Q. My husband and I have started receiving invitations to large summer events scheduled for after 21 June. We have been shielding for the past year and, although happy to meet up with small groups of friends out of doors, for the time being we are fearful to commit to indoor unventilated parties. Obviously our hosts require responses to these kind invitations, but we don’t know how to refuse without being thought of as ‘wimps’. Mary, can you help?
— P.Z., London SW7
A. There is no need to supply a reason for a party refusal. Indeed traditional etiquette decrees that you should not. You need only say you will be unable to attend. Your hosts will be far too busy planning their parties to bother challenging you for an explanation.
Q. My club, with a wonderful lawn facing the Thames, reopened on 12 April. How can I dissuade the club pariah from sitting at my table? I don’t want to appear unclubbable, but he has no interest in what I or my friends have to say, he constantly looks around to see if there is anyone ‘better’ to impose on, and he stifles the conversation of a good group of friends. I can’t remove chairs as he’s the kind of fellow who would pull one up regardless. What do you suggest, Mary?
— T.McC., London SW15
A. You should stop being so interesting. In future, brief each of your friends to come to the club armed with either a very long and boring story about someone the pariah could never have heard of, or a lecture on an arcane subject of no conceivable modern interest. As the pest joins your table, announce: ‘Fred has just been telling us about his great-uncle Jasper… do carry on Fred.’ Or: ‘James has just been explaining the Exchange Rate Mechanism to us. Do carry on James. I’ve always wanted to understand what that was all about.’ Let your friends enjoy taking turns on the Just a Minute-style challenge of seeing how long they can talk on a boring topic without hesitation, repetition or deviation while the rest of you listen in respectful silence. A couple of sessions like that should do the trick.
Q. I stayed in a very small house in London (belonging to an MP) and had a pee in the night in the shared bathroom. I didn’t know whether to flush and wake the owners up, or leave it for the morning. As it was, I left it but my hostess got there first. Unfortunately I didn’t know her well enough to explain why I had not flushed. I wonder what I should do if the same situation ever arises in the future, Mary?
— L.V., Saffron Walden
A. You should always flush, because the surprise in the morning would be worse than the disruption of being woken in the night. And in any case, most small householders are familiar with the sound of night-time flushing and it doesn’t overly disturb their sleep.
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