Social humour

Dear Mary | 13 July 2017

Q. Is there an etiquette regarding security gates? My wife and I were invited to dinner by new neighbours who have bought a house formerly owned by lifelong friends of ours. In the old days, any visitor would have just swung in off the road through the open stone gates and made their way up the drive to the house. On arrival this time, we were depressed to find black metal security gates barring our way. We waited for the sensor to open them but nothing happened. I then had to get out of the car and stand in the rain pressing buttons on an electronic panel. I waited a

Dear Mary | 6 July 2017

Q. ‘Alfred’ is a friend of 30 years’ standing who has just married for the first time. Alfred retains all his charms but his wife is a horror show who carps and criticises our beloved friend in front of us. The only plus is that she is often away on business. Alfred has a country house to which he usually invites us over the summer. How can we tactfully arrange to be invited during one of his wife’s absences? — Name and address withheld A. Ring Alfred to synchronise diaries and find a time when they can come to stay with you. Keep saying the weekends he suggests are no

Dear Mary | 22 June 2017

Q. I import a range of very high-quality food products from Europe into the UK. They are regarded as the best in the market and have a well-proven record in European stores, but the buyer at a well-known ‘upmarket’ supermarket is elusive. When I try to get in touch, he claims to be busy and, in the last instance, dismissively advised me to send some samples with a business card. If I do that, I will have lost the opportunity for a meeting in which I could grab his attention. — G.L., address withheld A. Counter his mental laziness with a four-pronged attack. Let’s call your products the Coup de

Dear Mary | 15 June 2017

Q. Having retired, my husband is now an enthusiastic observer of the goldfinches, greenfinches and bullfinches in our garden. Their numbers have increased dramatically since he planted ornamental thistles and teasels, and put out feeders with nyger seed. Our kitchen has French windows which offer a commanding view over the large garden. My problem is that my husband, who has a very keen eye while I do not, keeps spotting some sort of bird activity and urgently requiring me to look at what he is seeing. ‘Look! Just on that shrub in front of you — that thin tree where I’m pointing!’ The instructions are imprecise and I always miss

Dear Mary | 18 May 2017

Q. My mother always told me that only boring people are bored. However she never got stuck at a drinks party discussing the pros and cons of HS2 or the impact of Crossrail on people’s commute. What is the best way of extricating oneself from a painfully dull conversation? Getting a drink is dangerous (they’ll want one too), the loo technique never fools anyone, and taking a phone call is rather vulgar. Are there any foolproof excuses I’ve missed? — C.U.S., London W2 A. How about sudden sharp intake of breath, then ‘Oh my goodness! Sorry, I must go and hide — my first boyfriend/girlfriend has just walked in. Will

Dear Mary | 20 April 2017

Q. May I pass on a tip to readers wishing to reject a hopeful romantic partner without hurting their feelings? I recently made an overture towards a friend I have long admired. At first I was hurt when he confessed he didn’t return my feelings. However, he said the reason he didn’t see me in that way is because I remind him of his niece, to whom he alleges I bear a close physical resemblance. My self-esteem was spared the hit it would otherwise have taken and we have resumed our friendship. — F.W., Notting Hill, London A. Thank you for passing on this helpful tip. Q. I’ve been invited

Dear Mary | 6 April 2017

A friend of a friend hosted an engagement party in a London hotel. Invitations had gone out six weeks beforehand, and no expense was spared. They had planned it to be an ultra lavish event to please even the most critical and spoiled of their friends. However, between the hours of 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. on the day of the party, 30 of the 100 guests who had accepted suddenly cancelled. The bride and groom are in their fifties, so surely their friends should be old enough to know better? What can an ordinary, non-super-rich person like me expect the turnout to be for my own forthcoming engagement party?

Dear Mary | 16 March 2017

Q. Living in a large house in the country within striking distance of a motorway, we get a lot of people calling in on their way elsewhere. We love it. We are particularly glad to see one busy and successful friend who is often passing and also needs a bed. The problem is he is a commitment-phobe and leaves his plans until the very last minute. He lives alone and hasn’t any idea of how a large household is run and often won’t reveal whether he will make, say, Sunday lunch until 11 that morning — usually with a breezy ‘Don’t worry about me.’ Of course, he arrives at 12.30 and eats

Dear Mary | 9 March 2017

Q. Most of my friends have small children and being mostly media types in west London, have given them silly names: Zedechiah, Tiger etc. I’m used to that. What is driving me up the wall is that some of them have begun to use the definite article before referring to their offspring. As in: ‘I’ll bring The Zed to tea, shall I?’ Or ‘I’m taking The Wolf to swimming.’ What irritates me is the implication that we’re all expected to join in with the parents’ (understandable) assumption that their child is special and unique. I see that my irritation is mean-spirited, Mary, and I know that to mention it straight

Dear Mary | 2 February 2017

Q. My granddaughter has asked to use our barn for her 21st birthday dance in June. We can only sleep 30 in the house, but she won’t let me arrange billets with neighbours for the other 70, saying ‘everyone will sleep in their cars’. This seems short-sighted. It goes against the grain not to offer folk beds after a late-night shindig. Should I overrule her? — E.C., Adelstrop,Glos A. The reason the young no longer need beds after 21st dances is first that they tend to stay up all night and second they are prurient about drink-driving, so would in any case be unable to drive to a guest billet

