Working life: What's your problem?

INDISPENSABLE ADVICE FROM REAL LIFE'S AGONY AUNT AND UNCLE
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Indy Lifestyle Online
PIGGY IN THE MIDDLE

I often go out after work to the pub with the girls from the office and they are usually all a really good laugh. But one thing that drives me mad is that at some point in the evening someone always starts moaning about their weight, and then we have to have an hour or so of everyone comparing diets and arguing about whether bananas are fattening and whether you get fewer calories from Quavers than Twiglets and whether going to the gym makes any difference and so on and so on and so on. I am neither thin nor fat, but totally indifferent to dieting, and I find this dreadfully tedious. However, it seems to be a compulsory part of the evening. How can I avoid this boring discussion in the future?

May, via e-mail

He says: What a delightfully refreshing young woman you sound. Obsession with dieting is indeed far too tedious and boring (and, incidentally, it consistently drives men up the wall). So many women, however, elevate this kind of trivia to a ridiculously exalted status and I'm afraid that you might mortally offend your colleagues should you try to express the view that life is not merely a matter of calorie-counting.

She says: Buy a very large bag of pork scratchings and scrunch them so loudly that you can't hear the conversation.

RURAL BLISS

The price of our property in London has risen astronomically over the past two years and my wife has suddenly become all starry-eyed about cashing in our perfectly nice Victorian terraced house and buying a home in the country. She reckons we could get a cottage with roses round the door and lounge around telecommuting for a few hours a day, but I'm not sure about swopping our bustling city life for some boring little village in the back end of nowhere, even if it does mean we can live on half the money. I have tried to raise this with her but she keeps maundering on about having a dog and keeping chickens. (I have pointed out that chickens have no personality and are little more than lizards with wings but she says she wants special ones with plumage that comes down like little feathery trousers.) Please help because she is already calling round various house valuers.

Michael, London SW4

He says: Quality of life is worth far more than ephemeral city glitter and a Victorian des res, but if your personal idea of quality of life includes exhaust fumes and filthy pavements infested with scabby pigeons rather than a vista of green fields and trees and the twittering of song- birds, then so be it. The most important thing is that you and your wife agree. If she drags you off into a bucolic idyll and you hate it you will both be miserable, and if you force her to remain in the armpit of the city and she hates it you will both be miserable. Perhaps you could compromise on some satellite town where there are hills on the horizon but there is still Marks & Spencer and it's possible to dial a pizza.

She says: Go on a fact-finding mission to the sticks right now. With all the rain we've been having, the minute you leave the M25 corridors the whole countryside is knee-deep in mud. Ministering to feathery-trousered poultry will seem deeply unattractive in grim January to anyone with any sense at all, and those roses round the door will be mere withered sticks. If, however, she maintains her enthusiasm in spite of this, be comforted: the property market can just as easily go down as go up and if you prevaricate long enough you won't be able to afford a lovely cottage - more like a ghastly damp bungalow on the outskirts of some housing estate somewhere, which will not have the same romantic pull at all.

HAREM HELL

This is about one of my friends. He (let's call him Dave) is deeply in love with his lover, and has been for years. She has four close female friends, and all six of them, or permutation of the six, make a very jolly, close-knit group for dinner parties, shopping, holidays, films and suchlike. Recently, a male acquaintance of Dave's (let's call him Jon) met one of Dave's female "clique", and started heavy chatting-up of her. Dave flew into blind rage and jealous, possessive fury, and realised that, if fact, he wasn't so much in love with his one main girlfriend as deeply in love with her four friends as well. He told Jon to leave his woman alone, and Jon replied, shocked and confused, that she wasn't his woman, just a friend of hers. Dave blew completely, and shouted "They're all my women, so go away and find your own woman!!!" And Jon did. Other similar situations have been resolved in the same way. Do you think that Dave is being somewhat unreasonable?

Richard, via e-mail

He says: It all depends on whether you are Dave or whether you are Jon. (Of course you are neither; you are, ahem, "Richard".) Dave's male ego is revved into overdrive by the high level of female attention he is evidently receiving, but he would do well to maintain his male circle as well. He is relying far too heavily on these ladies, who after all are primarily his girlfriend's friends rather than his. Should he ever split up with her he would lose his entire social life at a stroke.

She says: I cannot help wondering what this member of Dave's harem who was chatted up by Jon felt about having someone warned off her in this terribly cavalier fashion (and, indeed, why she didn't make her own views known at the time). Either Dave has something about him that we would all like to know more of, or this is a particularly feeble-minded bunch of gals. Dave is not being unreasonable. Dave is very sensibly milking the situation and will continue to do so until one of the harem finally comes to her senses and punches him smartly on the nose.

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