Q. I have a delightful young goddaughter who, thanks to the virus, I have not seen since last year. Her next birthday is looming, but since she never thanked me for my present last year, I am disinclined to give another. However, there may be a mitigating factor. Last year while her mother and I were cheering her on in a hockey match, I handed the mother a bundle of cash to give her daughter on her birthday a few days later when she had an exeat. Now I wonder if the mother even remembered to pass it on. The trouble is I can’t ask her directly: first because, if she did remember, the girl will be in trouble for not having thanked me; second, the mother is chippy.
— E.B., Ipswich, Suffolk
A. Text the girl suggesting that, rather than buying her something she might not want, you will give her cash again this year. If she is agreeable, you plan to give her slightly more cash each year. Can she remember how much you gave her last year?
Q. Two very good friends of ours (husband and wife) are competent cooks and very hospitable. The problem is that they have become terrible food snobs and rarely compliment my own culinary efforts, even out of politeness. I have witnessed them running down the catering endeavours of mutual friends and am sure I have suffered the same fate. I want to continue to enjoy their company and invite them, but am reluctant to make the effort to provide what everybody else coming to our house finds quite acceptable fare, for such scant reward. Can you help?
— R.P., Kettering
A. The trouble with food snobs is that their palates can be so highly sensitive that they really mind food not being perfect. Why not ask them to skip lunch before they next come to dine with you? Disarm them by explaining that you have admitted to yourself that you can never replicate their Michelin-star standards and, since you enjoy their company somuch, you want them to be so hungry they won’t notice your inadequacies. This could be a real breakthrough for your relationship, as they will now feel liberated enough to critique your cooking in a constructive manner as though you are a willing contestant on Bake Off, and you can rise above being ‘offended’ and humour their pretensions.
Q. May I pass on a tip to readers who may be trying online dating? You should both watch the same film or lecture first. Before our scheduled online dinner last week, my date suggested we separately attend a Zoom lecture at the National Gallery. Having a shared experience to discuss made all the difference to finding out what we had in common.
— K.H., London SW1
A. Thank you for sharing this useful tip about conversational springboards.
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