Q. A very old friend has rented a holiday house and invited my husband and me to stay. The property happens to belong to another friend so we have stayed there in the past and know it’s fairly stupendous with cook, garden, pool, sea and mountains etc. It now goes for a massive rent which, fortunately, our other friend, who has done very well in business, can more than afford to pay. She knows my husband and I no longer have the money we used to and she definitely does not want us to contribute. Our problem is that among the other guests will be a couple who, while not as rich as our host, are a bit on the flashy side. We are anticipating them insisting on all the guests contributing to some huge group present — for example paying to rent a small plane or a boat — to ‘return her hospitality’. My husband will not want to lose face when asked to pay his share by admitting we just can’t afford to. Any ideas, Mary?
— Name and address withheld
A. Before you go, commission a small artwork from an unknown artist — perhaps even a child artist — to give to your host on your return. Pay no more than £100. In this way when asked to contribute towards the ‘return hospitality’ costs your husband can smile serenely and say: ‘Well, I’ll let you into a secret. We have already commissioned something rather amazing as a present for her which is going to be ready when we get back to England. Do you mind if we don’t join in and you just do it as a present from you lot?’
Q. My husband is a brilliant man. He has many fascinating things to say but even so, if I have heard them before, I tend not to want to hear them for a second or third time. Nor, I fear, do our friends. Mary, is there a way in which I can discourage him from repeating himself while still keeping things civil between us?
— Name and address withheld
A. Tell him that you are worried you are beginning to repeat yourself. Ask him to help you out with a discreet signal so that you can cut your pronouncements short if he notices you have already told the same anecdote or advanced the same theory to the same audience. How about placing a knife on top of his wine glass? Assure him you will happily return the favour so he should keep an eye on your wine glass as you will on his.
Q. What do you answer when someone at a party asks you if you’re a granny and you don’t feel you look old enough to be asked that question?
— C.G., Plymouth
A. Gush: ‘Funnily enough I sometimes feel I can see into the future and I have a really strong instinct that one day I will have lots of grandchildren. Sadly I’ll probably have to wait about 20 years or so before I’m old enough. But why do you ask?’
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