Q. On arrival at a top level dinner, I was surprised to see at the table a woman who, I have reason to suspect, sells gossip as a sideline. However, clearly no one else suspected her and, assuming it was Chatham House rules, everyone was talking freely. When one man began to regale the table with an anecdote which was bound to culminate in a dynamite piece of gossip, I was paralysed with horror but I couldn’t think how to stop him before it was too late. The consequence was that the item appeared in the press a couple of days later, causing all manner of probable future security problems to the subject of the story. Although I can’t prove it was this woman who sold or leaked the gossip, I strongly suspect she did. For various reasons I know it must have come directly from that dinner party since no one else, except the anecdotalist, knew the gossip. How, in such a situation, without embarrassing our host or falsely accusing anyone in front of the whole table, could I have halted the anecdotalist before he had arrived at his bombshell?
— Name and address withheld
A. You could have calmly countered by saying ‘Well, that story’s been doing the rounds, but let me tell you what I heard…’ and then extemporised a slightly absurd version of the same piece of news. Your version would have undermined the veracity of the first version and suggested Chinese whispers had been at play. Concluding with ‘Apparently the whole thing originated with some nutter on Twitter. So sorry to disappoint.’ Thus you would have thrown the gossip off the scent.
Q. I am a minor media personality. Dear cousins give an annual summer drinks party but then get annoyed when I talk to the handful of other minor media personalities present. They look wounded and say ‘Why are you only to the interested in celebrities?’ but I’m not — it’s just that these are usually the only people I know at the party. This year, Mary, how should I avoid giving offence?
— Name withheld, London W11
A. From the moment of arrival, wear metaphorical blinkers and cling like a limpet to one of your cousins. Say, ‘Can I stick with you? Otherwise I’ll get stuck with someone I already know.’ They will soon feel oppressed by your presence and urge you to circulatefreely.
Q. When someone has something like toothpaste or dried egg on their face, is it correct or incorrect to draw this to their attention?
— R.W., Oxford
A. To tell them, discreetly, is a sign of respect. Otherwise the mirror will tell them later and make them feel sad that no one in the company liked them enough to point it out. In summary, it is actually wrong not to alert people to a defect which could be easily removed.
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