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The Many Benefits of Having No Friends

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The Many Benefits

of Having

No

Friends

by Miraya Hartley

Text Copyright © Miraya Hartley 2014

All Rights Reserved

This book is dedicated to all those of you who lead a solitary and blissful existence – well done you!

Table of Contents

Introduction

Friends and Technology

Friends and Weddings

Friends and Work

Friends and Shopping

Friends and School

Friends and Socialising

Friends and Holidays

Friends and Money

Friends and Family

Friends and Food

Friends and Neighbours

Friends, Christmas and New Year

In conclusion…

Introduction

Hello dear reader, and welcome to, what I hope shall be a very informative, nay, uplifting book, and dare I say entertain you in your hour of need. At least, I am assuming it is indeed your “hour of need,” or you may have just stumbled upon this little tome by mistake whilst searching for “The Benefits of New-Age Healing” or something in a similar vein in the “Self-Help” section. For yes, this is a self-help manual of sorts, although I do concede that its benefits have in no way been assessed and tested by any approved ‘body’ and you may just come away from it thinking “Well I have no idea what that was all about but I certainly don’t hate my life half as much as I did before I started reading it.” If this is, indeed the case by the time you get to the end of this book, then congratulations to you! It would appear that you have inadvertently taken away a glimmer of hope that your life is by no means as miserable as it first appeared and you are, after all, a good egg.

That’s not to say that your upstanding was ever in question. This book is intended to try and bring a little happiness into the lives of those who read it; and there are a number of different categories of person, one of which you, dear reader, may fall into. You might have chosen this book because you have no friends: now I grant you, that is a fairly obvious category to be in when you consider the title, but this book is not exclusively for those who consider themselves to be friendless. Far from it; it might well be that you are considering this book as part of a research project and you are, in fact, contemplating a serious re-evaluation of your life. Maybe you are investigating the possible plus points to being ‘sans amis’ as the French would say (and, let’s face it, the French know quite a bit about the strain of relationships with others in the name of “friendship,” don’t they?) The other category of potential reader is one where you may just be “curious” as to whether there is a hidden meaning to the title; perhaps you are looking for some dark, thought-provoking piece on the state of “friendship” in the modern digital age, with willing social media participants frantically scrambling to acquire as many “friends” as possible to provide yourself with some kind of validation as to your place on this planet? Well, sorry to disappoint but take the title at face value, dear reader – this is but a simple manual, if you will, extolling the virtues of skipping freely through life without the additional baggage of having to worry about other people. In many ways, I suppose, this book is saying that it’s alright and you don’t need other people to get through life. In fact, life can be quite jolly without them.

I do feel a little background might be in order before we start to prance merrily through the pages of this book hand in hand (to which I feel duty bound to point out as author and reader and most definitely NOT as friends – have you missed the whole point to the above two paragraphs already?! Do keep up!) Throughout my life I have not been, by any stretch of the imagination, what you would call a “Billy no-mates.” Nothing could be further from the truth, my literary chum; upon leaving secondary school my satchel was positively bursting at the seams with leavings gifts and presents from fellow classmates, all desperate to “keep in touch” and beseeching me to attend the après-exams party barbeque round Suzannah’s in August. You may find it hard to believe, but I was completely hooked into the idea that life went better with friends, that the idea of being companion-less for the summer holiday was simply unthinkable and I would be mortified to think of myself as a “loner.” And so it continued into my twenties – a small gaggle of pals to keep me company and life ticked along quite nicely. So you see, I am not writing this piece from the perspective of a miserable soul at all, so you can breathe a sigh of relief that I shall not be getting all emotional on you. Rest assured, my dear reader, my aim is to liberate you from the burden of other people.

So by now you must be asking yourself how it came to pass that I came to the realisation that life might, just MIGHT be better without any unwanted distractions from “friends?” You might well be thinking that there was some sort of epiphany; a moment when I decided that things were not quite as good as they might be? How perceptive and clever you are, dear reader, for coming to such a conclusion. I shan’t go into too much detail but it’s true that I did have a sudden realisation that things might be much nicer if I didn’t have a collection of souls sucking the life-blood out of me (I like to use the analogy “emotional vampire” but any creature that you can think of would suffice – a leech, for instance, maybe a mosquito, but without the buzzing sound.) Anything of general annoyance – just as long as it’s more of a pain having them around than not – oh, you get the general idea, I’m sure. Let’s crack on, shall we?

