Q. I will shortly be attending a major social gathering in London at which I can look forward to seeing some dear old friends and speaking to them in person for the first time in many months. Therein lies the problem. I will probably not be able to speak to these key people. I can anticipate that, just when I am properly engaging with someone who is normally too busy to talk on the telephone, and with whom I have a lot of ground to cover, a ‘person from Porlock’ will hove into view and bring our intimate chat to a halt. Mary, my question is: how, without being rude, do you get the message across that you would like to exchange small talk with such an acquaintance later — but please don’t disturb us just now?
— S.T., Chirton, Wilts
A. The only solution is to take a tip from our beloved monarch and attend such events with a compliant walker (in HM’s case, a lady-in-waiting) who will follow you around and politely block the access of persons from Porlock. ‘I’m waiting to speak to her myself,’ such a person can confide as they interpose themselves. ‘But I can see they are deeply engaged and I don’t want to interrupt.’
Q. There are too many memorial services just now, due to pandemic postponements — occasionally for people who died more than a year ago. I went to four within one week. Much as I wish to pay my respects, I can’t face any more. How do I politely avoid them?
— H.V., Chisenbury, Wilts
A. There are too many. With luck some clash on the same day, in which case you plead to each one that you are so sorry, but you have to go to the other. If you need to apply for a ticket, sometimes via Eventbrite, your willingness to be there will be noted, and you don’t have to turn up. Lists are rarely published these days, but if one is, your name may well appear as if you had been present.
Q. I am about to host a large birthday drinks party. I will be 60, and at my age do not expect guests to either bring a bottle or pay for their own drinks. However, among my guests will be a couple of in-laws of a similar vintage (and financial status) who, when giving parties themselves, always annoy me by having a pay bar as though we were still at university. It would amuse me if I could make the waiters charge only them for their drinks at my party, but short of introducing each guest to the waiters, how could they single them out?
— A.C., London W11
A. Why not issue everyone with entry wristbands, as worn at festivals — except for the in-laws you wish to tease. Then when the waiters come up with trays of champagne and a hand comes out to take one, they can say: ‘Oh I’m sorry, sir, you don’t have a wristband so that will be £4.99 — please tap the credit card reader.’
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