16 MARCH 2002, Page 76

Q. My wife is going away for two weeks. Neighbours

are already starting to invite me and the children to lunch, dinner and tea, refusing to take no for an answer and insisting that it will be 'no trouble'. I am not worried about whether it will be any trouble for them; the truth is that my wife normally makes all the social effort while I just come along 'in her wake'. I am frankly too lazy to try to be 'good value' without her. How can I decline these kind invitations without seeming churlish?

Name and address withheld A. Extract a casual undertaking from one of your children's godparents that he will come and visit. Then you can tell your neighbours. 'I'm not sure when he's coming, but he's a marvellous cook and it will be a unique opportunity for him to bond one-to-one with the children, to say nothing of bonding with me — I hardly ever see him. So I think I'll be well covered. But may I ring you if I'm desperate?'