Q. My 50th birthday is looming and I am hosting a small dinner in a restaurant. This has proved challenging as I have at least 40 people I like but can only ask 25. However, of those I have already asked, ten are still hedging with ten days to go. If these A-listers would just admit they’re unable to come, I could ask people from my B-list. How can I pin down the flaky non-committers?
— O.A., London SW6
A. Email the hedgers a photo of the menu saying the restaurant is asking you to firm up orders. Could they specify their preference in the way of fish, meat or vegan? This will force the slackards to show their hands.
Q. Yesterday I was sent a beautiful bunch of flowers, anonymously. There are two people they could be from: my ex-boyfriend or a new business acquaintance I had lunch with the previous day. I do not want to ask my ex — if he did send them I’ll feel compelled to be drawn back into a dialogue — and I certainly don’t want to ask the new acquaintance, as he may be horrified that I imagine he has any romantic leanings towards me. But it’s rude not to thank the person. What do you suggest?
— P.W., London NW1
A. Have your ‘diary secretary’ , i.e. a friend posing as such, email the businessman to say that in your absence, a spectacular but anonymous delivery of flowers has arrived and she’s sending a round robin to everyone you met this week to identify the sender so you can thank the relevant person on your return. Once you’ve ruled out the businessman, the sender’s identity will be clear.
Q. I was at my country house at the weekend, due to attend a wedding on the Saturday afternoon, when I discovered that morning that I had left my morning coat in London. My neighbour is the same build as me, but from a different background, which I know he is self-conscious about as he overcompensates for it with grandiose conversation. I suspected he would not own a morning coat, but if he did, I would have wanted to borrow it. How could I have ascertained the information in such a way that it wouldn’t have heightened his self-consciousness if he did not possess one?
— R.K., Herefordshire
A. Very simply, and without making an absurd fuss about it (which is becoming the habit of some correspondents who are, I fear, encapsulating the last word in smug), you could just have said to him that you didn’t have a morning coat, ridiculously out-of-date things as they are, but as you needed to find one — did he by any chance have one? If it is really true that social self-perception is affected by possession of morning coats, he would have felt your equal if he did not have one, or that he had scored a social point or two if he did.
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