Mary Killen

Dear Mary | 3 November 2016

Also: rotten chestnuts, plaster casts, and how to answer someone who asks what you earn

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Q. Some elderly friends of mine love to entertain in their London club on their visits, but a problem arises when their London friends want to reciprocate. Recently one of these gave a special dinner for them in her flat, taking enormous trouble with the food. However, the stress of getting there — they are both infirm and had to hire a car with a low chassis and then climb stairs — exhausted them. Restaurants are problematic due to noise and mobility issues. How do we return their hospitality?

— E.S., London W11

A. Hotels are always superior to restaurants as hosting venues for the fragile. The solution is to take them to lunch or dinner at the Grosvenor hotel. This establishment has much to recommend it. The Grosvenor is always empty as it has the erroneous reputation of being a seedy railway hotel when in fact it is sprawlingly spacious, comfortable and bright, and the staff exemplify traditional standards of courtesy. Access is easy and the food is affordable and palatable. Do not confuse it with the more fashionable Goring hotel just behind Buckingham Palace, which was favoured by the Middleton family as their London HQ during the royal wedding. This is always full and the noise levels are not conducive to meaningful conversation for the hard of hearing.

Q. How should one respond to barefaced inquiries about one’s income? I work in finance and twice recently, in social situations, people have put it to me. ‘Do you mind if I ask you a very indiscreet question — roughly how much do you earn?’ For obvious reasons I have no desire to tell them, yet neither do I want to seem pompous or unfriendly or cast a dampener on a jolly atmosphere. — Name and address withheld

A. It is always a mistake to inform others of your income. Even if it is only £10,000, there will be someone earning £9,000 who will find out and harbour resentment against you. So wear a kindly smile as you reply, ‘I don’t mind at all, but to quote Oscar Wilde, there is no such thing as an indiscreet question — only an indiscreet answer.’

Q. There is a chestnut tree near our cottage and our visiting godchildren (aged four and five) very much enjoyed collecting the windfalls last weekend, but were then sad to find that many which looked perfect turned out to be black and inedible when roasted and split open. What should I do? — M.W., Wiltshire

A. Float them in water. The inedible ones will bob to the surface. The good ones will sink. Just cook the good ones.

Q. My left forearm is in plaster — you would think it was quite obvious but each time I go to a drinks party I am being jostled. What do you recommend?

— A.W., London SW1

A. Twirl battery-driven Christmas lights around the injury.