Dear Mary

Dear Mary: When I woke up at 3 a.m., my dinner party guests hadn’t gone

And advice on enforcing a birthday-party dress code, and tracking down a phantom pond slasher

14 May 2016

9:00 AM

14 May 2016

9:00 AM

How do you persuade your pleasant dinner guests to go home when they will stay into the early hours if not evicted? I once fell asleep and awoke at 3 a.m. to find our two friends still here! They had seen me nod off in my chair, but hadn’t thought to leave of their own free will.
— C.P., Lawford, Essex

Slip out of the room and dial on your landline *55*0303#. Then return. Three minutes later a BT robot will call. Cry: ‘Who on earth could that be ringing in the middle of the night? Oh my goodness it must be an emergency for them to be ringing in the middle of the night. Oh no!’ Rush out to pick up the phone and a robotic voice will say: ‘This is your reminder call.’ Return to the room saying: ‘Thank goodness! It was only some kind of prerecorded marketing call. I thought, “Who on earth could it be ringing in the middle of the night?” I had no idea how late it was. I’m so sorry to have kept you. Let me help you find your coats.’

I am giving an 80th birthday party and have a dilemma. I am very fond of my younger male relatives but get extremely agitated when they turn up at such occasions without the courtesy of wearing suits and ties. Since it is my party I want to enjoy it and hope they will too, but if left to them, there is a distinct likelihood that some will turn up in scruff order. I am loth to put instructions on the invite. What am I to do?
— Name and address withheld

Enlist another family member to ring each male guest individually. In gushing rather than accusatory tones, this emissary should convey the following: ‘I thought you’d be interested to know that secretly what he wants is for all the men to turn up in suits and ties. Do you think you could manage that?’

On my return from a few days away, I spotted four cross-shaped incisions in the membrane of my pond liner, fortunately above the high-water mark. The likely culprit is a seven-year-old neighbour, fascinated by nature, who roams the village unsupervised and regularly enters my garden uninvited. I know a piece of exposed PVC would be irresistible to a curious lad with a penknife (I was that boy once). Should I confront his single mother? Or pretend it hasn’t happened?
— Name and address withheld

Invite the boy and his mother to help you check for tadpoles in your pond. Pretend to notice the cuts for the first time. Say: ‘That’s very dangerous. The pond might drain out. Let’s look through the security camera footage and find out who did it.’ If he has not done it, he will be excited at the thought of helping trap a common enemy. If he has, his face will give him away. You can then say, ‘Oh silly me. I forgot to set the camera going’, to explain the absence of footage, or indeed of a camera.

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