At this time of year, we can all find ourselves beleaguered by self-doubt, worry and other spiritual verrucas. So let me, Martha Arthur, apply the pumice stone of my famously tough advice. As the 'Dilemmas' columnist for The New Review, I receive the most touching postbag – confessions of trembling insecurity from 'Newsnight' anchormen, existential musings from top models, requests for advanced origami tips from ministers of state... So I am airing and sharing here a selection of my latest correspondence, in the interests of helping us all along the path to happiness, and nothing to do with clearing my credit-card bill. I hope these missives will cheer, encourage and titillate. I mean, enlighten. Love, Martha
I've got loads of fun parties to go to this coming year, maybe because I've started to work a lot as a model, but still, I'm worried. It sounds silly, but I think people only invite me places because of my famous older sister. Am I being para?
Pixie, love, how do you know it isn't because of your famous mother? Or father? Or stepfather? Or famous friends, ad infinitum? If you start tormenting yourself like this you'll never stop. There are so many ways of being insecure, and all of them corrosive and exhausting, but only one way to be effortlessly confident. Now, modelling isn't the best choice of career for building a girl's self-esteem, so I'd advise taking up a fulfilling part-time activity: learn to knit. Join a choir. Take a degree... Pixie? Pixie! Where are you wandering off to? Come back, Martha has... oh, never mind. Pixie by name, etc.
Last year I made a new friend called John. He was a little bit older than me, and I looked up to him and I was real honoured when he asked me to work with him. But then we lost a big job contract and suddenly, my friend John isn't taking my calls. I'm thinking: what went wrong here? I had the idea we were close but now I feel he was just using me. His friends have started bad-mouthing me, saying how stupid I am – like I would answer the door in a towel! In their dreams (wink). They're saying I spent all his budget on clothes – a body can't go around naked, y'know! I feel sad about how things worked out with John, should I pursue the friendship?
I hear this problem a lot, Sarah. It's easy to confuse friendship with work and invest too much emotionally in what was never a friendship but only an alliance. You were colleagues; it was a utilitarian relationship. If only people could keep their feelings out of the workplace, the world would be a happier place. And as for the question of how you stand professionally with him, well, do the words "busted flush" mean anything to you Sarah? They do? Good.
I've carefully cultivated myself an image of hideous depravity, putting it about that I'm a louche lothario what eats young ladies for breakfast. Girls have come and gone (quite literally, ha ha!) but now I'm getting broody and to be honest, I want to find my soul mate and settle down. But many of the ladies who grant me their attentions are what you might call slappers (excuse my French) and now I'm staring up the New Year's abyss and frankly January's looking like a wintry, loveless tundra. Help me please!
Dear Russell, Follow these easy steps to remodel yourself as the son-in-law every girl wants to take home. 1) Buy a comb. 2) Use it. 3) Wash your mouth out with soap and water. 4) Step up the animal charity work. 5) Take the sign saying "Groupies welcome" off your dressing-room door. 6) Consider knitwear. 7) Take out National Trust membership. 8) Learn to cook. 9) Commit yourself to living on one continent. 10) Shave.
Dear f*****g Martha
Kiss-and-tell stories about me keep f*****g surfacing in a family f*****g newspaper. What the f***? It's making me lose my temper, big time. Am I going to lose everything else too? Some f*****g life-saving tips on damage limitation, please.
Martha shook her head sadly when she received your letter and has only this to say [stern voice]: If you can't stand the heat, get out of the bedroom! But it's not for Martha to judge, but advise. Stay away from sharp utensils for the time being, just until this has all boiled over. Which will be soon, no doubt – how many worms can the woodwork hold, after all? In the meantime, comfort yourself with the fact that you were not, at least, the telly chef who wrote the book How to Cheat. Small mercies, Gordon, small mercies.
Any tips on how to forge a better relationship with your grandfather? I've been on slightly wobbly terms with Grampsy ever since an embarrassing phone-call incident last year. Previously, although I never lied to him, I always managed to keep the details of my personal and professional life to myself, but I've a horrible feeling he now knows I'm not a librarian.
Georgina Baillie, aka Voluptua of the Satanic Sluts
Let's look at the positives, Georgina. No more secrets. No more quick changes out of PVC platforms and into ballet pumps before family gatherings. No more fears he'll have a heart attack if you turn up to Sunday lunch with a man wearing eyeliner. No more hurried excuses about riding lessons when he spots a whip peeking out of your handbag. All that is behind you. You used to be two divided artificial selves; half angel, half hussy. Now you're one whole – slightly grubby, sure, but wonderfully truthful. The good thing about being found out is that it can only happen once. Don't worry he'll judge you – grandparents aren't nearly as sheltered as you might think, you know. They had swearwords during the war and everything. Take him for tea at The Ritz. And you can both laugh like adults about how Max Clifford is paying for it.
Why does everyone pick on me? Papers seem to go out of their way to use unflattering photos of me. If I go for a bike ride they'll use a snap of me hoiking my shorts out of my bum! If I go to a party looking good they put it next to a shot of me looking a bit rough, "for comparison". It's not fair. I feel like the fat kid in the national playground. Martha – help!
Hold it right there Fern. You're overlooking one important thing: tone. Yes, you get criticised, but always in a warm way. Fond ribbing, Fern, is to the British one of the highest forms of affection. And as Oscar Wilde said: there is only one thing worse than people showing pictures of you with cycling shorts up you bum, and that's death. Did I say death? I meant anonymity, of course. All you can do is take it as a compliment, Fern. People love talking about you – and you like it too, otherwise you wouldn't do what you do, would you, Fern?
It was all I wanted for years. But now it's ending in tears.
I can't put this any other way, I just have to say: I hate my job (sob).
Love, Andrew Motion
You are suffering from gilded-cage syndrome. You strive for something, toil tirelessly for it for years, and then when you've got it, you feel trapped. It's the ennui and disappointment that often accompanies success, whether it's professional, romantic or even simply the feeling of "bleugh" that comes when a long-looked-forward-to holiday is over. You have rushed into fulfillment's desolate attic, to quote Philip Larkin (was that insensitive? You do sound a sensitive chap, and Larkin turned down the Laureate, after all...). Anyway, what you need to do now is set yourself new goals, new adventures. The fresher the better. Don't teach Yeats. Or Keats. Or the Beats. Don't write a rhyming dictionary. Go climb Everest! It'll be lonely when you get to the top there, too, but at least you'll have another problem to occupy you immediately: getting down again.
The pressures of expectation are weighing heavily upon me, Martha. I dared to dream and a nation dared with me. Now I'm living inside a bullet-proof box. Give me your British tips on how to relax, Martha.
Mr President Elect, take a leaf from our PMs' favourite hobbies: sailing or conducting (Ted Heath), relaxing in the Scilly Isles while pretending to smoke a pipe (Harold Wilson), or collecting military figures (Mrs Thatcher). Oh dear. None of these are quite cool enough, are they? How about, erm, playing air guitar (Tony Blair)? Nope, it's not happening is it? Yoga and Valium? Just kidding. I prescribe exercise, plenty of sleep and some bonding time with the White House puppy.