So, there are many advantages to having a lack of friends: now I appreciate there will be skeptics but you, dear reader, will just have to put your faith in me, if you will. In order to make this sweeping statement I shall, of course, need to furnish you with evidence and examples to prove my point; not least of which, I present Exhibit A, my own good self, thank you very much. For yes, I am living proof that one is, indeed “fun” as Delia Smith once noted when publishing a single person’s cook book back in the 1970s (oh dear, that does age me somewhat, doesn’t it? Let’s just say I can remember the era but have to rely heavily on family anecdotes to fully appreciate the idiosyncrasies of the decade.) I have reached the point in my life where I function quite happily without the burden of exhausting acquaintances. There is, however, one teeny fact that could potentially throw the whole premise of this book overboard without as much as a brightly coloured li-lo to grab on to for support. Please do not think badly of me, my friend, when I explain that I am not totally bereft of ALL human company in my life. I did hint at the fact that I was something of a social butterfly in my youth (but we learn from our mistakes and move on, don’t we?) No…The little secluded titbit here that I have kept secreted about my person is that I do, in fact, have a husband. Now, before you start shaking your head in disbelief at the sheer audacity of me writing about the positive advantages of going it alone, let me explain that, whilst it is true that I have a loyal and dependable companion in my life, I do feel some kind of explanation is in order.

For those of you who may already BE married, you may well be nodding your head in agreement at the following justification for this little deception, if you will. It is with no amount of malice or contempt that I say this but I really do not consider my other half to be a friend, but more of a cell-mate. Yes, I agree that this arrangement is mutual (whereas those sharing a tiny room in prison are not exactly given the freedom to choose who they “bunk up” with,) but I do feel the urge to point out that there are many similarities between marital bliss and a long stretch with an undesirable co-habitant in jail. There are the long hours of silence, for instance, punctuated by occasional barbed comments such as “Are you taking out the bins or not?” or “Where have you put my keys this time?” (Two comments that, admittedly, are highly unlikely to pass between a couple of lags, I grant you, but you get the gist.) The lack of common interests is another similarity – I have discovered that this seems to become more acute over time but I would imagine this is very apparent when a new in-mate arrives to shatter the peaceful life of a solitary prisoner. You start off being very keen to share life experiences and deepest thoughts, but it is a hop, skip and jump ahead to gritting your teeth at the mere sound of them breathing, or rolling your eyes when the man in your life insists on switching over to watch a four hour marathon of snooker, (for crying out loud!) You end up just tolerating each other, realising that it would actually be more of an inconvenience to separate and go through the ordeal of the division of possessions than just putting up with it. Having said that, of course, jail birds do not have such a choice and I would imagine that the possessions of each person are quite closely guarded by them. If this were not the case, we might be looking at a very different type of arrangement between them…and this is most definitely not the type of book where we shall be dwelling on THAT scenario, I can assure you(!) So you see, my dear reader, you need not fear that having a spouse will exclude you from entertaining the notion that having no friends could be worth a go…if anything, having a mutual low-level hatred of folk will give you just enough impetus to start tearing pages out of your address book with a look of maniacal glee on your face. Life, as the saying goes, is far too short and if you have to put up with that level of loathing in your marriage, why on earth would you subject yourself to it elsewhere? So you see, a little “social pruning” will go a very long way indeed and whether you are “with partner” or a singleton, a life without friends is a positive boon!

So, foreword over and let us sally forth on our voyage of discovery with me as your Captain, if you will. And what better place to start than by the biggest benefit of leading a somewhat solitary existence…‘Friends’ and Technology.

Friends and Technology

I know, dear reader; someone just needs to utter the word ‘technology’ and one is filled with a mixture of dread and confusion, with maybe just a hint of sheer frustration. Actually, if you are reading this on some kind of digital device, you should be congratulated – I have trouble setting the microwave, let alone ‘download’ something. And what the hell are ‘Bitcoins’?! I mean, really? Money that isn’t money? Isn’t that why they invented the chequebook? (You will notice, dearest reader, that I often refer to ‘them’ in my musings – I tend to use this to signify that disembodied group of people that seem to make the ridiculous decisions in our lives or create these things that we supposedly cannot live without. You know the type of folk I am referring to: the chaps that develop those ridiculous reality TV shows about fame-hungry girls chasing after one semi-attractive male or invent a toothbrush that tells you how you are brushing your teeth.) Anyway, I digress: technology is, in the right setting, a many splendid thing. However, one of the more unforgivable things that the world of computers and mobile phones has given us is ‘social media.’ I suppose I am referring to the type of ‘friend’ that is, at best a vague acquaintance or, even worse, someone that has absolutely no connection to you in real life whatsoever. I am here to tell you, my trusted literary companion, that this kind of ‘friend’ is most definitely one you can do without. No good can come of them: at best, they are an annoyance and, at worst, they will suck the life blood out of your soul.

