Q. A couple who live directly opposite us in London have sent a save-the-date notice for a big party they are giving in a few months time. We like these neighbours, despite the fact that they are absurdly grand and snobbish, but we find their big parties exhausting and neither of us wants to go. How can we possibly get out of it, Mary? We can’t claim to have a prior appointment because we didn’t answer immediately. There is also an important sporting fixture on telly on the same evening that we both want to watch, and our neighbours, who can see directly into our house, will be in no doubt that we are in.
— Name and address withheld
A. Accept the invitation. About two days before, scan the death column of the Times. Look for the name of an obscure grandee who has gone on ahead. Then drop a note through your neighbours’ letterbox saying, ‘I don’t know if you saw the notice in the Times but Sybil, Lady Cummerbund, died this week. In the circumstances John and I are sorry we won’t be able to join your celebrations.’
Q. My son, who is about to graduate from university, prides himself in his lack of interest in how he looks. His jeans are torn, his trainers are always filthy, and he wears the same washed-out T-shirt he found in a skip for days. His hair is shapeless, lank and depressing and he has a small goatee beard. He could potentially look stunning. The more I nag him, the worse he gets. Is there anything I can do?
— V.I., London W12
A. Hold off the nagging for a week or so — then say reflectively ‘You know I think I was wrong about your look. The whole package is starting to grow on me because it shows you’ve got principles and in a funny way you look rather good. You can carry it off. I’m proud of you for sticking to it.’ You will find it’s only a matter of days before he smartens himself up.
Q. Regarding last week’s advice about how many jacket buttons a gentleman should do up, you were imprecise in your advice, Mary, since not all jackets have the same number of buttons and there are added complications depending on what kind of jacket the man is wearing. Could you clarify the issue for us please? And while we are at it, does a gentleman ever wear an anorak? — M.B., Florence
A. Thank you for prompting me to take this subject further. Most jackets have two buttons and only the top one should be done up. Some jackets have three buttons, in which case it is the middle button that should be done up. Double-breasted jackets, as favoured by the Prince of Wales, must always be buttoned up at all times and should only really be worn by the over-thirties. A gentleman should try to avoid wearing an anorak but he will be forgiven for wearing one in a weather emergency.
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