Q. I have just been out to my first lunch in months. Ten of us sat around a table in a beautiful garden with wonderful food and good company. My problem was that I couldn’t fully enjoy the occasion because I felt self-conscious. I could think of nothing to say to either of the (first-rate) men who flanked me. No swanks, but I used to be considered good company — and during this lunch it dawned on me that I’ve become incredibly boring, possibly because I haven’t done anything or seen anyone for so long. Mary, I can only hope that it will become easier once I start to see a few more people and have something to talk about, but how should I get through such lunches in the meantime?
— Name and address withheld
A. Announce as your opening gambit that you will apologise in advance for being bad company. You haven’t done anything or seen anyone and can talk only about box sets. However, it has occurred to you that this need not be a drawback. You have always admired your neighbour’s successful trajectory through life and have long wanted to know more about it. Would he be kind enough to dominate the conversation with his recollections about the driving forces that led to his success? No nugget will be too dull.
Freed from the pressure to not talk too much about themselves, most people will be only too keen to talk about their past with enthusiasm — especially since it’s likely that nothing much has happened to them recently either. After having the liberty to talk at length about their favourite topic, themselves, and also to think through some key factors in their life’s storyline, while you silently nod them on, they will leave the table conflating you with pleasure and also considering you really interesting yourself.
Q. As someone who is called Richard — a name I like — how do I stop everyone I meet taking it upon themselves to call me either Rich or Rick, both of which I think are ghastly? Thank you.
—R.H., London SW1
A. Another Richard on my advisory panel replies: ‘I have battled with this all my life, with Americans especially, who always assume the nickname is the thing. I have sat behind a nameplate card at a conference with the name “Rich” on it. The only way to deal with it is as soon as it happens to say firmly: “You have to call me Richard, otherwise I’ll think you are my mother.”’
Q. Regarding the employer who had taken on a new worker with body odour (22 August), body odour invariably stems from wearing synthetic clothes. Perhaps there could be a diktat banning the wearing of these?
— A.C., London W8
A. Thank you for reminding readers of this problem with synthetic items.