Q. A friend generously hosts an annual Christmas party in London where we see many old friends we have been missing since we moved to Dorset five years ago. However, for the past two years she has ‘taken over’ and will not allow any people who already know each other to chat. She barges into groups bellowing ‘This won’t do. Come and meet new people!’ It is irritating, to say the least, to be frogmarched off to various ends of the room to join equally bemused and irritated strangers. She does not let up for the duration of the evening, constantly breaking up groups, and berating those who won’t play ball. I am certain all the guests feel the same way as we do, and we are even considering refusing the invitation this year. Mary, how can we persuade this kind yet bossy hostess to let people enjoy themselves spontaneously without her intervention?
— P.B., Dorset
A. Go to the party as usual but prepare for it by devising a rota of volunteers who will agree serially to corner the deluded hostess so that her movements are restricted. She could be pinned up against a wall, for example, by a tall man flirting and saying, ‘Why are you trying to avoid me?’ Or volunteers could surround her in clusters and pretend not to notice when she says ‘Excuse me’ and tries to break free. Even if ten men only manage to detain her for five minutes each, this will still give old friends almost an hour to catch up with one another. Involve someone with a bit of field marshal experience or other army training to strategise for this event.
Q. I am shortly to retire and am giving lunch in my club to colleagues. There will be ten at the table. I would like to put Colleague A on my right and Colleague B on my left. I don’t feel bad about Colleague C not sitting beside me because she is not quite so important to me as are the other two. Unfortunately Colleague C has a chip on her shoulder. How can I avoid giving offence?
— Name and address withheld
A. Have your most important male colleague (Colleague D) sitting on the right of Colleague A. Ask him to sit down first. Then you can say ‘Colleague C, you are on the right of Colleague D by special request’, thus suggesting that Colleague D has asked that she be put next to him. The flattery of his request will compensate for not sitting next to you.
Q. My husband is a chocoholic. Whenever there is chocolate in the house he eats every last bar, then is sorry the next night as the nearest petrol station is eight miles away. What can I do?
— M.W., Pewsey, Wilts
A. Why not buy an automatic pet feeder (available from www.petplanet.co.uk at £24.99) and load it with chocolate buttons so that it dispenses one ‘fix’ per day?
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