Q. I belong to a fairly intimate private club which is the one reliable oasis of calm and civility that I know of outside my own home. Now an old schoolfriend is pressuring me to propose him for membership (he needs the endorsement of a club member and I am the only one he knows). He is a dear friend who has been kind to me, and I owe him a favour, but he is also extremely jovial and loud and I know he would bring raucous groups of people like himself into the club. This would spoil the atmosphere and end up by making me unpopular with other members. How can I solve this, Mary?
— Name withheld, Edinburgh
A. Agree to write the proposal and hand it over in person to the club secretary. As you are doing this make sure they are concentrating as you muse affectionately about the number of ‘crazy, drunken’ evenings you have spent in your nominee’s company. ‘He’s such a party man!’… Always the last to leave… endless energy!’ and so on. This will warn the committee, in a way that discounts you from being disloyal, and the matter will be out of your hands.
Q. Like many people of a certain age, I am keen on a flattering light, and the fashion for brilliant LED spotlights in ceilings is at odds with this. I find myself quite miserable in the living room of a dear relation, where visitors have every imperfection cruelly highlighted, and feel 101 as a result. I know that if these lights were replaced with angled fittings directed towards the walls, and warm-toned bulbs, we would all visit her more enthusiastically. However, there seems no tactful way to suggest this.
— C.A., London N1
A. Next time, walk in with a present of a tasteful table lamp from Pooky complete with warm-toned bulb. Gush as you arrive that ‘it’s all over the internet’ that LED spotlights can make you feel low-grade anxiety and depression (true) and, since you turned off your own LED lights and bought one of these lamps, you feel much happier. ‘And also more confident because…’ [as you plug it in and switch off the searchlights] ‘…look! One looks so much better with a soft light. You look absolutely beautiful now.’
Q. My husband and I are beginning to receive Christmas party invitations. While grateful for these, we remain cautious about Covid, and don’t want to put our much-awaited family Christmas in jeopardy. Mary, how do we turn these kind invitations down without seeming like killjoys?
— M.P.-W., Chelsea
A. Reply to each one immediately on receipt saying you can’t bear it, but that is the one night you are busy that week. The would-be hosts will assume you will be busy attending another super-spreader — they need not know you will be busy wrapping presents at home.
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