Q. Every three months or so my PA blossoms into a great beauty for a couple of weeks, then has a savagely short haircut. My wife agrees that the almost shaven-headed look is unflattering, but thinks the problem lies with her young peer group, many of whom work in fashion. She is not the sort of colleague to accuse me of harassment, but I cannot think of a tactful way of telling her, without seeming as though I am spending too much time thinking about her looks.
— Name and address withheld
A. Do nothing. It is a pity for your PA not to make the best of herself but it is much better for you that she should not be distractingly attractive.
Q. A well-established couple have indicated on their wedding invitation that they have ‘already enough toasters and coasters’ so please ‘don’t buy something we have already got — rather contribute to our savings pot’. They did add that the main thing they wished for was for us all to be present at their nuptials. I have accepted the invitation but don’t feel inclined to contribute either gift or cash now. And anyway, if the latter, how much would be appropriate? There is no mention of an anonymous collection box. What do you suggest, Mary?
— R.B., London SW3
A. What a shame the couple have committed this gaffe. To ask for cash is somehow similar in offence to sending out round robin updates on your family’s progress at Christmas. It’s the impersonality which strikes the wrong note. Moreover — as every beneficiary of a will knows — amounts of cash can be confused with amounts of love. Consequently, even the most generous of the couple’s friends will not know how much to give and will end up giving nothing. Someone should tip them off that this is the case and suggest they reverse the diktat and ask for something like a small painting. In short, anything whose cash value can be disguised.
Q. Last weekend, we were asked to have two couples to stay for a neighbour’s daughter’s 21st. One of the guests, who I have to say we found terribly bossy, put a dozen of my silver-handled knives along with the forks in the dishwasher after lunch without my noticing. Of course, the glue melted and they’re now ruined, but she has offered to pay for them to be repaired. What would you advise?
— P.W., Lancaster
A. You must refuse her offer. Unfortunately breakages are part of the risks of giving hospitality. You yourself may overflow a bath and bring down a friend’s ceiling in the future. On this topic, it is possible — for a small extra payment — to extend one’s own household insurance to cover the cost of breakages in other people’s homes, so that if and when you do commit such a crime, you can insist on paying for the repair and no one’s nose will be out of joint.
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