So the term ‘friend’ in social media land really seems to have been claimed by the likes of Facebook et al, I feel (even the mention of that dreadful imposition onto the world sends a shiver down my spine right down to my Birkenstocks!) It’s very simple-you just don’t need it, oh disillusioned soul. I have known of people who seem to have devoted their entire free time (and much of their work time,) to ‘updating their status’ or ‘reading a wall,’ (I know, my understanding of the terminology is impressive, isn’t it?!) I have never had such a compulsion myself although I will admit to a little dabbling in the world of online friendships, merely in the name of research of course. My goodness, it was a frustrating experience: I chose to spend a little time looking up people from my past in the vain hope that if someone knew me in a former life there maybe something that we may still have to converse over. Well, as it happens, I was tracked down by someone that I had known fairly well in real life; I would go as far as to say that this person could have been called a ‘friend’ (in the loosest sense of the word, you understand?) and they even had my REAL address and telephone number. It was this point that really got my goat – this person actually knew me, knew my whereabouts and one of a myriad of ways to contact me, but thought that sending me a two word message on my “wall” would rekindle a relationship that had gone untended for a number of years. And what, good reader, where the two words that this person chose to use in order to kick-start a conversation? Could an emotional exchange begin with such a brief salutation? Unfortunately not: when I tell you that the phrase (and I use the term ‘phrase’ lightly as you will see,) that was chosen was “What’s up?” I am sure you can understand why my heart sank. It would not have been too much effort to ask “How are you?” ,for example, or even a simple “Hello,” but “What’s up?” implies the start of some form of ultra-cool exchange of pleasantries which, frankly, depressed me no end. I found myself trying very hard to be equally aloof with an equally brief “not much” but I was thoroughly hating myself as I typed the words. This feeling of self-loathing did not diminish, I regret to report, as we began on a somewhat vacuous exchange of short comments that, putting it bluntly, I am too embarrassed to recount here for you, dearest reader. Needless to say I began to grow ever more uncomfortable with each mono-syllabic utterances which made me feel that something was not quite right with this form of communication.

Now I am no literary genius, I confess, but one simply cannot get the hidden nuance behind the comments that had been typed on a device when compared to someone actually talking to you. I found it very difficult to decipher whether “Long time no see?” was meant to be an earnest, warm greeting or a sarcastic retort aimed at telling me that I was a bad person for not being in contact for a while (and, in my defence, there were VERY good reasons for that which I shall revisit later with you!) The thing that confused me more than ever was this insistence of people referring to themselves in the third person. Why do they do this? In all seriousness, do they really believe that writing “John feels blue about missing his mother’s birthday,” gives the sentence a hidden sadness or poignancy? Or does it simply read as “John is a bit of a pretentious arse that is so self-absorbed he can’t even remember the birthday of the person who gave him life?” I have to confess that this kind of pronouncement made me see red and I felt some kind of grand gesture was necessary on my part. So, just before I shut down my account and deleted my cyber-existence forevermore, I simply wrote “Miraya thinks John should wander back into the real world once in a while and pick up the bloody telephone, for goodness sake,” and hit the “Delete my account” button. Well I say that but, in truth, the process wasn’t quite a straightforward as that; you see the good people at Facebook (and other energy-sapping social media websites are available) don’t actually WANT you to leave and seemingly make the process as onerous as possible in order to discourage your departure. In fact, they positively encourage one to make as many “friends” as possible in order to keep you in the system and exposed to the advertising they get paid millions of pounds to host (sorry to get all ‘political’ there for a moment, dear reader!)

What is even more disturbing, and yet another very good case for never having a parallel life in cyber-space, is that there is a considerable group of people out there who think you are peculiar if you DON’T have such a social media account. Some folk gawp in disbelief when you mention you don’t have an ‘Insta-granny’ account (or ‘Slap-chat’ or whatever the blessed things are called.) They think it most strange that one would not want to share their innermost thoughts and feelings online, along with photographs of their cat or, in some cases, what you are having for your lunch! On the odd occasion when I have had the misfortune to meet such a person in the real world, they look at you with such incredulity when you respond to their request for to “add” you to their list of friends with “I’m not on Facebook, actually.” They stare in disbelief, open-mouthed and slack-jawed as they try and digest the revelation that you would rather keep your opinions to yourself than shout them from your ‘digital rooftop.’ For this reason alone, not having people in your life whereby you need to apologise for your lack of interest in their ‘wall’, ‘status’ or bra size can only be a good thing! You may be considered a technological pariah, but at least, my dearest reader, you will have your sanity.

