Q. Last night I went to dinner with people I had never met before. Because the host was a friend of my mother, I had to move next to her on a small sofa to send a photo home. We were then left in an awkward situation where we were sitting shoulder-to-shoulder for the rest of the evening. How could I have migrated away without seeming rude, Mary?
— R.H., London SW1
A. You might have escaped by asking your host to join you in looking more closely at, for example, a painting which intrigued you and gradually enlisted the views of others while you marvelled. Soon you would have been free to casually drift apart. Next time a conversational cul-de-sac beckons, leave your drink where you were. Had you done so this time, it would have been only natural for you to breezily spring to your feet in order to continue consumption after the photo had been taken.
Q. My husband claims that, over lockdown, he has lost the knack of talking and eating at the same time and therefore, for fear of choking, cannot accept any further invitations to lunch or dinner. What do you suggest?
— M.W., Pewsey
A. Men have always resisted going out, though they enjoy the occasions once they get to them. Lockdown has de-civilised many males and, for his own good, you must not indulge your husband’s choking fantasy.
Q. We are planning a celebration lunch later in the year. Although we do have an 80th birthday to celebrate, the real aim is to reunite family and friends after the past extraordinary year. How do you suggest we ensure everyone understands that ‘presents’ are not desired, and are not obligatory, without writing something on the invitations?
— C.J., address withheld
A. Since people are not mind-readers, ‘No presents please’ on the invitations would not be presumptuous. Some people in their eighties might well want presents so your guests will be grateful if you clarify. One couple who married in their late sixties clarified their desire to be given no presents by pre-warning guests that the best present they could receive would be for each person to take away an object from their clutter hoard in an outbuilding.
Q. Readers planning to venture abroad might like to know that you can order Covid testing travel kits from the Co-op Pharmacy for a fraction of the price. This includes a ‘return to the UK pre-departure’ test kit for £25, which you use within 72 hours of arrival in the UK. You photograph the result on your phone and email it to them and they will email you a certificate which is recognised by the UK government.
— J. P., Cheltenham
A. Thank you for this useful tip.
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