22 MAY 1993, Page 47


Dear Mary. .

Q. We have recently inherited a family estate and have moved to the country. We are regularly asked out to dinner and, country society being small, we seem to find very much the same people at all these occasions. Unfortunately my wife always finds herself sitting next to the same man, X. This would be no problem if X were fair company, but sadly his conversation is lim- ited to the state of this year's crop or the price of fertiliser. My wife does not find these subjects inspiring and is therefore forced to talk exclusively to the person on her other side. We cannot discuss the prob- lem with anyone as X has lived here far longer than us and is generally liked. We do not expect to move and the prospect of a possible 40 years of a silent dinner compan- ion every time 'we go out to dinner is a great worry to my wife. Can you help?

Name and address withheld I must begin by upbraiding your wife. It Is not acceptable to talk exclusively to the person on one side of her at dinner. Now for the solution. Next time you receive an invitation your wife should ask the hostess if she can take her into her confidence. 'I know it's absurd,' she should whisper confi- dentially, 'but a very close friend of mine tells me that tongues are wagging locally. People think that X and I are having an affair!' Continuing, she should explain, 'I know how the rumour started — it's because I always sit next to him at dinner, just by coincidence. Is there any chance that you could put us not next to one

another?' Any hostess would agree to this reasonable request. Your wife can stress that, while there is no truth in the rumour whatsoever, she is, of course, very fond of X. As to the identity of the `very close friend' who tipped her off, which, no doubt, she will be pressed for, she can insist, 'I'm sorry, I promised not to tell.'

Q. I am getting absolutely fed .up with a friend of mine who seems to be invited to every single party in London and else- where. She has no obvious charm except extreme familiarity. How can I put a stop to this foolish woman's social mania?

A.B., London W8 A. Pay an informal social visit to her flat and while her attention is diverted slip a prepared outgoing message tape into her answering machine. 'The message should state: 'Miss So-and-So is on holiday. This machine cannot take messages.'