Speaking of vacuous comments – if ever there was something even less necessary in your life than the above-mentioned abominations, it would have to be Twitter. Twitter takes all the truly horrible and awkward parts of social media and condenses it into handy bite-sized chunks of bile to savour. The only saving grace is that, with this particular form of social media, they (you see, I used ‘they’ again there?!) have dispensed with the pretence of calling participants ‘friends’ and refer to them simply as ‘followers.’ This gives me the impression that this is an outlet for people to put themselves on a pedestal, safe in the knowledge that someone out the in cyber space is interested in their life. I suppose a proportion of the conversation is anonymous (with the exception of the ‘Celebrity Twitterati’ or those who wish to have some sort of self-important status.) However, there is a real danger here, dear reader, that I need to make you aware of, and I am ashamed to say I have fallen into this trap, only to come out the other side slightly disillusioned. It would appear that Twitter is a place where celebrities (and I use that word with caution!) occasionally congregate and “connect” with the real people. Except they don’t. Well, in my own experience they don’t, at least. Try as I might I have attempted to start up a conversation with Barack Obama or Stephen Fry or any number of people whom I have admired from afar, only to have my words fall on deaf ears, so to speak. Oh the let-down! I’m not even sure what the collective name for all these people so desperate to drop their innermost thoughts into 140 characters or less could call themselves: maybe ‘Twitterists’ or just plain, old ‘Twits’ !This firmly reiterates the purpose of this little book, my good reader: why on earth WOULD one want to consider a celebrity a ‘friend?’ There must be people out there who consider that Katy Perry girl a good chum, or, indeed, think of themselves as part of Justin Bieber’s ‘posse’ (just look at how casually I have dropped these people into my address, dear reader – as if I actually know who any of these people really are?!) But I put it to you that not one of those pals of the rich and famous actually met them through Twitter and you have the very slimmest chance of forming a deep and meaningful friendship with them as a result of “I really liked your last single/book/piece of legislation” (delete as appropriate for the above examples!) So, why bother? NOT having relationships in your life that have evolved as a result of any kind of social media is actually a positive boon and the amount of time it gives you for more enjoyable pastimes can only be another bonus. And yes, I know you will quite possibly be considered a social misfit but when did that suddenly become a bad thing? Not worrying yourself about what others think is just another benefit of being a ‘Billy no-mates.’ If there is no other reason in life for being a loner, the emotional freedom you get from not having to justify yourself to others is possibly the biggest present you can give yourself.

So the internet is not the be all and end all: it’s a place where people who think they have friends fool themselves and others and suddenly find unwanted attention before ultimately complaining about it! There are also those who would desperately like to be their friend (and for ‘friend’ in the above sentence, you could equally substitute the word “stalker” which could possibly work in both instances! Really, the whole of cyber space is literally riddled with fruit-loops!) I can honestly assure you, dearest reader, that your life will not suffer if you eschew the likes of My Space, Bebo ( a bit ‘old school,’ I grant you!) or any of the modern day social networks. I put it to you that your life can only be happier, less cluttered and most certainly cyber friend-free. What’s not to like about that, hmm?

Friends and Weddings

If you’re like me, my dear reader, the very mention of the word ‘wedding’ can evoke a number of involuntary actions. Now I am sure that when you get that little gilt-edged card plop gently on your doormat inviting you to share in an acquaintance’s ‘special day’ (which they will insist on using as a reference point to reinforce the idea that they WILL be the most important people there on the day,) you will be pleased for them. Yes, even you, a seemingly lonely individual, may be tempted in to join in the merriment all in the name of two people who have, quite simply, waved the white flag. They have settled for someone who will, at best, make their life feel a little less solitary or, at worst, make them hanker after their singleton days – in other words they have found someone who can just about tolerate them. You may even be asking “How did I end up getting an invite?” Do not, for one moment, think that, even if you consider yourself ‘a loner’ that you will escape the unspeakable horror of the wedding invitation, oh disillusioned person that you are. You can be stalked by any number of loved-up couples who don’t even claim to know you very well, even if you do, in fact roam this world safely in the knowledge that you don’t have any friends. The most common culprits are usually family members (no matter how distant and unfamiliar – in fact, the more obscure and unremarkable your relationship with your distant relative is, the worse the inevitable ‘do’ will be for you.) It’s either that or an invitation from a work colleague: on the face of it, this would appear to be a more preferable option (at least Great Aunt Betty won’t be there, asking you why you haven’t settled down yet, or dodgy Uncle Roger with the wandering hands.) But I put it to you that being at a wedding with co-workers is even worse. As a starting point, these are people that you are doomed to be with for five days a week already and are barely tolerable when they are forced to be nice to you thought the confines of work. Just imagine the horrors that would ensue if you tank them up with alcohol and let them loose on the dance floor. (Do you recall the debacle that was the office Christmas party last year? The defence rests, m’lud.)

