22 JUNE 2002, Page 71

Q. My father was very old when he sired me

and my sister, and as a consequence there are whole tranches of people we have never met. When someone is chatting to me at a dinner party and pauses before starting an anecdote to ask if I know the person they are about to go on about, I usually have to say I don't. They then have to explain to me what the point of the person is, and this tends to take the wind out of their sails. What should I do, Mary? I would soon come to grief if I lied and said I did know them.

S.G., London SW6 A. Simply say, 'I know the name', which would be truthful enough — after all, you have just heard it. The anecdotalist will then be able to continue with his or her flow unchecked.