Q. My wife’s much younger sister is lazy and impossible. She forgets birthdays, is invariably late, lets people down and seems to think it’s all a laugh. Examples: forgetting to put the Christmas lunch in to cook so we had to wait four hours for what turned into a very poor evening meal. Informing us of a serious heart condition via a two-line text message, to which my wife responded but then heard nothing. Her husband is similar, once berating my wife in public for not going to see her sister in hospital when we had not been informed that she was there. Her youngest daughter was 18 earlier this year and we sent her a cheque for £500, which we personally handed to her mother. We have heard nothing since, nor has the cheque been presented. No one has thanked us, there’s been no letter, no text, no email, nothing on social media. We don’t even like the girl! We suspect either she has inherited her mother’s temperament or the mother still has the cheque and has forgotten about it. Ought we to make contact, or should we write the whole thing off, trying to have as little contact with these dreadful people as possible?
— Furious of Yorkshire
A. Your sister-in-law and her family sound maddening. They are clearly cut from a different cloth from you and your family, but they almost certainly mean no harm. Try to view them as almost a different species, like orangutans; then, for the sake of your wife’s late parents, you can take a more forgiving attitude. Re the cheque, play them at their own bumbling game. Text the daughter, ‘Is all well? Our birthday cheque to you for £5,000 has never been cashed.’ When she replies, ‘It was for £500’ respond, ‘Sorry. Not used to texting. Added an extra “0” by mistake. Good to know you got it though!’
Q. At a recent summer party I was engaged in conversation with a VIP political celebrity I’ve known for decades through family connections. We were catching up on the health problems of a third party when I sensed my best friend hovering, wanting to be introduced. I’m afraid I blanked her and she is offended. However, conscious that I would be lucky to have any time at all with this much sought-after man, I didn’t want to cut our conversation short as we would be unable to resume it later. What should I have done?
— Name and address withheld
A. Lack of acknowledgement is not on (and might even spoil your reputation with the VIP). You should have paused the VIP, and warmly greeted the friend saying, ‘How lovely to see you! Can you just give me a couple of minutes and then I must come and catch up with you?’ If you were able to interpolate ‘because we are just talking about a mutual friend who is very ill’ that would have rendered your tactful dismissal all the more inoffensive.
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