So, it’s all looking pretty grim from the offset, isn’t it? Let us then, for a moment, pause to look at the benefits that having no friends will make of a situation such as this, even if it is compulsory that you attend. Some say that it is better to go down fighting and take them all down with you but I disagree. You are far more likely to get through a wedding scenario flying solo than with some ‘chum’ that you have mistakenly taken along as ‘company.’ Just as an opening gambit I shall present you with a thorny question that may not, on the surface, even seem like a question. Here it comes….sex? Not the act (completely different book, my dear!) No, no…what sex should you think of selecting if you do decide to take a ‘pal’ along to the nuptials? If you are a lady, dare you take a young man (or old man, come to that) to a day that is supposed to be two people’s celebration of love and commitment to each other? There is a considerable risk that the fellow guests may begin to speculate that the happy couple may not be the only one romantically entwined, and knowing looks along the lines of “You’ll be next then, will you?” are exchanged between you and some matronly-looking women at the evening reception. And, of course, if it is a family shin-dig, the awkward questions will ramp up considerably. Why is it that female relatives of a certain age become utterly obsessed with your singleton life and will clutch at any straw as far as your love life is concerned (nosey old bags that they are?!) Now I have to say, dear reader, if you are, in fact, a chap and you are taking a girl then it is almost certain that others will, at best, think that there is some romantic entanglement between you and the said ‘lady’ (and, at worst, something a little more distasteful which we shan’t dwell on.) There is nothing for it but to face facts: there is absolutely NO WAY that taking someone of the opposite sex can be passed off as a platonic relationship. Guests at the wedding will make up their own mind about the “friendship” you have with your ‘plus one’ no matter how vocal you might be to the contrary! And don’t think for a second that things will get better if you bring along someone of the same sex….this is a veritable minefield all of its own.

I would offer up the notion that you would be better flying solo than taking along someone of the same sex – no matter if you are male OR female. In these more enlightened times, the very first conclusion a fellow guest at a wedding will come to is that you are ‘together’ in that special way that they don’t quite understand….but recognise that this is perfectly permissible in this day and age and that lovely Sue Perkins off that baking show seems a very pleasant girl. Aged aunts, grandparents, even aloof male co-workers will all suddenly take an interest in you and your relationship status, even if they have never engaged in conversation with you before. Their delicate questioning will be accompanied with a broad knowing smile, possibly an understanding head-tilt and lots of dismissive hand-waving if you try and explain that the person standing next to you does not, in fact, share your bed. “Oh no,” they will coo, “no need to explain yourself – Uncle Roger’s boy, Julian, is a gay and he’s an accountant!” And let us not forget, my literary companion, that heterosexual men will be MOST intrigued as to how and where “you two lovely young fillies” met, where you socialise, most importantly, do you have any similar-minded friends that you could introduce them to? Your protests will fall on deaf ears, no matter how curt your responses are with these people (the charming Claire Balding and simple divine John Barrowman have a LOT to answer for) and fellow guests will be trying to ‘out’ you all the day long. Do yourself a favour and go it alone to any wedding that you may be unfortunately obliged to attend and, if you can, get out of going to the wretched things altogether!

Oh now, there’s a thought, eh, reader? Just don’t go! Think about it: can you really be bothered with all the palaver that goes with such an event? To be truthful, if you go through life avoiding tiresome relationships with others, you are far less likely to get invited in the first place – result! You see? If ever there was a justification for existing without making meaningful friendships with others, the avoidance of invitations to nuptial celebrations could be a jewel in the crown of reasons to avoid such tiresome social connections with others. There are other knock-on benefits to not having the social circle that requires you to attend a wedding: no invite means no present to buy, for instance. You ALWAYS get the cheeky requests for the jet-ski or ‘£30-a-piece china set’ which comprises of 24 dinner place settings and a soup tureen (for heaven’s sake! Mind you, it’s a job to know, out of the two of those suggestions which would end up being the more expensive!) And what about the invite that requires you to ‘stay over?’ – no, not in a girly ‘sleepover’ way, but in a £250 a night hotel room in the Brecon Beacons to celebrate the special union at some tumbledown church in the middle of nowhere where the happy couple went hiking on their first holiday ? Or worse still….abroad! (I shall elaborate on the horrors of foreign travel later on, rest assured, dear reader, as going overseas and friendships have their own unique set of dilemmas.)

