Q. I would welcome your advice on a tricky family matter. For my 70th birthday earlier this year my brother gave me a voucher for £100. This could be used as credit towards a drawing of my cat to be commissioned from an artist friend of his. I duly provided photos, only to learn that the £100 would represent just 20 per cent of the list price, and the balance to be paid by me would be £400. I am wondering whether my brother is doing his friend a favour at my expense — indeed in my most churlish moments I doubt whether my brother even paid £100 to his friend, and instead just negotiated a 20 per cent discount. Your prompt advice will be appreciated, particularly as the artist has completed the drawing without my go-ahead, has given it to my brother to pass on, and will therefore expect payment.
— W.M.J., Salop
A. Act daft by pretending you don’t realise the drawing has been completed. Be conspiratorial with your brother as you wonder if the artist is trying one on by saying there would be a further £400 to pay. Or was your brother aware of this when he ordered the drawing?
Q. Now that people are no longer getting stuck on trains on their way home — as they are mainly working from home — we are usually invited to come for supper at 7.30 p.m. or even earlier, which is lovely. But the problem is you still never seem to eat until 9 p.m., by which time you have talked to the other four people for an hour and a half. Then, by the time supper is over, it is 11 p.m. It is a long evening to talk to just six people. Is there a way to suggest a new social rule, e.g. 7.30 to 10.30, without seeming unfriendly?
— A.E., Tier 1, Wiltshire
A. Show leadership when issuing your own invitations by bringing back the old codes. Say ‘come at 7.30 for 8.15’. Apologise for the ‘early start’ by adding: ‘But it’s carriages at 10.30 so we have to start early-ish.’ Give no further explanation. When others invite you, ask: ‘Are you having the new rules like we are — 7.30 for an 8.15 sit down? Leave at 10.30?’ If they reply, ‘No, we’re very relaxed about sitting-down time…’, force them to think their policy through by asking pleasantly: ‘Are you relaxed about us turning up “whenever” then, as well?’
Q. I have been confined to my corridor for two weeks following another student testing positive for Covid-19. Friends keep texting me to ask if there is anything that they can give to the porter for me. I don’t really need anything but it seems slightly snubbing to refuse. Please advise, Mary.
— O.B., Magdalen College, Oxford
A. You should not cheat these emerging adults of the chance to experience virtue as its own reward. Just ask for something modest like a pint of milk or a chocolate pastry.
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