Q. A close friend is an elderly writer who has contributed, as a monthly columnist, to the same publication for many years. His powers are undimmed. However, he has not moved with the times and will not self-edit. I have had it from a mole that the much younger sub-editors on the magazine, one of whom wants to write the column herself, are claiming to resent the time they must spend ‘correcting’ his offensive copy. I’ve told him this but he is stubborn and says he refuses to be gagged. We all know the power of presenteeism — these people are in the office, he is not and I worry they will get him sacked. I’m convinced the work keeps my beloved genius friend alive, so how can I protect him from himself and force him to see, as in the Leopard, ‘for things to remain the same, everything must change’?
— Name and address withheld
A. This publication is the wrong one to come to for advice on gagging. Besides, your friend may have a hidden agenda which is that, far from wishing to hang on to the job, he is deliberately pushing the boundaries in the hope of going out in a blaze of martyrdom. There can be greater prestige in being sacked for offensiveness than in being let go after one’s powers have dimmed, which, of course, they inexorably eventually will. Let him carry on with the offence-giving.
Q. I was recently made uncomfortable at a lunch party when a rather greedy guest behaved selfishly. He kept piling his own fork high with food and then, just before popping it into his mouth, asking the super-polite teenager opposite him and beside me, questions which required lengthy answers. Example: ‘Of all the countries you’ve visited, which would you say is the one you’d most like to live in?’ The greedy guest then enjoyed his lunch as though he was alone in front of the TV while the girl did all the talking. The upshot was she hardly had time to eat while the oaf managed to wolf down his lunch. What should I do if this ever happens again?
— C.S., London SW5
A. We must try to avoid the temptation to use other guests as human jukeboxes, pressing a metaphorical play button and letting another do all the work. Next time counter the selfishness by a selfless act of your own. Say ‘May I join in? I really want to tell you something relevant to this…’ and then blether away yourself as both parties load their mouths.
Q. I couldn’t find anything suitable so I went empty-handed to a lavish birthday party the other night. Mary, is it acceptable to send something later?
— J.M., London W11
A. Quite acceptable. Guests far prefer to receive well-chosen presents delivered later, rather than something insultingly impersonal, such as a scented candle, delivered on the night.
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