Q. As a mildly famous professional cook, I agreed to judge a children’s cake-baking competition at the summer fête of the tiny village I have just moved to. Subsequent conversations have worried me as I have learnt that the parents of these under-tens are taking the competition very seriously. It’s clear that the awarding of a first prize to any child, however well deserved, will make me more enemies than friends. My name is already on the publicity leaflets and it’s too late to pull out. I would welcome your advice.
– Name and address withheld
A. Instead of awarding a first prize, you should pronounce each of the entries to be the winner of a separate category. For example, most beautifully decorated cake, most delicious cake, most nutritious cake, most colourful cake and so on. Buy some rosettes and print off sticky labels announcing ‘Winner, most beautifully decorated cake’ and so on. In this way no parent can take offence.
Q. A dear friend has been immobilised by pain and unable to tend her beautiful garden terrace. We know it has been distressing and frustrating for her having to watch the weeds grow. Two of us therefore decided to clear the garden while she was in hospital having a double hip operation. We spent a very wet morning toiling in her garden and got soaked to the skin and chilled to the bone. Our friend is now back and the operation went well, but she doesn’t appear to have noticed how tidy her garden is and hasn’t commented. How can we let her know about our kind deed?
– M.J., Snape, and A.R., Hemley,Suffolk
A. There are bound to be some chipped pots on the terrace so why not gaze out of the window and gasp, then draw your friend’s attention to the chip. Say you very much hope it was pre-existing historic damage and not caused by you and your friend when you tackled the garden while she was in hospital.
Q. New neighbours in London play ping pong outside all day when I’m trying to work. It is not enough noise to complain about but it is driving me mad. – S.H., Dulwich
A. Go to their house on a fact-finding mission. Smile as you tell them you are thrilled to see this activity from your window. Find out whether they ‘work from home’ and what line of work they are in. You can then make a bogus connection to your own work and ask whether they, like you, have to do a lot of Zoom calls from home. Say in an unaccusing manner that it would be helpful to know any times when they will not be playing ping pong as you could then schedule interviews for times when you will not be distracted by the lovely sound of the game.
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