There us an old saw that says you never overhear well of yourself. In my case this is not surprising…and I agree with my detractors.

But it is also the case when you overhear things that are not specifically about you. You can catch snatches of conversation between others on subjects that you feel are important and then experience an urge to butt into the exchange.

Never do it. You will never appear welcome or intelligent by doing so. Indeed, you may succeed in drawing attention to yourself, but it will be the combined malice of the people you interrupted. They will unite to put you down or put you out.

Instead, underhear. Deliberately ignore any conversation that does not directly involve you. Indeed, even if you are assumed to be a participant, offer no sign that you are aware of it. Practice a delightfully vague manner that enjoys the sherry and canapés but knows nothing of the day’s politics.

You will be regarded as a fool; a very useful thing. Even if you are not one, the armour of foolish appearance will be enough to let you gather intelligence.

But apart from this, nothing tends more to tranquility than selective deafness and the precise application of partial blindness.

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