ If they don’t respond till morning, you will know you have done the right thing.