13 NOVEMBER 1999, Page 87


Dear Mary.. .

Q. During the summer a friend and I were invited to stay as guests in the house of an English nobleman who lives in Tuscany. Since he is a man of some discernment, we were pleased that we had been. able to find for him a present in the form of an objet which cost us something of a packet but which our host received with great enthusi- asm. One morning we visited a local market where we bought about £200 of rare plants to bring back with us to England. Back at the palazzo we unloaded these plants from our car boot on to some steps and then rushed off to meet our host in a local restaurant. On our return we found, to our horror, that his gardener had come along, lound the plants on the steps and planted every single one of them, presuming they had been bought by his employer. We came hack to England empty-handed, having been unable to think of a way of resolving this social dilemma, or even of broaching the subject with our host• or his gardener. What would you have done, Mary?

Name and address withheld

4. You should have acted daft and gushed to your host, 'You must have thought it was incredibly bumptious of us to try to redesign your entire garden! We only want- ed you to choose what you liked from the things we bought in the rare plant market. We're delighted if you genuinely liked

them all, but I fear your gardener must have put them all in without even showing you.' You could have carried on chuckling good-naturedly as you examined the plant- ings, as though money was no object. In this way, although your financial loss would still be a bugbear, at least you would have gained credit in the form of goodwill to the tune of at least £200.

Q. My husband has had conventional English table manners all his life. Now, sud- denly, at the age of 43, he has started eating off his knife. To give an example, having loaded the fork in his left hand with a piece of lamb, he will then pick up some redcUr- rant jelly with the knife in his right hand and convey the two to his mouth simultaneously. I find this deeply irritating and, although my husband claims that he is doing it absent- mindedly, has no intention of annoying and just keeps forgetting not to do it, I suspect it

may be an act of passive aggression designed to tease me about my 'bourgeois' aspira- tions. (He is one notch above me on the social scale.) How can I put a stop to this?

Name and address withheld

A. Clip a crisp £20 note to a flower stalk on your dining-table and position it in your husband's direct line of vision. Announce that if he 'forgets' again you will sadly have no alternative but to give him a short, sharp shock by tearing the £20 note in two. You should only need to carry out your threat once to ensure the success of this retraining method. The £20 note can, of course, be stuck together again, but the shock value will still hold firm.

Q. Somebody is coming to see me at noon one day next week. How can I make it per- fectly clear from the start that I am not expecting them to stay for lunch?

D. McC., Holt, Norfolk

A. Greet them warmly and show them into your kitchen where you have a bowl of breakfast cereal underway. Start the con- versation while munching from the break- fast bowl. Offer coffee. They will soon realise you are on a different time schedule