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I had a baby six months ago and have recently gone back to work and am getting back into the swing of life. I like to drop in at my local wine bar a couple of times a week, with baby and partner in tow, for a quiet drink or two. The trouble is another couple that do the same - their baby is a few months older than mine. The woman comes over and joins me as a matter of course, insists on talking nothing but babies all evening, is incredibly nosy about what my little girl is up to and assumes we're great friends simply because we both have a baby in tow. I'm a reasonably friendly person but I'm out to enjoy the company of my husband and daughter and this woman is, frankly, driving me mad.

Aretha, Edinburgh

He says:

How very strange that you should find this such an ordeal. After all, we all know how much new mums normally enjoy chatting about everything baby related! I wonder if the problem lies with you, rather than her: do you tend to be particularly defensive and aggressive when discussing other matters? So you've made a new friend: that's hardly a disaster, is it? Be nice; you may need her one day.

She says:

How aggravating. This woman must be incredibly thick-skinned if she can't see that she is intruding: and what an extraordinary notion that just because you both happen to have babies that you must be soul mates. The next time she wanders over, warn her that your daughter has some infectious childish disease: chickenpox or the like. Or even simply that you have a bad cold. Cough all over her baby; sneeze if you can manage it. That should send her fleeing away to bother someone else.


I have just come back from a fantastic three-week holiday and today is my first day back at work. I can hardly remember how to turn my computer on, can't focus on anything at all, and feel virtually suicidal at the thought of having to come back in tomorrow and the next day and the next day. Basically I want to spend the rest of my life on holiday. How can I get over this feeling of malaise?

Giles, Peterborough

He says:

Bear this in mind: if you don't buckle down and get on with it, you'll lose your job and never be able to afford another holiday ever, so pull yourself together.

She says:

It's quite true that coming back from holiday is a quite dreadful experience; after all, it's bad enough coming back to the office after the weekend. So logically the best way to avoid post-holiday blues is never to go away. Ever. Just stay at your desk.


My problem might seem a bit trivial but it is really getting on my nerves. I work in a magazine office, and a new member of staff recently joined my team. She is seven years younger than me (I'm 33). She is constantly underlining the difference in our ages and making out that we are members of completely different generations. For example, the other day I mentioned Germaine Greer and she said, "Oh, all that feminist stuff is a bit before my time." On other occasions, Eighties music, Brookside and the Magic Roundabout have all been dismissed as laughably ancient. How can I put her in her place?

Penny, Cheam

He says:

This young lady probably does indeed feel as though she is part of a different generation to you. It's a well-known fact that the younger you are, the longer and more significant a year seems: look at the difference between a six-year-old and a nine-year-old, to take an extreme example, or the way that children specify their ages to the nearest month. This syndrome is still present to a certain degree throughout the twenties, though at your more advanced age you are starting to leave it behind. When she is 51 and you are 58 she probably won't notice the difference in your ages either.

She says:

What a tactless little madam. Rather than letting her get away with this "I'm so much younger than you, you old bag" act, try to swing the emphasis from charming youth-orientated ditziness onto sheer ugly ignorance. The subjects you mention are a question of general knowledge, particularly for media folk: after all, though most of us weren't alive in Biblical times, we know there is a book of that name in existence. The next time she tries to make a virtue of being clueless, raise your eyebrows, look horrified and suggest she consults a suitable reference book, adding an aside on how "in this field you really need to have a good all-round level of basic general knowledge" or something equally crushing. And hope that a teenager joins the company: there is nothing like an 18-year-old for making a 26-year-old feel like a grandma.


I am a new employee at a large and well-known company and I have been invited to a party celebrating the launch of a new company project. I can't actually go and in fact I have a genuine excuse - I'll be on holiday at the time. But what I am wondering is how far such invitations can be ignored if one doesn't happen to be in Barcelona at the time. Apparently there are quite a few such gatherings here, but in my previous job there was very little socialising attached to the post; while the last thing I want to do in the evenings is go out with my workmates I'm not sure if refusing would be well looked on.

Mark, Leamington Spa

He says:

Getting along with colleagues outside the office is indeed something that you get Brownie points for; and quite rightly so. There is no point in being a technical virtuoso if you are also a miserable sod that everyone hates. Why are you so suspicious about going along for a couple of drinks with your workmates? Just enjoy it: and if you can't enjoy it, pretend.

She says:

Don't think of it as socialising: look on it as part of the job, an occasional necessary evil evening. Don't drink much and don't gossip. Get there early, and you need only stay for a couple of hours. If you really can't face going along to all of these jamborees, set yourself a quota: say two out of three, so you won't look like too much of a wet blanket.