Q. We have friends to stay each year in Scotland and it’s always a pleasure. Guests know there is signal only in my dressing room, and that they should clear their decks electronically before coming. Yet every year, due to poor planning, people need to commandeer our laptop. The problem is they leave business flotsam and jetsam behind, when I feel they should leave it as they found it. A bossy notice is not in keeping with holiday spirit, so how can one make this point?
— N.M., Oxford
A. If this happens every year, it’s time for you to stop fretting. Simply order a cut-price spare laptop to serve guests’ purposes, put a password on your own, and let them fight about the flotsam and jetsam among themselves.
Q. What is the good-mannered response when presented with a magnificent décolletage at a social event? Obviously a gentleman should maintain eye contact during conversation, but so as not to appear a staring-eyed maniac, is the occasional downward glance permissible? When the owner has gone to some trouble, might it be impolite to fail to show appreciation?
— M.B., Norfolk
A. It is fairly obvious that the displayer of the assets requires them to be admired — even other women will be magnetised by them. Nevertheless, no man likes to be forced into the role of a Benny Hill-type lecher. You can clear the air at the outset by saying, with poker face, so as to reduce the flirtation quotient: ‘May I compliment you on your magnificent… dress? Will you forgive me if I become distracted by it from time to time? It won’t mean I’m not concentrating on what you are saying.’
Q. Mary, I rarely feel the need to challenge your judgments but your advice to your correspondent who felt stranded because his hostess left him while she went to the kitchen (24 June) does not echo with me. He should have been flattered to be chosen to sit there and have worked a little harder to be sociable. As someone who regularly entertains at home without staff, I often have to leave the table. I pay particular attention to the table plan so that the wittiest and most confident guests are the ones left to deal with the gap. The last thing I want is a guest invading my kitchen as I juggle dirty dishes.
— C.C., Bath
A. Thank you for making these valid points. While this particular correspondent felt out of his depth, you are right in saying that the most confident guest is usually fine about being left on the edges of conversational clusters while his hostess leaves the table. Indeed he welcomes the conversational ceasefire during this temporary role as spectator rather than participant. Exuding contentment, he should let his eyes glaze over slightly and the hint of a knowing smirk to play about his lips.