The big questions: Is life still too short to stuff a mushroom? Are relationships the key to happiness?

Answered this week by Shirley Conran

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After the success of the Olympics, should Boris Johnson run the country?

Boris is certainly the gold medal winner in the Olympics but it doesn't qualify him to run the country or to run the Tories. He's a marvellous 18th-century maverick. Londoners love him when he quotes Greek poets but that doesn't translate into the qualities one needs to be prime minister. Just wanting the job doesn't qualify you; poor Gordon Brown showed us that.

Is your 1975 advice about life being "too short to stuff a mushroom" redundant? Louise Mensch's resignation would suggest not.

I can't tell you how sick to death of that phrase I am, but it is still relevant. As I sort my emails every day, I mutter to myself, "First things first and second things never." It is about analysing your priorities. Both sexes need that. As far as Superwoman is concerned, anyone who thought I was encouraging women to do more should read it again. Life has changed since 1975 but basic priorities haven't. If you don't want to look after children, don't have them – and that applies to men, too. The good thing is that in the intervening years, people have become less cavalier about women's time. You always need to know how to sort out your priorities fast. I hear people saying you can have it all – and the answer is, you can't.

Does Fifty Shades of Grey, with its focus on female submission, send a regressive message to younger women?

Yes. Its focus is worse than female submission: it's an update of Cinderella. But it's clear that there is an enormous need for erotic stimulus that doesn't necessarily involve gadgets. So publishers are lashing their authors to get down and dirty. But such cynical and calculated sex products will not achieve the required result. What women clearly, really want is writing that provokes a careless eroticism, a playful sensuality that propels them to the pillow or a reckless freedom that generates the urge to yank a man by his tie and pull him to bed. This takes good writers. I would prefer to see women reading something more elegantly subversive, such as Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own.

Should legal quotas be imposed to put more women on company boards?

Yes. The other way hasn't worked. What they have done is window dressing. And companies that don't already have women on the board just vote submissive women in a grey suit to these posts. I believe in getting a toe in the door and a bum on the seat. Equality boils down to money. Women should be a damn sight more interested in having more money.

A recent study says women who flirt are more successful in negotiation. Is it an advisable tactic?

It's asking for trouble, although as a man – if he is determined – can read an invitation into "Please pass the salt", it won't make much difference. I once got a mortgage from a bank manager because – he told me later – I didn't make a pass at him. But perhaps I did it badly. I can't remember.

Does it matter that nearly half of 14-year-old girls don't play sport because they think it's unfeminine?

Ask the average 14-year-old girl the difference between "feminine" and "feminist" and she won't be able to tell you accurately. I suspect it's just an excuse for not shifting arse off sofa.

Should Twitter users be prosecuted for offensive tweets?

Being politically correct is very tiresome, but the result is that people are more polite. I haven't had enough time on Twitter yet to know what I think of it, but this sort of thing has driven people to the point of suicide. I would severely discourage it with draconian punishment.

The Government's "happiness index" showed married people are more satisfied than singles. Are relationships the key to happiness?

Did the Government actually fund this investigation with taxpayers' money? It makes me furious. At 80 (this week), I'm in a dizzily perfect single relationship, having tried the other sorts. Relationships are not the key to happiness. The key to happiness is... ahem, independence.

Shirley Conran's 'Lace' is republished by Canongate this month 30 years after its initial publication

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