Forking out the equivalent of what it would cost a family of four to jet off to Florida for a fortnight, only to spend five days in Mauritius for a beach wedding with sand and flies and ….no, sorry, I can’t go on. Just the thought of it is bringing me out in hives! So, no friends means no wedding invite, which means no gift, no transport or accommodation issues and, possibly the biggest benefit of all, no “Hen-do,” ( or “Stag-do,” if you are truly unfortunate enough to be subjected to THAT misfortune!) Twenty cackling women dressed in feather boas and matching angel wings (for some reason,) marauding through a town centre on a Saturday night before the wedding in various states of inebriation, with a bride trussed up like a Christmas Turkey with ‘L’ plates and a flashing plastic tiara – it’s a terrifying picture isn’t it? And what if you were right in amongst the malaise? Thank your lucky stars, then, dear reader, that you have made a conscious decision to sail your ship alone without the excess baggage that others may bring you through friendship. Be friend-free and you significantly reduce your chances of being invited to a wedding in the first place

Friends and Work

Ohhhhh my dear reader, this category is an absolute minefield, believe me and this is likely to be a rant of considerable proportions. In my rich and varied career I have met many, many people - some of which have been under misapprehension that I 'like' them. The FOOLS!!!! I learnt very early on that one should always avoid the chummy advances of co-workers: for starters you have no idea of their intentions, do you? I have had beaming girls sidle up to me, asking how I am settling in, whether I am going to the local pub for lunch and giving one 'sisterly advice' on which chaps to give a wide berth to when visiting the coffee machine. This overwhelming bonhomie is actually a smoke screen, dear reader and I cannot say this loudly enough - DO NOT FALL UNDER THEIR SPELL! What they are really doing is sizing you up - trying to work out your motives, your work ethic and, possibly most importantly of all, whether you are a threat. "Threat to what?" you may innocently ask, blinking in disbelief, convinced of the fact that you couldn't be any more of a threat to someone as you could be Britain’s Next Top model! In short, they are trying to gauge whether or not your new appointment at your place of work could be considered as harmful to their career. And don't for a moment think that, if you get through the first couple of weeks without having to pull a knife out of your back, you are in the clear. Oh poor, misguided literary companion, how I envy you your innocence! It is much more likely that your colleague is simply laying in wait, looking for little clues that you might drop which might hint at your ambitions and dreams for your future career. It is when they have gathered enough information that they finally form their judgement- and that could take months or even YEARS.

Even if you do pass muster, you may need only mention that you had a discussion with your line manager about future training plans and that can trigger off a kind of paranoia akin to being a contestant on some kind of perverse reality game show. You can never be sure you are in the clear - please heed my warning, dear reader - NEVER. A co-worker with a grudge is a hideous and unpredictable force of nature and their method of attack can be many 'pronged' (or 'multi-pronged' if you will, although admittedly that makes the whole thing sound like some kind of obscure kitchen implement!) I have always tried to do my best in whatever job I have had but time and again the lurking insecurities towards me from one or more fellow employees have risen their ugly heads and oh, how I have suffered. One girl took and instant dislike to me because of my footwear ( I kid you not!) and started to tell folk I could afford Isabel Marant boots was because I was 'on the game.' Another woman who was so convinced that I was after her job that she attempted to convince the boss's wife at the Christmas party that I was having an affair with him! (The thought if this made me wince as he was easily 10 stone overweight and instructed everyone to call him 'Douggie' - *shudder!!*) My sympathies go to his poor wife - I am sure he was once a very handsome and charming man....for he sure as hell isn't now!!

I think that steering clear of such characters at work is really quite a good idea, I am sure you’ll agree, and they are usually fairly easy to spot. They are usually the same sex as you, with slightly pinched expressions that rarely crack a genuine smile – more like a thin-lipped grimace. Then we turn to the ever more complex issue of the co-workers of the opposite sex (inevitable I suppose!) I think sexual politics (to lower the tone for a moment,) is VERY much evident in the workplace and in some ways I feel sorry for those poor, nervous young men who are befriended by middle-aged, hormonally charged women, many of whom seem to have some kind of warped ‘mothering complex.’ Now I am no psychologist as you may have deduced, but I have a sneaking suspicion that these young bucks secretly like the attention. Lately, a passing male acquaintance informed me that a little light flirting with the 40-something colleague can sometimes be quite advantageous. I was a little sceptical but apparently a spot of “Good morning, gorgeous” cooed at a lady of a certain age at the photocopier, coupled with a little eyebrow raising as your paths cross in the corridor can get you anything from an extra block of Post-It’s from the Stationary Cupboard to a complimentary hot chocolate from the machine waiting on your desk after a bathroom-break. These ladies are also far more likely to ‘cover’ for you if you need to nip out for an emergency Kit-Kat, informing the boss that you ‘have been summoned away to the third floor to deal with an I.T. related issue.’ Keep ‘em sweet by bunging the gullible women the odd compliment or chocolate bar and you have a friend for life. But that’s the problem, isn’t it? The ‘F word’ rears its ugly head (‘friend,’ dearest reader – and thoughts of any other meaning are well beneath you) and it’s a fine line between having a twinkle-eyed Doreen to welcome you in the morning with a beaming smile to having the same said lady grinning at you salaciously whilst sucking on a Cadbury’s finger. It might appear that a little harmless banter can reap rewards, but ultimately, these gentlemen are mere ‘Cougar fodder’ ( Which I believe is the technical term.) If this situation wasn’t awkward enough….what about if the roles are reversed?

