Q. We have old friends who live in the northern hinterlands and have a property in Provence where they normally spend each summer. On their journey down through England they make a stopover with us. We’re always pleased to have them, but not their ill-trained dogs, which always cause some damage. Since our friends couldn’t go last year, they are determined, despite France being on the amber list, to travel later in July and are angling to stay with us. While we’d be glad to see them, we’ve had enough of their dogs (they now have three) and won’t tolerate them any more. I did consider booking the dogs into our local kennels, but our friends always arrive late, outside the opening times. Mary, can you suggest a polite refusal that won’t damage a very old friendship?
— B.T., Sheffield, South Yorks
A. No love is blinder than that of a devoted dog-owner so you must forgive them, for they know not what they do. It’s important to keep old friendships intact, particularly in 2021, so can’t you welcome the dogs with the proviso of barricades and no-go areas, even a borrowed caravan to house them? If really not, then recruit a friend who genuinely suffers from severe dog hair allergy and say that, sadly, she is already booked in for the night in question.
Q. Nothing much has happened to me in recent months but on the last few occasions when people came to the house I found I still had plenty to talk about. Now one of my children, being cruel to be kind, has pointed out that most of my ‘content’ is a regurgitation of the opinions of professional commentators, always attributed, so I sound like I’m ‘just a sponge for other people’s opinions’. Since my confidence is now dented, how should I proceed, Mary?
— Name and address withheld
A. Don’t worry. It won’t be long now until things do start happening and you can draw your ‘content’ from primary sources. In the meantime, your child is correct. Since there are no conversational equivalents of footnotes, these multiple attributions can become fluency-cloggers. Instead preface your pronouncements with: ‘I read the other day that…’ Your interlocutor can ask for the source if they are really interested.
Q. I brought a bottle of champagne — just as a present, not because I wanted to drink it — to a lunch with a friend. She opened it, yet neither of us was really in the mood for a good bottle of vintage champagne at that time of day. I realised later that because I had thoughtlessly brought a chilled bottle she had misunderstood my gesture. Mary, what should I have done?
— C.W., Taunton, Somerset
A. Thank you for alerting readers to this potential pitfall. Next time you might observe, while handing over a room-temperature bottle: ‘I haven’t chilled it because this is a present just for you.’
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