Q. Is it now de rigueur to offer one's dinner-party guests expensive chocolates along with their coffee or tisane? If the answer is yes, then I am afraid that I personally cannot afford to shell out a further tenner on top of what I will already be spending on food and wine. Plus I think it slightly disgusting and self-indulgent when a treat becomes the norm. What do you think, Mary?S.W., London W11
A. I agree with your last point. The trouble is that, although it is not de rigueur to offer expensive chocolates, many people's palates do now seem primed to receive them following dinner. Guests will even boldly ask if any are available. You can be prepared for this eventuality with a compromise. Simply coat large, grape-sized pellets of crystallised stem ginger in Nutella chocolate spread and freeze them in an ice tray. Withdraw them from the freezer immediately before serving. Chocolate craving will be thereby satisfied at minimal cost and in a way which will appeal to sophisticated tastes.
Q. I recently employed – two weeks in advance – a freelance masseuse/acupuncturist woman of many parts to come on holiday with us for a week to do cooking, driving, plus a few massages. (I have lost my licence and have a bad shoulder.) However, circumstances have changed and I now do not need her. How should I handle this without offending her, and what is the appropriate amount I should pay in compensation? I would have paid her £250 per week.Name and address withheld
A. You have left it too late to enable the woman to find other work. You must pay her the £250 anyway, but you can still gain value for your money by asking that it be set against payments for massages given to selected friends of yours to whom you wish to give a present. Set these massages up to take place during the week she would be working for you. If they are scheduled too far in the future, the woman will lose the connection between effort and reward, and bitterness may ensue.
Q. We have just had a swimming pool installed in our garden in Tuscany. Can you offer any guidance on poolside loungers? My husband claims that upholstered ones are common.S.G., Siena
A. The expression 'poolside lounger' is fairly common in its own right. Aim to buy tropical hardwood steamer chairs with detachable mattresses. These will probably have to be bespoke as, rather like ironing-board covers (other than those made by Cath Kidston), ready-made patterns are invariably unacceptable. The arms should be wide and flat enough to accommodate drinks and books, and for fullest comfort it is vital to purchase the new-style seat with hinged horizontal section. This enables propping of the knees at a 90-degree angle. The age-old problem of those who lounge by pools having to worry whether other loungers can see into their 'leg pit' area is thus obviated in one fell swoop to enable total relaxation to take place.