Q. We have a friend in her late sixties who has been a widow for ten years. Over that period of time we have asked her to many social occasions at our home. She has never asked us to her house. It’s reached a stage where we are starting to feel that maybe we shouldn’t ask her again. Do you have any ideas as to how we could resolve this problem?
– P.H., Wiltshire
A. Yes, but first let’s look at the likely reasons for her failure to reciprocate. One: you have a large, beautiful house, whereas she has a small grotty one and wrongly assumes you would not want a return match. Two: secretly her house is stuffed with treasures. People would talk if they saw them so she keeps them out for security reasons. Three: she is neurotic about money or mad. However, if she did not enjoy your company she would not continue to accept your invitations, and you presumably must enjoy hers? You might solve the mystery by seating her next to a plant who confides, ‘I love coming here, but I do feel guilty because I never have them back. How about you?’
Q. I am going down to Bristol to help organise my younger brother’s birthday party and cook for it. It has got to be a ‘bring a bottle’ party but I would like to stop his student friends from bringing quantity rather than quality. Is it acceptable to say on the (emailed) invitation ‘bring a (reasonable quality) bottle’?
— G.N.P., Norwich
A. No. This would alienate the chippy. Simply achieve the desired results by lethargy selling.