DILEMMAS / Gift gaffe leaves Louise tied up in knots

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Louise had made an agonising social gaffe. Rummaging around in her bits and bobs drawer to find a present for a friend, she found an unwanted scarf that seemed to fit the bill perfectly. She popped it in the post - but on her return, her partner reminded her that she had sent it to the very same girlfriend who had given it to her in the first place. How was she to regain lost face?

Needless to say, some readers, like Mary North, a counsellor from Derby, recommended simply telling the truth. 'Real friends,' she wrote, 'are allowed to get things wrong.' But real friends also do their best to shield their friends from hurt. Might it not be kinder, in this case, to present some excuse, however implausible?

One that can only be described as Jeeves-like in its entertaining deviousness was dreamt up by Doreen Machin, of Trowbridge, Wiltshire, who begged Louise to 'remember the old feminist adage: 'When in doubt, blame a man'.' Louise should get her partner to phone her friend and say: 'Wonder if you can extricate me from the mire with Louise? She asked me to send off a birthday prezzie to you last week just before dashing off to the daily grind. I was supposed to envelope a silk scarf in Jiffy bag supplied and post off to you forthwith.

'Alas and quel dommage: the silk scarf on the dressing table had mysteriously shifted itself. Spotting a folded scarf on the bed with other oddments, I not unnaturally popped same in the bag and posted it. All appeared well until Louise discovered not only that her favourite scarf was missing, but the one she had bought you was snuggling in her odds and sods drawer.

'For reasons unknown she blames me for the fiasco and has commanded me to ring you and apologise for my mistake. I have also to beg you to return her scarf (she planned to wear it tonight) . . . Anyway, please forgive.' Louise will then come to the phone and say: 'Bloody men]'

Quite a few readers, such as Denise Dugg from Virginia in the US, suggested Louise say that she had liked the scarf so much that she had to buy another for her friend. But if so, why hadn't she written this on the enclosed card, as Tracey Stubbins of King's Heath, West Midlands, did when she enjoyed the candle a friend sent her so much that she bought a dozen and sent her friend one back? It seems odd to mention it after the event. And who knows where Louise's friend had found the scarf in the first place? Perhaps it came from some out-of- the-way craft shop.

Coming from a different angle was Deborah Marks of Leeds, who found the idea of keeping a drawerful of unwanted presents offensive, calculated and cheapskate. 'Why is it that the act of giving apparently holds no pleasure for Louise?'

But don't we all do it up to a point? If it's too dreadful to be given away, then it goes to Oxfam; if it's recyclable, it's recycled. At least it is in my family, and so it is in Don Lafferty's in Horsham. He told of a packet of handkerchiefs that had done the rounds of four relations before it finally returned to his wife, the original sender.

Elizabeth von Armin, the novelist, went in for a similar but reciprocal social dance, as Cecily Lintott, of Seaford, Sussex, pointed out when she quoted from Elizabeth and her German Garden: 'Years ago, when first I knew her . . . I sent her a little brass candlestick on her birthday; and when mine followed a few months later, she sent me a notebook. On her next birthday I presented it to her; she thanked me profusely . . . and when my turn came I received the brass candlestick. Since then we alternately enjoy the possession of each of these articles and the present question is settled once and for all, at a minimum of trouble and expense.'

But I think the advice for Louise to follow, if she has enough panache, is Jane Merer's of east London. It follows the old maxim of 'never apologise, never explain'. 'This tremendous gaffe has to be carried off in the grand manner,' she wrote. 'No mention must be made of the mistake, but some extra act of generosity, like taking the friend out to lunch, taking a bottle of champagne on the next visit, might be appropriate. If the friend dares to broach the subject of the scarf, Louise must smile vaguely and say, 'Oh, that's why I felt the scarf was really you. How extraordinary]' and turn the conversation to other topics.'

A very smart restaurant, I think. And an extremely expensive bottle of champagne.

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