Q. The problem encountered by R.B. of Fareham (6 June) is similar to one I wish to avoid. I have organised an informal lunch for old boys of the grammar school we all joined in the 1950s, aged 11. There will be only a few there, not more than ten, and I know from previous reunions that most of them are married with children and grandchildren.
The one exception is a man who used to be my best friend, whom I have recently tracked down after some 50 years when we were out of touch. This old friend informed me that he has been in a civil partnership with a man for over 40 years. I have not the slightest problem with this, but I am not sure what to say, if anything, to the others attending the lunch. Should I tell my other old friends about this, in advance of the lunch, or should I say nothing and let events take their course on the day? Your advice would be much appreciated, Mary.
— A.J., address withheld
A. For you to pre-brief the others would be like ringing ahead with the punchline to an anecdote. You would be robbing them of the pleasures of build up and denouement. You would also be signalling that some kind of tact or subject-avoidance might be called for, when in fact the opposite will be the case. Today, flouting convention is the new norm, but in the 1950s the pressure to conform was stifling. Consequently your group, far from being outraged, are likely to be quietly thrilled that at least one of their number was bold enough to confound the much more rigid expectations of his time. The revelation will see the participants reel away from the reunion feeling much less stuffy and predictable than they felt on arrival.
Q. Over the past six months I’ve told lots of people that my 40th birthday is coming up and to expect an invitation to a big party. We can only afford to pay for about 80 guests but, having compiled a provisional guest list, I’m shocked to see 150 names on it — just of people we can’t not ask and with no room at all for any new friends, some of whom we prefer to older ones. I can’t see the solution. If I don’t give a party at all, some people will assume I did but just didn’t ask them. If I send round an email saying I’m not having a party after all because I find I have too many friends it will annoy everyone.
— S.B., London W12
A. Go ahead with the party and invite all 150 people on your list but don’t hold it on the precise night of your 40th. Hold it instead on a Saturday night — ideally during the forthcoming August bank holiday. Hold it in a venue far from your normal stamping ground, e.g. in hired premises somewhere which involves a 15-minute walk from the tube. You will get all the credit for having invited everyone but you will also find the guest list will be self-culling by at least a third.
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