Take two mobile phones to a party and simply call yourself to escape a bore / Ping Zhu


Q. What's the best method to extract yourself from a bore at a drinks party? I am 50 and still haven't found a way.

A. Since 2007, smokers have been able to duck in and out of parties thanks to the ban. Non-smokers should attend parties armed with two mobile phones, one in each pocket. Key in the number of one phone with the other, and have your hand permanently on the "dial" button in your pocket. Whenever you get trapped, simply call the other phone and explain that you are expecting an urgent call from your ailing aunt/boss/dealer as you run away.

Q. I have been flirting with a colleague for no better reason than that she sits opposite me. She has started dropping hints about the office party. I like her, but not that much. What should I do?

A. You are right to avoid sleeping with your colleagues, but there's no reason why you can't find a happy middle ground. A kiss is just a kiss, not a commitment to marriage, and you needn't take it any further. If she insists, a quick reference to incurable genital warts should do it.

Q. I have been flirting with a colleague, and I'm pretty sure he fancies me. I was thinking the office party might be a good opportunity to take things further. Or is that too obvious?

A. A subtler strategy might be required in your case. Why not make a point of finding yourself under the mistletoe with another colleague? This is guaranteed to make the real object of your affections realise he fancies you.

'You are right to avoid sleeping with your colleagues, but there's no reason why you can't find a happy middle ground' (Ping Zhu)

Q. Our office Christmas lunch is traditionally very jolly. But two years ago, our new boss pointedly went back to his desk afterwards, expecting us to follow. Last year, he did the same, and several young colleagues actually did. How can we put an end to this creepy new keenness?

A. Hire an out-of-work actor to dress up as a court official. Towards the end of the lunch, when your boss looks as though he's about to leave, arrange for the actor to walk into the restaurant with a court summons. He should say he has been sent from the phone-hacking trial at the Old Bailey, and your boss has been called as a witness. Though he will be baffled, and it will of course prove to be a false alarm, he will be momentarily thrilled to have a part in the most exciting trial of the year.

Q. Can you suggest a present for my 94-year-old great-aunt? I'm pretty sure she has everything by now, but she likes to be amused.

A. Loud-hailers make popular presents for all ages; useful for summoning children, they also go down well at dinner parties among the hard of hearing.

Q. I have an excess of nephews and nieces, who don't appreciate the presents I give them. They tear through the wrapping, cast them aside, and get on with the next one. They're only really interested in the big, expensive parental stuff and too rude to hide their disdain for my improving books/cuddly toys/whatever. Every year I get enraged by the waste of money. How can I get around this?

A. As you rightly point out, children are only interested in big presents – but they don't have to be expensive. As you do every year, buy them something boring and worthy, but instead of wrapping it in the usual manner, place it, like the hazelnut in a Ferrero Rocher, at the centre of an artful confection of layers. Pad each layer out with boxes or bubble-wrap so that the final parcel is the size of a wardrobe. They will enjoy tearing through all of this, and your outlay should be no more than usual. The disappointment of finding you have given them yet another Schott's Miscellany will make sure they acknowledge receipt with a peremptory grunt, even if they don't actually thank you.

Q. I have been invited to spend Christmas with my girlfriend's family. Before we started going out, I had a very brief fling with her sister. Am I right to feel nervous?

A. As singletons and the homeless will tell you, the worst thing about Christmas is feeling excluded. As soon as possible, draw the sister to one side and make it clear that you would be happy to re-open Ugandan discussions. If any other member of the family finds out, make the offer to them, too. The main thing is that no one should feel left out.


'Arrive at your in-law's with half-a-dozen bottles of champagne and tell them you have to sample them all' (Ping Zhu)

Q. My wife's parents serve Buck's Fizz on Christmas morning. Nothing is guaranteed to put me in a worse mood. They don't do it to save money – they genuinely prefer it, partly because it's a 'family tradition'. How can I demand champagne without causing offence?

A. Take half-a-dozen bottles of different champagnes. Upon arrival, announce that you have been tasked with choosing the wine for a friend's wedding, and will be spending the Christmas period sampling them all. In this way, you can opt out of the Buck's Fizz and ensure you have enough to get you through the weekend.

Q. My grown-up sons are coming home for Christmas, with their wives. This is a lovely treat, but how can I gently suggest that they're too old to be expecting a full stocking, aged 33 and 35, and that it's about time they had children of their own?

A. Erect a Santa's grotto at home on Christmas Eve, with your husband as Father Christmas. Invite the children from your street or village for gifts and mince pies. Your adult sons will want to take part, but will be too embarrassed to do so in front of actual children. Seeing their family home full of children should trigger their delayed breeding instincts to kick in.

Q. My sister-in-law doesn't eat pork, as she is Muslim. The thing is, she does like a drink. Am I right in thinking she is picking and choosing with her religion? I only ask because I haven't had a Christmas sausage in years.

A. Your feeling of deprivation is easily resolved. Most people find that, by Boxing Day, they can't look a chipolata in the eye. Simply start the process early by bingeing on pork products in the run-up to the 25th. By the time Christmas lunch comes around, you should have a bad case of meat sweats and will be only too grateful for the teachings of Allah.

Q. I love my wife, I really do, but cooking is not her forte. Every year she puts herself through the hell of cooking Christmas lunch, and every year we go through the hell of eating it. We are fortunate to be rich enough to eat out. How can I suggest it without causing offence?

A. Spend Christmas in Australia, where lunch is invariably on the beach. Even a half-wit can put meat on a barbecue.