Mary Killen

Dear Mary | 6 July 2017

Also: was it rude of me to help myself and nobody else to bread?

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Q. ‘Alfred’ is a friend of 30 years’ standing who has just married for the first time. Alfred retains all his charms but his wife is a horror show who carps and criticises our beloved friend in front of us. The only plus is that she is often away on business. Alfred has a country house to which he usually invites us over the summer. How can we tactfully arrange to be invited during one of his wife’s absences?

— Name and address withheld

A. Ring Alfred to synchronise diaries and find a time when they can come to stay with you. Keep saying the weekends he suggests are no good for you until you have compiled a list of dates when the wife is out of the country. Finally set a date for their visit. You can dilute the tension of their company by inviting hordes of others at the same time. Then add, apropos one of the dates when Alfred has revealed that his wife is out of the country: ‘Actually, we have someone to see who lives very near you on (for example) 1 August, and we were wondering if we could stay with you afterwards?’

Q. This seems a very Pooterish problem but what happened did make me feel very greedy and selfish and I wondered how I could have handled things differently. At a dinner for ten, I suddenly felt a desperate need for bread. We were having pasta vongole. I asked our host, who pointed to a side table where there was a loaf on a board with a knife. It was a very relaxed gathering but I wondered whether, after having gone over and cut a slice for myself, I should have cut a further nine slices for everyone else? The board was too big to place on the table and I felt it would have been disruptive to tour the table asking everyone if they wanted some but it seemed rude to just help myself.

— Name and address withheld

A. Before sitting down you should have glanced back at the table. Those who shared your special needs would have been alert to how you had satisfied your own and would have either signalled to you or popped up from the table to help themselves. You could safely ignore the others.

Q. During a recent villa holiday, our party was joined for a couple of days by a mother with her enchanting ten-year-old daughter. The latter, who was the only child present, was desperate for something to read, but there were no children’s books in the villa. I had my Kindle with me so I downloaded Bloodlust, from the Vampire series. She was mesmerised for two days until — catastrophe! The Kindle ran out of battery midway through. I had failed to bring the charger. What should we have done?

— M.W., Pewsey, Wiltshire

A. In an emergency like this you can simply option ‘Download to all devices’, and your Kindle books will appear in your iPhone and iPad as well. Not so enjoyable to read on, but better than missing the ending.