Dear Mary answers some of your financial dilemmas:
Q. A friend’s niece who got her first job last year and still lives with her parents is coming from Belgium to stay with him in his London flat. She has asked him to book a table for three (herself, my friend and his partner) at one of the most expensive restaurants in the capital. How can he make sure that she intends to treat them, as there is no way that they can afford a massive restaurant bill at the moment?
A. He should act daft and email or ring to say, ‘It’s a very generous thought but are you sure? We would be just as happy going somewhere less expensive and we are equally happy to cook dinner for you in the flat.’
Q. Following a small dinner last night in a private house, I got home to find £300 missing from my handbag, which I’d left in the kitchen while we ate in a dining room. There were only eight guests, all of whom I’ve known for decades, and a loyal housekeeper who has worked for my friend for 20 years. My friend is a great offence-taker so I don’t feel I can tell her because she might impulsively sack the downtrodden housekeeper. On the other hand, if it was the housekeeper, she could one day clean out all my friend’s bank accounts so I do have a duty to mention it. But it could also just as easily have been one of the other guests who may have gone mad, or become a kleptomaniac. What should I do?
— C.H., London SW3
A. You can inoffensively open up an Agatha Christie-style discussion of the mystery by reworking the facts. Ring your friend to say that the extraordinary thing is that when you got home you found £300 in your bag which was definitely not there when you arrived. Who on earth could have put it there? Could she ask the others? As the other guests are drawn into the mystery, they will voice their suspicions. ‘Are you sure you didn’t have £300 stolen?’ etc. At least it will set your friend’s brain thinking along the lines of the security in her house and let the culprit know you are onto them. I suspect it was probably a member of the housekeeper’s family who stole the money.
Q. My son has landed a fairly big part in a West End play. It’s his first break. Should I mention this to his godparents and our best friends or not? The tickets are expensive so I can’t afford to treat everyone but nor would I want people to feel they had to go to the effort and expense of attending because it would look disloyal if they didn’t. It would seem equally weird if I keep quiet about it. What should I do?
— Name and address withheld
A. Sound them out by saying, for example: ‘Do you have any interest in going to…?’, then name the play and some of the other actors, not mentioning your son. If they reply, ‘No, I can’t stand the theatre and there’s nowhere to park and we can’t afford it’ then you will know not to take things further. If later they accuse you of not having told them, you can reasonably reply that, given their feelings about the theatre, you didn’t want to ambush them.