Why I’m not worried about AI

Once a week, my husband and I have the same argument about AI. His position is the popular one: we’re all doomed. There’s nothing humans can do that AI won’t do better. Might as well prostrate ourselves at their articulated feet. Oh, and writers will be the first to be made redundant. Obviously, this is rubbish – at least where the written word is concerned. Yes, the bots can write best man’s speeches and thank-you letters, but have you ever read those speeches and letters? This week, a great piece of supporting evidence landed in my lap. After having a surprisingly good set of passport photos taken at a printing

How I’d write your perfect speech

For many of our clients we are a dirty secret. Phone calls regularly begin with variants of: ‘Can you guarantee discretion?’ But there’s not a dealer, pimp or even a Botox clinic in sight. We write speeches. Traditional taboos are fast disappearing. Personal trainers, moisturising creams and therapists are shared between friends. It is socially acceptable to plan your wedding with a professional and outsource every-thing from the flowers to the invitations. But the groom is about as likely to reference his speechwriter as his affair with the chief bridesmaid. Our client meetings are arranged in dimly lit pubs and distant cafés, far from the prying eyes of spouses and

Letters: In defence of the National Trust

Trust us Sir: I refute Charles Moore’s assertions (‘Broken Trust’, 5 June) that the National Trust frowns on local expertise, ignores its members and is prone to ideological zealotry. National Trust houses are historic treasures of national importance and we are very proud to care for them. Before the pandemic, the Trust was spending three times more on its houses than on coast and countryside. Covid has caused regrettable staff reductions, but we still have more curatorial posts than we did several years ago. This is hardly an organisation ‘attacking the very idea of country houses’. The report looking at links with slavery and colonialism was not driven by ideology,

Why do my American friends keep asking me to marry them?

My diary has been filled with dental appointments, reflecting a truism that American dentists pray for British teeth. The tally in this past month is one root canal, three extractions and two bone grafts, which more or less equals the cost of putting one dentist’s child through a year of college. The epic began almost a year ago with a mild toothache, which my usually excellent dentist in Charleston, South Carolina, insisted needed the attention of a specialist. I rejected her advice with the confident assurance that I was getting old, the pain was mild, and it was a race between the tooth and death, a race that death would

What does your wedding reading say about you?

Arts journalism, like crime, doesn’t pay. So I’ve been thinking of getting a side hustle. ‘You know about books and stuff,’ say friends who are getting married. ‘What should we have for our readings?’ If I can advise friends, why not strangers? By the laws of wedding economics — pick a number and add some noughts — I could make a marital mint. We’d start with a couple’s questionnaire. No good my offering Rainer Maria Rilke if they’re more of a Purple Ronnie pair. Then a consultation over Zoom, before proposing something old, something new, something sonnet, something haiku. It is, tentatively, wedding season again. Boris and Carrie kicked us

Dear Mary: What is the etiquette around gifts for virtual weddings?

Q. We have been invited to a virtual wedding. Is it correct form to send a present?— P.F., Barrow Street, Wilts A. Virtual weddings are so new that the rules of etiquette have yet to be drawn up. Setting aside the large sums of money you will not need to shell out for transport and accommodation to attend a physical wedding, you should go by what you would like friends and family to do were you in the same position as the marrying couple. Since it would be sad to be marrying without the full cast of supportive well-wishers who would have been there were it not for Covid uncertainty,

Cressida Bonas: My perfectly imperfect lockdown wedding

I had a lockdown wedding. A 30-person, socially-distanced, sanitised church service was organised in under two weeks. Restrictions meant no hymns, no wind instruments and no speaking too loudly. A disappointment for a musical family. Not what we’d envisaged, but a more intimate and special day than we could ever have imagined. Imperfect yet perfect — a day we will never forget. Four days before the big day, I marched up and down Oxford Street on the hunt for a wedding dress. Finding nothing, I remembered an old Whistles dress I once wore for a James Arthur music video. I went home and found the dusty frock at the back

Dear Mary: We’ve had to downsize our wedding – can we still ask everyone for presents?

Q. A year ago we sent out 150 save-the-date notices for our wedding this December. We are still going ahead, even though we can now invite only 15 people. My problem is the wedding list. Do I still send one out? We feel some people may want to give us a present even though they will not be attending a party — godparents, for example — and quite possibly some of those who have been the recipients of more than generous wedding presents from us. — Name and address withheld A. It is one thing to return hospitality for dinner parties, but you cannot command goodwill where wedding presents are

Letters: why do we put up with bats?

Scottish hearts and heads Sir: Alex Massie ignores the evidence when he espouses the assumption that economic concerns no longer matter in great political decisions (‘Scottish horror’, 15 August). Compare, as he does, a future Scottish referendum with the 2016 Brexit vote. Then, around two thirds of the British electorate held ‘Eurosceptic views’ (so Sir John Curtice of Strathclyde University tells us). But the barest majority voted to Leave. The cause is plain: the largest single motive for Remain voters was that ‘the risks of voting to leave the EU looked too great when it came to things like the economy, jobs and prices’. A Eurosceptic two thirds was whittled

The dismal rise of the modern elopement

I didn’t realise how attached I was to the traditional British wedding — the whole messy, pricey, drunken business — until I discovered it was under threat. The new fashion is for elopement, just the happy couple, one or two friends and a photographer, all perched on the edge of some picturesque cliff or on a mountain top. It makes sense while we’re all social distancing, but I suspect the elopement trend is set to continue — and I think it’s dismal. I first saw the signs when I asked a friend what he was up to this Saturday. ‘Oh, I’m just off to an elopement,’ he said. My immediate

Dear Mary: Where should we seat wedding guests who hold unfashionable views?

