Q. Some rather flashy new neighbours of ours — I won’t mention their names as his will be familiar to a lot of your readers — asked my wife and me to lunch last week in their new barn as a dummy run for the cook they’ve employed for the shooting season. They were very enthusiastic about her cooking, but the steak and kidney pie was served with a perfect circle of puff pastry beside the meat on our plates. We agreed once back in the car and alone again that this was not the form, as a proper shoot lunch would have had it all cooked together. Were we mean not to mention it to them?
— Name and address withheld
A. You should bear in mind that this deviation from the traditional (and more tasty) norm may be linked to the preponderance of imaginary food intolerances. Those who believe they are allergic to wheat might resent being served a dish with the pastry unavoidable. Meanwhile, old-school guns tend not to be poncey about their diets and will always prefer the traditional presentation — pastry lid on and with sogginess integral, mashed potatoes and peas. Flashy or not, your duty was to give your neighbours helpful advice. It would have been correct to praise — if it was good — the dish you ate and then blink blandly while you pleasantly enquired whether she would also offer an ‘old-school version for old-school guns’. They would have been grateful for the subtlety of this signalling.
Q. I find eating my children’s leftovers at teatime simply irresistible. One, because I am hungry myself at around that time of day. Two, because I have been brought up not to waste food. I can’t get the quantities right. If I cook one fish finger they always ask for two. If I cook two, they will leave one. What should I do? I have put on half a stone over the summer.
— Z.G., Brockley
A. Don’t let the children see you do this but,as soon as they have got down, simply spray the leftovers with Windolene or Pledge. In this way you will find them very easy to resist.
Q. I rent my house out for photographic shoots and small filming projects. When they first arrive, everyone shakes hands, but after a long day in the same place they seem to presume a greater intimacy. How, without being grand or standoffish, can I avoid being hugged or kissed by these young people when they are leaving? All this physical contact seems to be the norm in their world but it is not in mine.
— Name and address withheld
A. Pre-empt their overtures by timing your own exit from a lavatory just as they are about to leave. Hold a hand towel as though still drying your hands. Remark: ‘Just in time! My hands are perfectly clean now so I can shake yours.’ Then stretch your hand rigidly forward. You should have no further trouble.