If a female worker is befriended by a male one, then there is little chance of sexual chemistry not coming in to play. Now this sounds very sexist, but I was once told quite categorically by a senior member of staff at a firm I joined that “Men are only after one thing, so keep your hand on your ha-penny.” What with me being a sweet and innocent doe-eyed twenty-something, I was blissfully unaware of what she was referring to, though I suspects young ladies of today are far more street-wise than I was at their age! Quite simply put, if yo, as a female, are going out of your way to be charming and chatty towards a chap (unless it is a purely work-related and professional conversation,) then you are effectively giving them the green light to ‘try it on’ (or, to use yet another illuminating phrase “switching on the red light for business.”) The insinuation here is that you are practically willing to prostitute yourself: it’s downright hypocritical, if you ask me, that a woman should be the one labelled the tramp, but it is an unfortunate fact of life that men have a tendency to think with their ….erm…‘Lower brain stem’ (I am trying to be delicate, dear reader!) You may be just extending the hand of friendship to a colleague, but they will invariably mistake this as an open invitation to throw their hat into the ring and just come across as an annoyance. The best case scenario is that they look like an idiot, possibly leaving you more than embarrassed and maybe a little sorry for them. The worst case scenario is that they make a nuisance of themselves, thus making you feel very uncomfortable whenever they are in the same room as you. Hence you can see then the importance of keeping such dealings with the opposite sex at work as professional and detached as possible? If you don’t put yourself in the situation in the first place where you are forced to make small-talk with a member of the opposite sex at work, you can only benefit from the situation.

Okay, so I have spoken about the pitfalls of making connections across the sexual divide, and that making any kind of acquaintance with a co-worker is a bad idea, but supposing that you completely ignore the last three paragraphs? What if you say to yourself, “Well that’s not going to happen to me, now is it? I mean, I’m not stupid enough to fall into any of those traps, am I?” Woe betide you, my very dear reader, for failing to heed my words: even if you do manage to strike a fine balance and successfully form fully-functioning friendships with a couple of people at your place of work, there is a darker and even less palatable fate awaking you come the time that you decide to leave your place of employment for pastures new. It happens to us all at some point (unless you have managed to get yourself a job for life, which, in these economic times, is considered by some to be professional suicide!) What if you manage to secure a promotion with one of your employer’s competitors? If you are pally with your boss, the first thing you have to deal with is telling them, and I have been there, believe me. I considered my relationship with my employer to be quite healthy and mature but, come the time when I mentioned that I was planning on leaving, you would have got the impression that I was spurning a lover rather than the person who pays my wages. There was crying, begging, closely followed by denial and then finally anger that I could even consider doing this. It would have been so much simpler if I had been aloof with my employer during the four years we had known each other, making the task of breaking the news that I was departing that much easier. Instead, I ended up feeling a complete bitch who had turned their back on the one person who had truly believed in me. I vowed then, dear reader, never to put myself in the position again and, if I was ever to become an employer myself in the future, to make it very clear to all those who work for me that I am not their ‘friend’ and they should not consider me as such.

Of course, if you have been daft enough to befriend the boss, you have probably also built some emotional bridges with some fellow employees as well, which then brings you to your next issue: how to break free. You may be wondering why you would need to as, in this digital age, you don’t have to sever all ties with people once you have moved on to pastures new: you can keep in touch by email, maybe meet up for a few drinks after work in a wine bar in town or even catch up over dinner with “the gang” once a month (oh, just the thought makes me feel queasy!) So this all sounds pretty acceptable to you, does it? Well, prepare yourself, my dear reader, for you are in for a fairly torturous time should you decide this is the correct path because you might have left your place of work, but your co-workers haven’t. Often we chose to change our place of work for monetary reasons, or maybe even the chance for more responsibility and authority, but no matter if you have taken the plunge for these reasons, or simply because you fancy a change of scene, having former colleagues as friends means you NEVER LEAVE (metaphorically speaking, of course – I don’t mean you are literally chained up.) Meeting up with the people you have left behind soon turns into one of two things: it could trip down ‘memory lane,’ involving the re-telling of old tales and adventures along the lines of “Do you remember that day when the photocopier broke down and we had to walk all the way up to the fifth floor to use theirs because the lift wasn’t working…AGAIN???” The second option is that your chums from your previous job subconsciously think that you haven’t actually left work and you want to talk about what is going on in the office right now, even if it does involve new members of the team who you don’t even know…along the lines of “Well, Sandra has thrown her hat into the ring once more for the office manager’s job and you know how pushy she can be….oh….no, she joined when you left, didn’t she? Silly me….” In their minds you are still sat at that desk near the window every day, still a fellow foot-solider alongside your former office comrades, sharing current war-stories with them and laughing about the daily grind, when you actually gave that ‘grind’ up six months ago and have a new battalion of co-workers to find comfort and solace with. And, if you have been dumb enough to strike up friendships with the new gang as well as hanging onto the old gang, your social life will mostly involve sitting around ‘talking shop’ (be it ‘past shop’ or ‘present shop.’) Either way, why on earth would someone want to discuss work constantly in the evening when you spend eight hours doing it during the day? Just think, at least in the daytime you are getting paid for it! I think I have argued my point very clearly, my dear reader – don’t make friends at work or you will run the risk of having those people around for life!!!!

