6 SEPTEMBER 1997, Page 55


Dear Mary.. .

Q. An elderly friend of mine has a precious and elegant walking-stick which belonged to her grandfather. As she constantly wor- ries about losing it, I offered to take it to our local silversmith to have her name and telephone number engraved on the delicate silver band. When I arrived at the silver- smith's workshop, I was told that he was away for a fortnight. I left my name and telephone number with the young man minding the shop, asking him to leave a message for the silversmith to contact me. As I had heard nothing after three weeks, I called in at the shop, only to find that my own name and phone number had been engraved on the silver band. What should I do or say next?

A. Ask your friend whether she would be happy for you to have the original silver band replaced with a new one containing the correct details. Should she give a nega- tive response to this, suggest that, in the light of this appalling mistake, the only course open to you is to swap houses and change both of your names by deed poll to L. T:, Tisbury, Wilts ensure that the stick is returned to its right- ful owner in the event of any mishap. This should serve to set things in their correct emotional perspective.

Q. Recently a kind friend gave a small din- ner party to celebrate my birthday, but rang just before to say that another friend, whom I did not know, had invited himself to stay and so would also be there. As this friend is generally considered a VIP (although I am not a great admirer), I was placed next to him, and was depressed to see him sit back with arms folded and mouth turned down, waiting for me to make efforts to amuse him. As I was the guest of honour, and also rather tired, my reaction was to sit back and let him amuse me. The result was a wasted evening for both of us, and a hostess who telephoned to apologise for a disaster the next day. How should this situation have been handled?

Name and address withheld A. Since the evening was intended as a cele- bration of your own personality, it was gauche of your hostess to juxtapose you with a man who professionally projects his. The correct procedure should have been for her to suck up to the VIP by saying, 'Do stay the night, but sadly I can't invite you to dinner as you are so many millions of times more exciting than poor X that you would completely upstage her on her birthday.'

Further to the disturbed painters debate, may I suggest that an upturned hat contain- ing coins placed alongside the easel works wonders for discouragement. This has been aired before, but is none the worse for that.

J.M. Pecunious, London SW10 A. Thank you for this humorous tip.