From Joanna Lumley
Q. We receive a huge number of Christmas cards every year. When I take them all down on 6 January I feel so guilty about throwing them away that I hoard them in carrier bags. Some I make into tags for next year’s presents, but hundreds of lovely and cheerful pictures seem destined for destruction. My small study is almost overflowing, as unfortunately I save birthday cards as well. Is there any way they could be re-used or made into something charming? Who should I contact, dear Mary? Do I need counselling? With festive but anxious greetings.
A. Don’t even think of throwing them away. Stack them as neatly as possible and include within each year’s individual bundle a typed inventory giving full names of the senders and their relationship to you. It is not your children or your grandchildren who you have to consider, it is your great-grandchildren who will be fascinated to uncover something so personal about their ancestor. And don’t forget the mercenary aspect — the autographs of your celebrity friends will be worth something one day.
From Jeremy Vine
Q. I present a radio show which includes a weekly medical slot with a guest GP. Over the years, people have begun to think I must have some sort of medical expertise myself, which led to my being stopped in Boots by a listener who asked me to help him choose between two brands of suppository. I wanted to say I couldn’t help, but this seemed rude. How should I have answered?
A. Rather than making him feel small for assuming you would know, you should have pretended to ponder briefly before answering: ‘Do you know, if it were me, I would ask the pharmacist for advice.’
From Nicholas Coleridge
Q. As chairman of the Victoria and Albert Museum, I get a stream of people contacting me saying: ‘I tried to buy tickets for the Kimono/Alice in Wonderland/Epic Iran exhibition but they are all sold out. Can you somehow wave a magic wand and squeeze me in? Ideally four tickets.’ Some of these supplicants are very old friends, who would consider me ‘uppish’ if I didn’t try to help. Others are important establishment figures. How can I flatten the curve of requests? It is embarrassing to keep asking the directorate for favours, and I feel I am using up my goodwill. Any solutions, dear Mary?
A. Ask your assistant to contact them on immediate receipt of their request. She should tell them that demand for VIP tickets has been so overwhelming, and tickets so thin on the ground, that her only option is to put all the names into a hat and make the selection that way. She will get back to them if they have been lucky.
From Gyles Brandreth
Q. I am not really into hugging. I never have been. My grandchildren don’t want hugs, they would rather have a Magnum ice cream or money. And hugging adults, often comparative strangers, I find quite awkward. I’ve loved the pandemic because hugging has been off the cards, but what am I going to do when life gets back to normal? I am dreading it.
A. Exaggerate your delight in meeting both old friends and comparative strangers, crying: ‘How lovely to see you! Even though we still can’t kiss!’ If told that kissing is safe again, explain pleasantly: ‘But it’s taken me so long to unlearn my old habit, I’m now too old to relearn it.’
From David Baddiel
Q. I am often mistaken for other well-known people with similar glasses and facial hair. Notably, Ben Elton, Ian Broudie of the Lightning Seeds, the comedian Mark Watson, and once, the radio DJ Steve Wright. This can cause awkwardness, such as when the lead singer of Boyzone, Ronan Keating, fulsomely congratulated me on the writing of Blackadder. When I informed him that I wasn’t Mr Elton, he seemed angry, like I’d been deliberately trying to trick him with my face. Any suggestions?
A. This problem is likely to be ongoing. When you start to circulate again you must wear a name-badge, of the type supplied at corporate events, to spare your fellow guests from humiliation.
From Tony Abbott
Q. I’ve always been a man for ‘uniform’, whether that be red ‘budgies’ on the beach while on surf patrol, or the high-vis of a volunteer rural firefighter. As PM, I also had a uniform, modelled on that of David Cameron and Barack Obama: dark navy suit, white shirt and a blue tie; but never pinstripes or pocket handkerchiefs, which in Australia are about as voter-friendly as bad breath. Since leaving office, I’m flummoxed by the number of bare necks, not just in business but in politics too. Help me, Mary: what’s the rule now about wearing ties when trying to look serious?
A. You should resist the pressure to play to the gallery. Few are taken in by the equality signalling of slob-wear (Zuckerberg’s t-shirts are a case in point). The thinking public shares your enthusiasm for uniforms and feels uneasy when authority figures do not dress accordingly.
From Christopher Biggins
Q. Because of Covid-19, I won’t be doing panto this year. I was going to be Dame Trot in Jack and the Beanstalk in Dartford. Secretly I’m thrilled I’m going to have Christmas off. No two shows a day, no squeezing into fishnets, no daily make-up, no 14 costume changes per show, no early nights, no rushing back from Christmas to do the Boxing Day matinee. What a joy is a year off. Should I feel guilty?
A. By all means act thrilled, but you need not feel guilty because it’s unlikely that you really are thrilled. Everyone knows panto is the best-paid work in theatre. But make the most of this deprivation. Your cancelled audience will also be feeling unthrilled, and the shared experience will help you all to bond better in Panto 2021, which can expect to double the laughter levels.
From Rob Rinder
Q. I am astonished at the low standards of friends and relations in Zoom calls with me. I don’t expect everyone to stand up when I join (though it would be nice), but during one recent call, one person was wearing a tracksuit and I suspect another was wearing flip-flops. How can I politely but firmly inform them that they ought to be making more of an effort?
A. You shouldn’t try. You may be confusing your television role as a judge with your real world, one in which your friends and family assume you love them as they are.
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