Q. When someone gives you anti-ageing cream as a present, is that an insult or a compliment?
— A.O., Provence
A. It is both, but such creams make pointless presents. Cosmetics are all to do with suggestibility: for them to work, the user must be the one who has studied the spiel on the packaging and decided it seems plausible. Well-wishers should also consider that products with names like ‘emergency filler’, ‘intensive repair’ and ‘total elasticity loss rescue’ on daily display on a bathroom shelf can eventually depress an onlooker.
Q. We have taken our children on holiday to the same beautiful cottage on the Cornish coast every year since they were born. Every time we do the same set of wholesome activities including cycling, swimming, walking and lots of family games. More recently, a new benefit has arisen — absolutely no mobile phone signal however hard our children try, and definitely no internet for miles. This year, though, our daughter’s new husband (an otherwise very welcome addition to the family holiday) somehow managed to set up a temporary Wi-Fi hotspot in the cottage. Our activities were interrupted with the beeps of emails arriving, and playing with mobile phones and the iPad replaced the reading of morning papers and good books. How can I politely discourage him from doing it again?
— E.S., Oxford
A. Arrange for an old friend to send you a letter which you can keep unopened until the occasion suits, say at a family breakfast with son-in-law present. Opening it in front of him, you can read aloud to the table the vivid gushings about her visit to the seaside cottage two years ago and the wonderful wholesome activities she enjoyed there, ‘all thanks to the rare and blissful…’ — then turn the page — ‘…absence of Wi-Fi’. Gasp, ‘Oh dear! I think she’s right.’ Turn to your son-in-law and beg, ‘You’re the only one clever enough to do it, so will you promise me now that no matter how hard I try to persuade you next year, you will absolutely refuse to set up a Wi-Fi hotspot?’ In this way you will divert any sense of blame or criticism.
Q. I have just begun the heartbreaking task of throwing out my late father’s wonderful but horribly moth-eaten old Savile Row suits and overcoats. Mary, is there an alternative?
— A.B., London W8
A. Simply cut out large undamaged sections of each suit or overcoat, plus linings and, if possible, tailor’s label with your father’s name and date of manufacture. Hand them over to a dressmaking friend, if not to the original tailors, to be fashioned into a miniature coats or suits that can then be worn by your children’s (or grandchildren’s) favourite dolls or teddies.