Dear Mary

Dear Mary: How should I handle my bitchy friend’s birthday cards?

3 October 2020

9:00 AM

3 October 2020

9:00 AM

Q. Many years ago I was asked to officiate at a funeral for a family I did not know. As far as I was concerned the service went neither better nor worse than any other and afterwards I went along to what the undertaker used to call ‘the bunfight’ at the local pub. The mourners were facing the door and could see me come in; the widower however could not. As I approached, he began to tell the group why he wasn’t happy with the service and the things I had and hadn’t said. The guests were clearly mortified and I, not knowing what to do, simply stood like a statue right behind him. Eventually he finished speaking and I made a big thing of heading to the bar. Mary, was there a way I could have interrupted him mid-flow to indicate that I was there and allow him to save his post-mortem until after I had left?
— Revd H., Flintshire

A. As a grief displacement activity, people in bereavement often say and do things they don’t quite mean to. (One widower almost stopped his wife’s funeral service because what he regarded as the wrong tune was being played for ‘Love Divine’.) Since everyone excuses clergymen who take ‘urgent’ calls, you might have backed out of the pub, smiling pleasantly as if you hadn’t heard a word and indicating by hand-signalling that you were responding to a phone in your pocket. Better, however, for one of the mortified to interrupt the diatribe by stepping forward to twirl the widower around, crying: ‘Stop right there. I think you have a hornet on your shoulder!’


Q. My wife has a long-standing friend who passed her 70th birthday a few years ago. The friend is clearly very keen for my wife to become 70 herself. Every time she sends a birthday card, she adds in words like ‘only two years to go’, etc. My wife finds this rather irritating and even slightly bitchy. She would like to subtly let the friend know that she is aware of this intense longing. Can you think of a suitable message which my wife can put into the friend’s next birthday card?
— Name and address withheld

A. She should enclose a separate note saying: ‘PS. I know you are longing for me to pass 70, but please stop teasing. I was once told by a fortune-teller that something bad would happen to me at 70 and I am trying to put it out of my mind as I wait for this sword of Damocles to fall. Much love.’

Q. Every time I buy a cappuccino, wearing mask and with sanitised hands, it annoys me that the person serving it puts their hands all over the lid while pushing it down. How can I ask them not to, without seeming officious?
— R.H., London SW1

A. Order it ‘with napkin lid’. When they query this quirk, respond pleasantly that you always find it tastes better if a napkin is placed between the hands of the person pushing it down and the lid.

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