Q. Last year my husband and I stayed with a much-loved, but slightly airy-fairy friend in her house in Tuscany. Flights, tips, presents, a hire car and house-sitters were already costing us rather a lot, but she insisted we went out to (quite expensive) local restaurants for lunch four days out of five to experience the regional cuisine. She let my husband pay each time.
I felt this was overdoing it, especially as we had to pay for her, her husband and her three adult children, and they have had plenty of hospitality when staying with us in England. Mary, can you rule? Moreover how can we avoid it happening again when we join them later this year?
— Name and address withheld.
A. Your friends should have drawn the line at two lunches paid for by your husband. Next time, email them in advance to say that you have become very interested in Tuscan dishes and would like to cook a couple of lunches or dinners for her house party with ingredients that you’d buy in local markets. Add that — because you are on a ‘bit of a budget’ this year — this would be ‘just as much fun and more affordable’.
Q. I’m approaching a mortifyingly embarrassing birthday. The big 40. I am torn between wanting to keep it under wraps, and a childish desire to have a fuss made of me. I’ve sworn friends and family to secrecy, and warned that if anyone organises a surprise party, I will be livid. I’ve considered deactivating Facebook for the day, but the thought of my birthday not being acknowledged by my wider group of friends depresses me. What should I do?
— Name and address withheld.
A. On your Facebook profile, go to ‘Settings’, ‘Account Settings’, ‘Timeline and Tagging’, and change ‘Who can post on my timeline’ from ‘Friends’ to ‘Only me’. That way no one can post embarrassing pictures of you on your wall with ‘40 today’ emblazoned across them. If they try, they’ll find they won’t be able to, and will send a private message instead. You will therefore receive a lot of private messages from friends making a fuss of you, and can bask in the glow of attention and love without worrying the whole world knows you are 40.
Q. Mary, last week you suggested that some people, wrongly, have shame issues about hosting rats. We live between a cover crop of maize — a terrific food source for pheasants and partridges — and the pens from which the birds are released. The maize also appeals to rats, who deposit gnawed cobs round the garden. When a visiting American family saw a rat running past the back door, my response was: ‘Shh! Don’t tell the others, or they’ll all want to see one.’
— M.W., Welford, Berkshire.
A. Thank you for sharing this.
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