15 NOVEMBER 1997, Page 71


Q. A friend of mine is a very witty writer but her conversational potential is hampered, in my view, by an irritating personal habit. When she is reaching the punch line of an anecdote or making some sort of witty riposte her eyes go all slitty and she begins to laugh in anticipation of her own joke. Since she also carries on talking while she is laughing, no one can make out a word she is saying and her audience is denied the plea- sure of sharing her enjoyment. How can I cure her of this silly affectation?

N.S., London SWI A. Equip yourself with a small can of spray Evian water. Keep the spray at the ready and discharge it directly into your friend's face each time she starts up her nonsense. This harmless but shocking method of re- education should reap swift results.

Q. Three years ago I gave the wife of a longstanding friend a very special family ring as a token of my friendship and esteem. Two years ago this lady behaved very badly. We have not been in touch for over 18 months, and I feel terribly hurt that this symbol of friendship and loyalty should remain in her hands. Would it be in very

Dear Mary.. .

poor taste to ask for it back? And how ought Ito go about it?

Name and address withheld.

A. If she is the sort of woman who behaves badly she is likely also to be the sort of woman who will not willingly surrender an object of material worth. Therefore you should write to her asking if you can bor- row back the ring since, for various family reasons, you need to have a copy made of it. Take the ring to a jeweller skilled in replication such as Richard Ogden of Burlington Arcade. Give the copy to your former friend and retain the original, com- plete with its symbolic emanations for your- self. Should you wish to make a point, you can explain your motives for the semi-swindle at the handover.

Q. We were at a cricket club dinner on Sat- urday (in southern France) where we were given a choice of menu, and the main course was brought on platters for one or two depending on whether the person sitting opposite was eating the same dish. When the platter arrived for my husband and the person opposite him, a fellow Brit visiting France, my husband offered it to him to serve himself first, as is good custom. The man promptly helped himself to most of it, including both slices of gigot d'agneau, leav- ing my husband dinnerless. Mary, we coped by giving my husband half of mine but thought of you; what could we have done?

IL. S., Monaco.

A. Had he been prepared, your husband could have affected confusion and cried out, 'Oh you're helping me! Thank you but that's far too much for one person. Help yourself first!' He could then have passed across his own empty plate and gone on to pretend he thought the man was complying with some French cricket ch .b etiquette of serving helpings onto fellov, diners' plates instead of one's own.