Q. Our daughter is going ahead with her wedding despite the restriction on guest numbers. Although it is a relief not to have to worry about (and pay for) the 150 people originally expected, another problem arises when the numbers are so limited that guests cannot get away from each other. We want to have five tables of six at the reception, but many of our older guests hold unfashionable views and would be incapable of self-censorship. Looking at all possible variants of the seating plan, I can see no way of sidestepping some incendiary juxtapositions. Some of the young guests are especially intolerant of diversity of opinions, and I

Dear Mary: How can I leave a boring WhatsApp group without upsetting anyone?

Q. During lockdown I have done my level best to assist with household chores. Last week, while my wife was taking her daily constitutional, the washing machine finished its cycle and I took it upon myself to hang the clothes on the washing line. On her return, my wife upbraided me for hanging out her ‘smalls’ as she refers to them — somewhat ironically given their size. Is there a protocol for what washing can be dried on public display and what needs to be aired indoors?— D.R.D., Northamptonshire A. You did well to try to help but your actions must be regarded as at best unimaginative, and at worst

The competitive world of Covid brides

I had planned to spend this Saturday in a large white dress, sipping rosé and cutting into a three-tier rhubarb pavlova. Instead, I’ll be drinking gin on my sofa as family members dial in to offer commiserations to me and my fiancé. I am a Covid bride — one of the many whose weddings have been put on hold because of the lockdown. While the pandemic has had devastating and irreversible effects on people’s lives, it has also left many engaged couples with nowhere to go. In our case, the marriage licence application had been sent, the father of the groom’s slideshow completed, bridesmaids’ dresses finally agreed on (this may

Dear Mary: How can I foil a notorious place-swapper at my daughter’s wedding?

Q. I am arranging the seating plan for my daughter’s wedding and have a problem with one of her guests who is notorious for swapping her place to insert herself between ‘better’ people and thus disrupting the whole scheme. There will be 20 tables of eight at the dinner and I will be too busy to keep an eye on her. What do you suggest, Mary? — Name and address withheld A. You can outwit this disruptor by substituting a pseudonym, say Harriet Belafonte, for her own name on the grand plan at the door. Her name will not appear and so she won’t know which place name to swap.

Dear Mary: How do I stop my husband eating everything in the fridge?

Q. A friend of a friend has an apartment in Venice. I would like to commiserate with her about the catastrophic floods when I see her shortly at a Christmas drinks party, but I don’t want to depress her by bringing this up at what’s meant to be a celebratory occasion and forcing her to think and talk about what damage must have been done to her property. Yet I can’t not mention it because that would make it seem like I think so little about her that I have forgotten she has an apartment there. What is the most tactful thing to say, Mary? — M.W., London W11 A.

It would be a big mistake to underestimate Corbyn

Thud. It’s my advance copy of Dorothy Byrne’s new book, Trust Me, I’m Not a Politician, landing on the doormat. I’ve known Dorothy, Channel 4’s head of news and current affairs, since we were in the newsroom together at Granada Television in Manchester almost 40 years ago. Then as now, she took no prisoners. I remember her curtailing her research conversation with a regional politician with the words: ‘No, I’m afraid I’m not inviting you to appear on tonight’s Granada Reports, councillor. You’re simply not coherent.’ Dorothy’s book reflects on the startling fact that more Britons believe in aliens than trust politicians, and asks what’s gone so badly wrong. Mariella

Dear Mary: Is it OK for a couple to ask us to contribute to their savings as a wedding gift?

Q. Every three months or so my PA blossoms into a great beauty for a couple of weeks, then has a savagely short haircut. My wife agrees that the almost shaven-headed look is unflattering, but thinks the problem lies with her young peer group, many of whom work in fashion. She is not the sort of colleague to accuse me of harassment, but I cannot think of a tactful way of telling her, without seeming as though I am spending too much time thinking about her looks. — Name and address withheld A. Do nothing. It is a pity for your PA not to make the best of herself but

Dear Mary | 9 November 2017

Q. We have a family friend we don’t see nearly as much as we’d like. This is because he’s so near perfect — clever, funny, civilised, and also single with an interesting job — that he’s in great demand as a guest. When we do bag him before somebody else does we adore his company and he clearly enjoys ours. My gripe is that I’ve realised he’s been coming to stay with us for 30 years, either in houses we’ve rented abroad, in Scotland or just as a weekend guest at home, yet has never invited us to lunch, the cinema or even for a walk. This is nothing to

Dear Mary | 31 August 2017

Q. Our best friends own a house in Morocco which sleeps about ten. They rent it out but go two or three times a year themselves and always invite as many people as they can cram in. They have much more social stamina than we have, so whenever they invite us, we beg that it can be just the four of us. They agree but always renege at the last minute and invite others on the grounds that it will be ‘much jollier’. We just want time alone with them in their undiluted company and we find big house parties mentally exhausting. But it’s not our house so we can’t

It’s got to be perfect

When I order a cup of tea in Costa, the barista says: ‘Perfect!’ I ask for tap water in a restaurant: ‘Perfect!’ I buy a card in Paperchase and at the till it’s: ‘Perfect!’ And: ‘Perfect!’ again as I put in my PIN. ‘Perfect!’ when I say I don’t need a bag. It used to be ‘Great!’ and even that was too ecstatic a response to a side-order of creamed spinach. Now, there’s been a service industry upgrade. No longer is the customer always right; they are perfect. A little thing, yes, but a symptom of a wider mania for perfection. Everything from breakfast muesli to career, home and family