Editor-At-Large: Yes, we can choose our friends, but we don't control them

Janet Street-Porter

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The Independent Online

If I knew Dave and Angela Dawes, who won £101m on the lottery last week, I'd be hoping I was one of their chums. The couple plan to give 20 of their best friends and family – the people they say "have helped them through their lives" – £1m each, a generous gesture that can only end in recriminations. From planning birthday parties to inviting people round for a meal, it's so easy to offend mates by ranking them in any kind of pecking order. Once, a friend invited 40 people to a sit-down meal for his 40th and all I got was a request to turn up for the dancing afterwards. I've never spoken to him since.

Already stories are surfacing in the tabloids about Dave and Angela's previous lives – both have been married before. I suggest they make anyone who accepts a million sign a legally binding pledge to keep their mouth shut.

We're constantly being told that modern society is full of lonely singletons, that we have fewer friends than previous generations. Instead of chatting face to face, we email, tweet or text. A shocking number say they have "no" close friends at all, just acquaintances. Many people over 65 who live alone say they have no friends at all. We live in an age of over-communication alongside extreme isolation. Anyone who uses social networking sites can boast of hundreds of cyber pals, but that doesn't count in my book. True friends are the ones that actually turn up in the flesh when you need assistance – and the Dawes seem to have adopted that as their yardstick.

The Blairs recently gave an 80th birthday party for Tony Booth, Cherie's dad, and didn't bother to invite his daughter Lauren. His wife said "he can't stand her", or words to that effect, which just goes to show that families are often more trouble than friends.

In modern Britain, fractured relationships, divorce and multiple partners mean that your friends often see more of you and are closer to you than family. Could that be one of the reasons why so many of our old people lie in hospital wards, unvisited and uncared for, with no one to feed or wash them? We've lost that sense of duty, and regard a demanding elderly relative as someone else's problem.

Middle-aged men are the people (apart from the elderly) who really don't have many friends these days. Women carefully stay in touch with former workmates, and bother to talk to neighbours and fellow parents at school gates. Sites such as Mumsnet are testimony to the strong ties that bind women together socially, where they can moan, swap information and feel part of a club, albeit online. Most men, it seems to me, generally only have non-sexual friendships with members of their own sex based on work or schooldays. And since many of them are heading for redundancy and the dole queue, I worry about how they will cope.

I have a strong gang of friends – perhaps because I got on so badly with my mother – some of whom go back 40 years; others I have known for less than 10. We can pick up a conversation, like a piece of knitting or half-finished embroidery, after a silence of months. Men are useless at that. All the men I have ever known have fewer than five male friends, generally from college days. They meet once a month at most and seem incapable of expressing their feelings for each other, except in silly jokes in cheap Indian restaurants or at Bonzo Dog tribute band reunions. Men seem lonely, worried about being superseded at work by smart women, nagged at home, anxious about money; worried about not being sexually active enough, about less hair and more waistline.

In this context, I can see precisely why the former Defence Secretary Liam Fox chose Adam Werritty as his best friend. It's par for the course. William Hague also had a close friendship with a young intern, and even shared a hotel room with him. When you've got a responsible job and you're surrounded by protocol and formality all day, isn't it great to have someone young and lively to have a few beers and a curry with?

I've met Liam Fox a few times and he's a pleasant fellow. Any discussion about his sexuality is irrelevant. He seems to be guilty of choosing an unsuitable friend who might have taken advantage of their relationship – and we've all encountered that. Poor judgement: it's not the end of the world.

Now that's what I call a credit crunch

The Frieze Art Fair is full of expensively dressed, stylish young men and women hawking art to the super-rich and their minions from all over the world – a giant white canvas temple to consumerism. In this environment, it was refreshing to discover that the best piece of art on show is dedicated to exterminating the very thing causing so many of society's problems.

Michael Landy is a very thoughtful artist, whose work is hard to categorise because it often consists of dramatic events that leave no trace. In 2001, he rented the old C&A store on London's Oxford Street and systematically destroyed all his possessions in Break Down, attracting 45,000 spectators. Last year, he created Art Bin in the South London Gallery, in which members of the public (and famous artists such as Damien Hirst) were invited to destroy pieces of art they no longer valued in a transparent skip.

Now it's the turn of credit cards: on the Thomas Dane stand, Landy has built his Credit Card Destroying Machine out of found objects such as cogs, saws, wheels, pieces of scrap and stuffed toys. Hand over a credit card and the machine shreds it while turning out an automatic drawing. I now own a bright red scrawl signed by the artist, and one source of unnecessary consumption and potential debt has been eliminated – that's what I call a result.

Portas falls out with her target customers. Great branding!

I imagine David Cameron won't be anxiously waiting for the arrival of Mary Portas's review into rejuvenating Britain's ailing High Streets. Following a gaffe by the Queen of Shops, the proposals can expect a frosty reception from four members of his cabinet. Mary might be an expert at branding and PR, but she committed a major blunder by telling Heat magazine she thought the female cabinet members were "an ugly bunch ... I would restyle them ... I could not look at them".

Mary says she's selling to "women of a certain age" via her new shop at House of Fraser, currently featuring in a Channel 4 series, but she showed she's no friend of high-profile females by slagging off Carol Vorderman and Cheryl Cole in the same interview.

Damage limitation swung into action, and The Daily Telegraph (Mary is a columnist) granted her a sycophantic "interview" to blather it was just her "naughty" sense of humour and that Theresa May had a "lovely face". One of the "ugly", Baroness Warsi told The Sun: "No one would have dreamt of giving fashion advice to any of the great men who led our country". Quite. Can Mary shut up and get on with flogging arm warmers?

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