My retired parents have already started making noises about me and my husband spending Christmas with them. The run-up to Christmas is a nightmare time for both of us in the office, we both have lots of extra work and we don't get a long holiday - this year, with Christmas on a Friday, it's only a long weekend in essence. It's very exhausting for us to spend a whole day in the car struggling down to see them (they live in Norfolk and we are right up in Scotland), having to be jolly, and then struggling all the way back, when all we want to do is just slump at home and crack open a bottle or two of wine. This is what we did last year, but it was rather spoiled because my parents' feelings were really hurt and they have been mentioning it at intervals since last year. Do we have to bite the bullet this year?

Sue, Edinburgh

He says:

As the pressures of modern life bear down on us it's easy to forget just how important family festivals are to the older (and indeed younger) members of the family. Your parents are harking back to happy days when you were their little girl and it's hard for them to realise that other issues than the season are more of a priority for you at the moment. Make time for them and don't grudge it: if this is such an important occasion for them, give way gracefully. One weekend seems a small price to pay for not poisoning their entire year.

She says:

Tell them they're coming to you this year. If they are retired they will be able to amble up at their own speed and won't have to tackle the nightmare that is travelling on Christmas Eve. And if they turn up a day or two in advance you can get them going on a few little jobs - tree decorating, turkey-stuffing, vegetable-peeling and so on. As you are time-poor I think this would be most reasonable, and if they refuse, well, you have made the gesture towards a family Christmas and it will be your turn to be martyred by your poor hurt feelings and drone on about it for the next 12 months.


Our daughter is 11 years old and she will be starting at second-ary school next year. She is already begging and nagging and pleading to be allowed to go to boarding school in the country. We are dealing with sulks and tears on an almost daily basis and can't face this going on until next autumn. We are not poor and could afford the fees, but all of her friends will be moving on to local schools, so we think she would be lonely. Also, to be honest, we are rather sad that she wants to leave home and leave us behind. We are trying to hide our hurt feelings, but we have an excellent relationship with her, love her very dearly, and can't believe she wants to leave home already.

B and S, London SW19

He says:

Your daughter is simply trying to assert her independence and individuality; perhaps rather clumsily and prematurely. Don't veto the boarding school idea too brutally, agree to consider it nearer the time. In the meantime, find some activities that will give her a taste of life away from home; perhaps a residential course of some kind for part of the next few school holidays? There are lots of possibilities and, indeed, some boarding schools let out their premises over the holidays for just this kind of thing. You may well find that this will be enough to slake her thirst for leaving home. I also wonder if there is some problem you are not aware of that is making her want to distance herself from her home territory: are you quite sure that she is not, for example, being bullied at her current school?

She says:

Dear me. It's turning into quite a week for hurt feelings. There there there, now buck up. I would check your daughter's reading matter. It's very normal for girls to be swept up in the romance of boarding school life when their only experience of it is tales of feisty girls with trunks and tuck boxes and hockey sticks, midnight feasts in the dorm and firm- but-fair matrons. I wouldn't be at all surprised to find she has been devouring tales of Malory Towers, St. Clare's and the Chalet School. You could begin by pointing out that all these stories are but stories and, in any case, took place about a million years ago: these days the norm is more likely to be fierce rivalry over who has the best mobile phone. Then start her on a diet of Evelyn Waugh and George Orwell, to show the other side of the coin.


I am forever getting embroiled in long phone calls, both at work and at home, and just can't get the other person to hang up. I am rubbish at bringing conversations to a close and can sit for hours listening to someone rambling on without having the heart to cut them off brusquely. Any tips?

Janette, via e-mail

He says:

Body language is a wonderful thing and can subtly alter the timbre of your voice so the other person picks up on the message that the conversation is over. Simply stand up when you want to bring the call to an end and this decisive move will convey your desire to stop talking.

She says:

Stand up, sit down, do cartwheels, anyone who is a true jabberer will be too wrapped up in what they're saying to take the slightest bit of notice. Don't concentrate on putting the phone down: concentrate on making dual use of this wasted time. At home, get one of those phones you can walk around with; at work get a headset that leaves your hands free. Then you can clean the bath/re-plaster the conservatory/clean out the hamster/compile the new sales report/write a few memos while your long-winded caller chunters happily on. Just try to remember to go "Mmm" or "Hnnn" occasionally to show how much attention you're paying.