Q. The other night, as I arrived at the John James exhibition on Fulham Road, I stopped to say hello to an old friend standing outside. We had exchanged only a few words when the man next to him suddenly addressed me in sneering tones: ‘Are you having a senior moment?’ It is true I had failed to recognise him, though he was once very handsome and I had attended his wedding, but I hadn’t seen him in the 20 intervening years, during which time he had gone grey and even grown a grey beard and moustache. How would you have responded to this rudeness, Mary? Don’t you agree that he struck the wrong note with this sort of accusatory approach towards someone who was just going into a party?
— T.D., London W12
A. No reprimand was appropriate. This man was projecting anxiety about his own appearance. You should have turned the other cheek and cheered him up by replying: ‘Yes, you’re right, I was having a senior moment. I could have sworn you were George Clooney!’ (Or substitute the name of another glamorous ageing film star to whom the bearded one has even the faintest resemblance.)
Q. I have signed up with the Telephone Preference Service but still get about five calls a day on my landline from cold callers and assorted smooth-talking criminals trying to get my bank details, all treating me as though I am very stupid and trying to con me. I hate the invasion of my home and I hate losing my temper five times a day and being snappy with genuine friends who ring up. Is there anything I can do to put a stop to this?
— R.M., London SW6
A. The Telephone Preference Service can control only those calls originating in the UK. Another reader has had great success with the following method. He picks up the telephone and, speaking in faintly robotic tones, says: ‘Hello. I’m either not here or I’m pretending not to be here. Please leave a message.’ The criminals hang up immediately. The friends are familiar with the tactic and for those who aren’t, as soon as they speak he interrupts and admits he is there after all.
Q. Re. the difficulty of persuading dinner party guests to leave at a reasonable hour (Dear Mary, 31 October), my father had two formulae. He would clasp his hands and say loudly: ‘So there we are!’ If that didn’t work he would follow up: ‘Like all good things…’ It was very effective.
– M.B., by email
A. Thank you for submitting this suggestion, which could be effective in the right company.
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