Q. Twice in one week I have been found unready for my guests. Occasion one: in the garden, finishing my lunch. A knock at the front door. Standing there, smiling expectantly, a groomed guest to play bridge at 2 p.m. The time was 1.40 p.m. Occasion two: upstairs, changing for a 2 p.m. meeting at my home. A knock at the front door. I let my two guests in, still wearing my dressing gown. The time: 1.40 p.m. Your ruling, please. Is there a too-early time for someone to arrive?
— Aggrieved hostess, Chichester
A. No one should arrive even one minute early. Regarding time-keeping, we should all take our lead from the late Duchess of Devonshire, who once revealed she and the duke were so anxious to be neither late nor early that they spent many hours per week waiting in lay-bys so they could time their arrivals with precision. It is unforgivable to arrive 20 minutes early, but equally unforgivable to keep people on the doorstep. (What if they caught flu?) You must let the offenders in but wrap a towel around your head as though mid hair-washing. Apologise for ‘getting the time wrong — I thought you weren’t coming till two’. When they admit they have arrived early, you can exclaim: ‘Oh thank goodness. It’s you at fault, not me!’ Tell them you’ll be back down in 20 minutes to give them a drink.
Q. May I pass on a very simple but useful tip to readers who may be planning Christmas parties? I learned this from my daughter who has a job with an events company. She regularly works on a laptop compiling large guest lists to a background of constant distraction from social media alerts but can, at any stage, keep a count of names listed by using a Word document, then simply dividing the word count by two.
— K.S., London SW12
A. Thank you for this tip. Readers who wish to emulate should be aware that titles and double- and triple-barrelled names could skew the result. For counting purposes give each guest only two names.
Q. Regarding the issue of over-long wedding speeches (21 October), your readers may be comforted by my 93-year-old mother’s observation when, several hours into a relative’s wedding, she noted how long the celebrations now go on for. ‘In my day, the couple were so desperate to go off and jump into bed with each other, the party would be as brief as possible. Today that bit all happened long ago, so they want to spin out the day for as long as they can.’
— M.S., Richmond, Surrey
A. Of course she is right. A much bigger issue is that junior readers will never experience or understand the excitements of suppressed lust which drove the pace of all social interaction in the age before the environment was oestrogenised.
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