Ask Martha: How should I select what to buy from a wedding list?

Got a social dilemma? Martha Arthur has the answer...

Q. How should I select what to buy from a wedding list? I don't want to look tight, but I don't have much cash to flash. Help! Anon

A. Very tricky. Thank goodness Martha has some golden rules. 1) Purchases must be complete. You can't buy a saucer and no cup. You can't buy a cup and no saucer. 2) Small purchases must be in multiples. You can't just buy one fish knife. Though if they put fish knives on their wedding list, maybe that's all they deserve. 3) Pairs are good. There's something romantic about two coffee cups (with saucers). There's something desperate about one coffee cup (with saucer) and a knife. 4) Likewise, if they want a pair of candles, you can't just get them one. It draws attention to the shortfall, rather than the expenditure. 5) Blend in. Go mid-range and you'll be safe. But remember, with something as nakedly financial as a wedding list, you can't disguise your outlay. Bargain-hunting skills count for nothing here. You'd do better to save on transport/dress/shoes. So log on, think of what they're spending on salmon mousse per head, then take a deep breath and click the button that says "Fleece me please."

Q. The hamster I am pet-sitting is three years old and recently took a turn for the worse. He's beyond help. Should I ask the vet to put him to sleep? Or make him suffer until his family, which includes two children, comes back from holiday? Katie, King's Cross

Responsibilities such as these should be shirked. You are not the one to make this judgement call. That duty belongs to the medical professional. Make this very clear to his owners. You didn't decide to kill hammy; the vet did.

Q. Are umbrellas now acceptable in the country? TH, Northumberland

As you know, in Nancy Mitford's time the umbrella was considered an effete, urban contraption, and using one in the country was as bad as – horrors! – calling vegetables "greens". The only person who could acceptably carry one was a clergyman. Everyone else had to get wet. All sublimely silly to the modern urbanite, but old habits die hard in the country and you may still find the odd landowner looking askance at your umbrella. You, in turn, will be looking askance at his Worzel Gummidge hair. From there it is a slippery slope to an all-out town vs country war, so diffuse the situation by telling them that it is a parasol you are carrying in defence against the next sunny interval.

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