20 JUNE 1992, Page 55


Q. My wife makes a most unpalatable fudge which she offers to guests, urging them to spoil themselves and take several pieces. For their ensuing discomfort my only reme- dy has been to offer the use of an ashtray or napkin, but this is messy and does little to improve the atmosphere. My wife is a proud woman and does not take kindly to criticism. Is there a way out?

R.H.D., London NW3

A. Fudge is a simple dish to make — indeed it is often made by children in nurs- ery school as a play activity. Quickly run some up yourself — of a similar colour to that presented by your wife — and discreet- ly substitute it for the mixture she supplies.

Q. We were ten at a luncheon given by a widowed, Canadian-born, French countess. Everything was comme ii faut — five cours- es, with the ladies, including hostess, served first, then the men, apéritifs, white wine in bottles, red wine decanted and coffee served in the salon. An American woman, successful in promoting designer garden furniture, had a keen conversation with two young men — a French landscape gardener and an American interior decorator — and asked for their telephone numbers. 'Not in my house, you don't,' the hostess said angrily, for all to hear. Is there a traditional

Dear Mary..

etiquette for contacting people you have met for the first time at a party and whom you would like to see again?

R.E., Provence

A. When meeting new people through the auspices of a jealous or mean-spirited third party, one should be aware of the aggres- sive response such a request for telephone numbers might provoke. Therefore first determine the area where the person you have been attracted to lives. Later say, 'By the way, talking of cars, which we weren't [laugh warmly], if you ever need your car mended by a team of Christian car mechan- ics who have set up near you in a sort of moral backlash gesture against convention- al garages, then I'll give you the number.' No normal adult would not want such a number. You can then say, 'I haven't got the number here. Let me ring you with it. Are you in the phone book?' etc. It may not be necessary for you to bring out pen and paper. Later, when you make contact, you can say, 'Oh those Christian car mechanics — I can't find the number but would you like to come to lunch some time anyway?'

Q. I have recently had the thrill of having a thinly disguised autobiographical novel published. Members of my immediate fami- ly are being wonderful and ordering copies in bulk — but when they ring up bookshops and give the same name as my own, it gives booksellers the impression that my book is not of interest to anyone outside my family. What can I do? I am nearly distraught.

A.B., W.8.

A. Thank your relations for their kind inter- est and loyalty but request that, when asked for their name by booksellers taking these telephonic orders, they should say in a throwaway tone 'John Mortimer' or 'Danielle Steele'. These are magic names in the trade and will cause a lot of backstage chitchat in the shop. 'John Mortimer's just rung up and ordered four copies of A.B.'s book!' — and will spur the booksellers to take in large stocks. When the time comes to collect their books your relations need only masquerade as messengers. 'I've come to collect the books for John Mortimer' — before paying for their purchases in cash.