12 NOVEMBER 2005, Page 57

Q. My partner and I divide our time between our

apartment in Manhattan and our country house in upstate New York. In the early summer we were invited by our upstate real estate attorney to a large barbecue function hosted by him and his wife at their home. Knowing we would be meeting many locals and keen of course to make a good impression, we took our host some wine and gave his wife a home-made chocolate cake as a contribution to the barbecue party. As it happens, I had placed the cake on a particularly attractive and not inexpensive large plate. When we departed that afternoon, I felt it would have been rather unseemly to have asked for the plate. Since then, however, there has been no sign of it and, to make matters worse, the attorney and his wife have separated. Please, Mary, what is the correct manner in which to secure the return of my special plate without appearing insensitive or petty?

I.H., Manhattan, New York, USA A. Buy a cake plate in a charity shop, then ring up the housekeeper or failing that, one of your hosts to apologise for having taken someone else’s plate home in error. Say you would like to drop it off in case it is of sentimental value and, at the same time, you might as well pick up your own plate which was left behind on the day.