Dear Mary

Dear Mary: What do I say when people want to visit my family’s stately home for free?

18 August 2018

9:00 AM

18 August 2018

9:00 AM

Q. My husband and I were among the first to arrive at a recent large house party in Scotland. We were shown to our bedroom at the far end of a corridor and told that the occupants of the other rooms were not expected till the next day. We were tired after a day’s travelling and hence when my husband annoyed me I’m afraid that, confident no one would overhear, I let loose with a full tirade rather in the manner of a fishwife. Later I was horrified to find another guest had in fact arrived and been billeted in the adjoining bedroom. Our stay was then overshadowed by paranoia. Had he heard? How could we find out? If he had, then what?
— Name and address withheld

A. Since it is the custom at house parties for guests to put on after-dinner theatricals, you might have casually volunteered to the assembled company that you and your husband had planned a contribution, but had thought better of it. The idea was to have improvised a marital squabble scene from a kitchen sink-type drama. However, having rehearsed it, you had reluctantly concluded that your audience would have found the performance harrowing rather than entertaining.

Q. I recently attended a birthday party. Afterwards I wrote a note to thank our host. I admired his reply: ‘Thank you. Lovely to see you both. Owing to an admin malfunction, many presents were put into a couple of big bags so thank you very much for either a Daunts book token, a splendid bottle of Pomerol or a rather sporting tie…’ I replied: ‘Owing to an admin malfunction, we haven’t yet got you a present. Will remedy soonest.’ I thought his formula was a clever (though unintended) ‘Dear Mary’ way of ensuring that delinquent guests get their act together and so I have forwarded it to you.
— R.J.O., Sittingbourne, Kent

A. Thank you for this example of (unintended) results reaping.

Q. A friend and I were brought up in famous stately homes. People sometimes ask if she and I can arrange for them to go to these houses as guests of the owners — not as paying members of the public. There is no way we are able to do this but sometimes these people have done us favours so we don’t want to be rude, but we want to make it clear that arranging visits as guests of our brothers is not in our gift.
— R.C., Cornwall, and S.T., Chirton, Wiltshire

A. This is an extremely awkward scenario, since those unfamiliar with the workings of stately homes and the power dynamics of primogeniture could have no conception of how such things work. It would do no harm for your brothers to be aware of the difficulties you are exposed to. When the requests come in, why not pleasantly confide them to your brothers, adding, ‘How would you like me to reply?’

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