28 DECEMBER 2002, Page 55

Q. What should one do when faced with a heap of Christmas cards from people one

has left it too late to send to oneself? I have been very negligent this year — partly because I felt inhibited by the plethora of cards I received from people bearing photographs of their families and other subtle displays of self-promotion when I had nothing similar to offer myself. Consequently, I left it too late. However, I would not wish to hurt these people's feelings. It is clearly too late to send cards now, and hope they would assume that they were lost in the post. What should I do?

M.J., London W2 A. As I have said before, these toasteards' are a lamentable development. The correct protocol is to send a card with a Christian image of some kind on the front and the boastcard, if desired, glued into the inside cover. You, however, should just send out postcards, making no reference at all to the fact that you failed to exchange a Christmas card. Write something along the lines of, 'It was so lovely to hear from you at Christmas. We must meet very soon.' In some ways this kind of goodwill missive is even more desirable to receive than a Christmas card, as it has more impact and the recipients will feel that they are being marked out from the crowd.

If you have a problem, write to Dear Maly, clo 56 Doughty Street, London WCIN 2LL.