Q. Regarding the writing of ‘no presents’ on an invitation (Dear Mary, 6 July), my own experience is that many people ignore ‘no presents’ anyway. Some will not even ask for ideas, and you are likely to be inundated with cushions with ‘Still sexy at 60’ embossed on them and huge mugs yelling ‘Keep calm and carry on’ in bold colours. To pre-empt this, your correspondent’s wife might do better to send a round-robin email to all those invited saying she forgot to write ‘no presents’, but should anyone like to, they could donate to a charity of their choice. I think Ukip might ruffle a few feathers.
— J.F., Balham
A. Such a diktat would be marvellous in its magnanimity.
Q. Your correspondent of 13 July wanted to know how to cull potential numbers at a book launch. My problem is preventing too many people coming to dinner at our holiday house in Cornwall. Often our house guests come back from the beach excitedly announcing that they have run into some friend/s of theirs who are also staying in the area and suggesting we invite them to dinner. It seems inhospitable to say no when we have hired competent cooks and the dinner table will accept up to six more people than the core house party. I do not want to have a blanket refusal policy, because it depends on who the guest is.
— Name and address withheld
A. Prepare for this eventuality by confiding in your guests on the first day that the cooks you have hired turn out to be very temperamental and dictatorial. Then, if your friends ask if they can have, for example, Boris Johnson, you can say ‘I think that should be fine — the cooks are doing something they can stretch.’ If it is someone undesirable, you can say ‘The cooks won’t tolerate it — they are doing individual poussins and crème brûlées and they won’t shop for more.’ When these dishes fail to materialise say, ‘Sorry I obviously got it wrong but I am far too frightened of the cooks to ask what happened. What if they walked out?’
Q. I beg to suggest you are wrong about ‘the more the merrier’ at funerals (29 June). If you do not know the deceased but attend without first clearing it with the family, you risk being thought of as a blowfly, always buzzing around corpses.
— A.S., Hungerford, Berks
A. Clearly your experience of funeral crowd-swellers has been negative. But your comments bring to mind an enjoyable exchange once witnessed at a fashionable funeral. One mourner, known as a court jester, was confronted by a suspicious family member who (wrongly)assumed he was only present for social climbing reasons. ‘I didn’t know you knew X?’ he said. ‘No,’ quipped the accused. ‘I didn’t. But I like to do a bit of moonlighting as an undertaker.’
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