10 FEBRUARY 2007, Page 43

Your Problems Solved

Dear Maly Q. At a recent lunch in an hotel to celebrate my parents' wedding anniversary, my wife and I found ourselves engaged in animated conversation by our respective neighbours on all manner of interesting topics. However, in their enthusiasm they seemed totally oblivious to our need to deal with our wellbehaved but still very young children who were sitting between us. What is the right balance to strike in such a situation when one's children — both under two and being good as gold for the first hour or so — begin to show promise of hurling bread rolls all around the room?

D.R., London A. There is a tendency for adults — even those who have experienced multiple parenthood — to be attuned to the needs of babies and toddlers only if they themselves are currently engaged in boddler management. Therefore in these situations you should welcome insensitive neighbours as power-sharers under your own management umbrella. You might suggest, for example, Do you think we should move the child so that he/she is sitting between us? If we can keep him/her happy, then you and I can carry on enjoying ourselves.'

Q. I take the Oxford Tube to London about three times a week. As a transport system it is usually reliable and cheap; however the downside is that there are invariably a handful of acquaintances on board. These are perfectly nice people whom I have no wish to alienate but next to whom I do not wish to sit and engage in time-wasting prattle when I could be using the time to catch up on reading. How do I tactfully convey this without coming over as a priggish bore?

Name withheld, Oxford A. Greet the acquaintances warmly as you board the Tube, then wave non-specifically at some strangers at the back of the bus. 'Oh there's John!' you can say, 'I'd better go and sit with him.' Give no further explanation. Move off and sit down beside another stranger who was not within the field at which you were waving. Your acquaintances will not bother to check whether you are chatting to 'John' or not once they are lulled by the momentum of the bus. More likely they will be only too pleased to be able to get on with their own reading.

Q. I recently sent out invitations to a birthday party. Each A4-sized invitation was very light and so I put on a first-class stamp not realising that the cost of posting is now linked to size rather than weight, and I should have paid 47 pence. Now I hear that many of my friends have had to go to the Post Office and pay supplements to pick up their invitations. I feel so guilty about the nuisance to which I have unwittingly subjected them. What should I do to make amends?

A.O., Doddington, Kent A. This nuisance may work in your favour: It will give you an opportunity to ring everyone up to apologise and, at the same time, secure an answer from them as to whether they are coming or not. Your friends may even be grateful for the mistake. It will sharpen their wits with regard to their own postal performances and console them if there have been other recent parties to which they were, inexplicably, not invited