Q. We have two very longstanding and generous-hearted (female) friends. Both have always been overweight, but since Covid they have ballooned and now are obese by anyone’s measure. On the two occasions when we have hosted them for an outside lunch, they have unknowingly broken one of our metal garden chairs each. It will soon be time to invite them to our house again but I know that our chairs won’t stand the strain. Our reserve furniture is even less robust than our regular set. What can I do to avoid more ruined chairs and a potentially very embarrassing scene?
— R.A., Como, Italy
A. The design classic ‘Director’s Chair’, as used in Hollywood, is famed for its load-bearing capacity (up to 120 kg). The chair is foldable and suitable for outdoor use. Buy a set of four (for under £100). If questioned, explain that your usual garden seating is being reconditioned/reupholstered but that you find these chairs, originally installed as stopgaps, so comfortable you may even start using them inside. This will explain their continued presence when the women come to you in winter.
Q. How do I stop friends from piling in to a potentially amazing holiday I have booked in Greece? My godfather, who is incredibly kind, is lending me his house there and said I can invite people. It only sleeps ten but our problem is that we know that as soon as we mention it to members of our friendship group some of them will suggest booking Airbnbs on the same island so we can all do intensive partying together. My godfather wouldn’t at all mind them coming up to his house and using his pool and kitchen every day, but I would. How can I put them off without seeming mean?
— Name and address withheld
A. Don’t describe your escape as a holiday — bill it as a detox retreat in the company of others who, like you, need to take themselves in hand. You will be spending your days doing yoga and meditation, consuming minimal foodstuffs such as quinoa, and alcohol will be banned. This will put off party-loving camp followers.
Q. What to say to someone very recently bereaved, who you have known for years but not well enough to have written to, and who you run into at a social event? You can’t not mention the death but, as happened again last week, I always seem to strike the wrong note when commiserating. Any thoughts, Mary?
— L.L., Wendover, Bucks
A. Start by avoiding the pitfall of looking on the bright side — for example, by enthusing that ‘at least they had a good innings’. This can come across as dismissive. It is more helpful to be fully sympathetic, verging on ghoulish. In this way the bereaved person is prompted to counter your gloom by being positive, philosophising about good innings and other blessings. This is more therapeutic for them. You need only nod.
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