Dear Mary | 5 January 2017

Q. I have bought a second-floor flat which comes with a bow-shaped balcony which overlooks a communal garden. My problem is that I will want to go on to the balcony to smoke but I won’t want my neighbours to see me doing this. Nor will I want them to be able to see who is standing on the balcony smoking with me. Solution? — Name withheld, London W11 A. Why not take a tip from the late Lucian Freud? When the reclusive painter had his own bow-shaped balcony, he concealed his doings from neighbours with a 7ft high wall of tightly packed Chinese bamboo. This device allowed Freud to

Celebrity Dear Mary

From Rt Hon Gisela Stuart MP Q. I keep getting into arguments with people about what being a Labour MP is all about. I used to think that being in government was better than being in opposition. They now tell me I’m wrong and that the years since 2010 have been better and purer than the flawed years from 1997 to 2010. Help. Are they right and am I wrong? A. As a Roman Catholic German Brexiteer Labour MP for a Birmingham constituency, you should have grown used to being in a minority. If you would rather be in power than out of it, the obvious solution is to switch

Dear Mary | 1 December 2016

Q. I don’t go to my club that often but the other day I found a letter there waiting for me from an elderly cousin, also a member, whose home is in Scotland where he lives alone. The letter announces that he is down south until January and asks whether he might spend Christmas with my family here in London. I am well aware of the meaning of Christmas and have no wish to be mean-spirited, but my wife and I have a relentless social life throughout the year and our children are as yet unmarried, so Christmas Day has become the only time we can be sure of being

Dear Mary | 17 November 2016

Q. Following a lavish house party I received a flood of effusive thank-you letters, the bulk of which praised the impeccable service, the luxurious treats laid on nightly, and my attentiveness to my guests’ every whim. One letter, however, commenced in a fairly complimentary vein but soon devolved into a letter of complaint about a fellow guest. So vehemently did the author express his antipathy that he covered two sides of paper. I concede that the young woman in question is an acquired taste, but I resent my friends being subject to character assassinations. How can I reprehend the scribe? — Name withheld, London W2 A. Bear in mind that this

Dear Mary | 10 November 2016

Q. A man I know (but not very well) has invited me and another girl to stay in a villa he’s been loaned. He says the only thing I’ll have to pay for is my flight but I suspect that though we’ll probably have picnics on the beach each day for lunch, we’ll go to expensive restaurants at night and split the bill three ways. I like them both, but they are spoilt while I’m an artist and just can’t spend what they can. It would be so uncool to start saying, ‘But I only had the salad and water and you’ve had the oysters and champagne blah.’ Nor would

Dear Mary | 3 November 2016

Q. Some elderly friends of mine love to entertain in their London club on their visits, but a problem arises when their London friends want to reciprocate. Recently one of these gave a special dinner for them in her flat, taking enormous trouble with the food. However, the stress of getting there — they are both infirm and had to hire a car with a low chassis and then climb stairs — exhausted them. Restaurants are problematic due to noise and mobility issues. How do we return their hospitality? — E.S., London W11 A. Hotels are always superior to restaurants as hosting venues for the fragile. The solution is to take them

Dear Mary | 13 October 2016

Q. My father has been on the warpath to eradicate Tineola bisselliella, the common clothes moth. He told me to sort through my dressing room and administer sprays and pheromone strips. He’s finally eradicated them, or at least that’s what he thinks. In truth, I never bothered to go through my own clothes back in May. When I went to pull out a tweed jacket yesterday, out came a skeletal shell which had been savaged by moths. There is an infestation, he will be furious, and I have no idea how to get rid of them without him finding out I’ve been providing a sanctuary all summer. — A.J., Taunton,

Dear Mary: Your problems solved | 6 October 2016

Q. A family of five from Brazil who are close friends of mine are visiting London next week. They have been kind and generous to me in the past so we arranged to take them to lunch at a Michelin starred restaurant. However since this plan was made, in true Latino fashion they have invited four others to join the party, two of whom I have never met. Mary, how can I now a) change the venue to a less expensive option, and b) ensure they do not stray off the set menu? —Name withheld, Wiltshire A. I know you are well connected, so why not commandeer a friend’s central London premises

Dear Mary | 29 September 2016

Q. When an invitation to shoot arrives in the autumn, I have a sense of both excitement and dread. The dread is because at the end of the day, metropolitans request that the guns must each tip to the gamekeeper a sum far higher than would be the norm for traditional country folk. Indeed, in a ritual of trumping one another they often double the going rate. The shoot owner rarely intervenes since he is obviously keen for his keeper to receive as much as possible. It leaves someone like me (I am 20 and without a City salary) in an awkward situation. Either I put myself very much out

Dear Mary | 1 September 2016

Q. We have a heavenly house in Corfu where we go as often as possible. The best thing about it is the intelligent Corfiot couple who look after it for us. Everything is spotless, the cooking is perfect, and their competence make us the envy of all our local expat friends. Now someone has told me that when we are back in England, our couple host wild parties and sleep in the master bedroom. There has been no damage, but instinct tells me that what she says is true. I don’t want to humiliate the couple with a showdown because I don’t want to lose them. But how else can