Q. A dear friend was recently introduced to a woman my wife and I dimly recall as a casual acquaintance from our children’s schooldays whom we had found rather aggressive. She asked for our telephone number, explaining what splendid friends we used to be and, unaware of our true sentiments towards this woman, our friend gave it. We ignored the message she left on our machine. Now she is pressing our friend to organise a get-together, suggesting we probably didn’t get the answer-phone message. How do we save our friend embarrassment and avoid meeting up with our one-time acquaintance?
Name and address withheld
A. Press 141 to achieve ‘number withheld’ and ring the woman from your mobile while holding your radio, set to interference, up to the receiver. Simultaneously ring the same number from your landline so that you get through to her answering machine. Thank her for her call and say enigmatically that things are ‘difficult’ but if you are less preoccupied in six months you will give her a ring.
Q. In Florence last November I bought a very attractive but slightly eccentric silk tie at some expense on a whim. However, because I nearly always spill canapés down my front, I avoided wearing it until a suitably smart occasion came along. None did, and then Christmas rolled round. I always buy a tie for my father but was unable to find anything suitable so, thinking that real generosity means giving of one’s own, gave him the still unworn tie. I know he has never worn it, and because the design is just a bit too weird, I know he never will. Is there any polite way in which I can ask for it back so that I can wear it?
M.B., London SW3
A. Next time you are staying with your father ask if you can borrow a tie for a smart occasion. He will say yes and naturally offer you the one he knows you like. You can then just fail to give it back and you will both be happy.
Q. An old friend and I always split our restaurant bills but these days I am not so well off. Last time I asked that we go somewhere cheap. We did and I had a mozzarella and tomato salad and one glass of wine; my friend had lemon cod in caper butter with new potatoes, honeycomb ice cream with profiteroles, and six glasses of wine. The bill came to £105. Remembering some of your earlier advice, I brought out £30 saying, ‘I don’t think I’ve got my card with me’; but instead of saying ‘Don’t worry, you only had a salad’, he said, ‘Well, with a tip it’s £60 each so you can owe me £30’. Mary, how can I tactfully impress on this treasured friend that he must be more mentally flexible about dividing the bill or we cannot go on meeting?
Name withheld, London W11
A. Why not go to a Lebanese restaurant without a drinks licence? Lebanese restaurants are famed for bringing the food within moments of your ordering it so this restricts wine drinking potential. Puddings are usually too sweet to eat but, more to the point, if you bring your own wine, paying only corkage, this will also cut costs. So suggest that he pays for the wine and you for the food or vice versa. In this way you will pay much less while still allowing him to indulge in his clearly cherished ritual of splitting the bill ‘down the middle’.
If you have a problem write to Dear Mary, c/o The Spectator, 22 Old Queen Street, London SW1H 9HP.