Q. Each year I send out about 130 Christmas cards and get back about 80. This year I received 40. I have no reason to think that I have become less popular. Can you shed any light on this disheartening development, Mary?
A. Many people simply could not afford to send them, but there were other factors at play. Traditional scenes celebrating the birth of Christ were widely unavailable outside of galleries and museums (where they are costly). It seems pointless to send a Simpsons Christmas card. The Post Office, in a bid to avoid offending non-Christians, is issuing secular stamps one year and non-secular the next. This year only compulsory stamps of Wallace and Gromit were on offer. These did not seem to strike the right note. Boastcards (where smug marrieds pose in front of their grand houses with their four or five good-looking children) seemed provocative in the current climate. But finally, with the best will in the world, even those who wanted to send glad tidings, and had the wherewithal to do it, found themselves thwarted at the first hurdle. They found they simply did not have people’s addresses and postcodes — only their email addresses. In this respect, only houses with secretaries or old-fashioned Stepford Wives inside could oblige.
Q. My life has been transformed by my new hearing aid but, due to its visibility, I am constantly being asked by people ‘Was it shooting?’ As it happens, it was, but I slightly resent the assumption that I can be stereotyped in this way. What should I say, Mary?
A. Why not throw them off their stride by replying, ‘No, it was helicopters.’
Q. Over Christmas I spent time with a dear cousin in her thirties who has developed a new habit of holding two fingers just outside her nostrils. She is not picking the nose, but it looks as though she might be. When I pointed it out to her, she laughed and said it might be because she now has an automatic car and therefore has nowhere else to put her left hand when driving. She added that she would like to break the habit before it becomes ingrained, as it did with her late father. What would you suggest, Mary?
A. Your friend might successfully break the habit by rubbing the relevant fingertips in chilli powder before setting out for the day. This will give her a short, sharp shock each time her hand comes in contact with the nasal area. This Pavlovian technique can also work to deter perma-pickers.
Ask Mary, c/o The Spectator, 22 Old Queen Street, London SW1H 9HP