Friends and Shopping

Now I am partial to a bit of retail therapy: be it a quick flick through a glossy magazine to a full on traipse up and down Oxford Street for an afternoon, I can shop with the best of them. I say “I” though, dear reader, because I always do it alone. Never would I enforce my partner or anyone else to accompany me on such as expedition as I am only too aware that it would result in the inevitable breakdown of already fragile relationships and, since I choose not to build any friendships with people in the first place, I can spare myself the pain and agony. All this pontificating may lead you to wonder where the harm could there be in you and your “posse” (look at me, being all ‘street’!) having a saunter around your local shopping complex? There is, I assure you, one word that can sum up the potential sticking point in any such excursion and this word symbolizes everything that is wrong with modern retail today – that word, my good reader, is ‘taste.’

‘Taste’ is the most subjective thing in the world and it doesn’t matter if you are going for a nice wrap-around cardigan or a chest of drawers; your taste is special to you, and rightly so. Let’s face facts for a moment; without taste there would be no variety in the world, now would there? What would be the point in going out for a browse in your local branch of John Lewis if all the items were identical? I have visions of us all wandering about, Orwellian-like in matching grey jumpsuits and regulation hair-dos, with our high streets bereft of the myriad of colourful fashions that we take for granted these days (though I grant you, most ‘high streets’ are, indeed, dark and gloomy places, full of empty retail outlets as a result of the onslaught of internet shopping …but that’s progress for you!) So, I hear you muse, ‘Taste is a good thing then?’ Well…..yes and no, dearest reader. Your taste is very personal to you and whilst you and your friends might agree that the new Vivienne Westwood Pilgrim Pants are a bit ‘out there,’ there is a very real risk that the opinions of you and your companions might differ widely on some other, more conservative clothing items – especially if the people you are shopping with are considerably older or younger than you. You may consider that pair of cargo pants very urban and cool, whereas your older companion might be turning their nose up, accompanying their disdain with a comment along the lines of “they are a little young for you, don’t you think?” (Meaning, of course, that you are too old for them and are a bit past it!) Unhelpful comments such as these will only help to alienate you from your shopping companion and even a quick break in your local Coffee House will do little to lift the mood after such a hurtful exchange.

I am sure that people don’t mean to do this, dear reader but if you take someone along with you on such a jaunt, do not be surprised if they feel they must share their opinions with you, especially if you are about to make a fashion faux-pas (in their eyes.) They may say “Oh, I wouldn’t get the striped one if I were you – it makes you look fat,” or “Even a drag queen can’t get away with THAT many sequins,” and genuinely think they are being helpful. But suppose you like stripes? Suppose you fancy a bit more glitz and glamour in your life? What’s to stop you? Well, to put it simply, your friends are. They will see it their moral duty to put you off buying anything that will, in their opinion, make you look too young, too old, too fat, too thin, too tall, too short whereas their ACTUAL hidden agenda may well be that they do not want you to look better than they do. Have you thought of that one, dear reader? We have already discussed how friends will be the first ones to stab you in the back when the time comes, and what better way to do that than to crush your creative tendencies before you have even had a chance to let them flourish? And what do they know, anyway? Are they not the same people who put the bins out in a pink, bunny-eared onesie for all the world to see? Or who have a pair of shoes so dreadfully battered and greyed with age that you can’t tell what colour they were originally supposed to be? I fail to see how having someone along for the ride on a shopping expedition can be of help in any way – other than, possibly, to hold your bags whilst you go and try to squeeze into that pair of hipster jeans in the changing room (and even then, there is usually a shop assistant to look after them for you.)

And it’s not just clothes, is it? It’s pretty much everything – practically all your possessions have been chosen on the grounds that you liked what they did or how they looked or even what they say about you as a person. If you are nodding your head in agreement with the last item on that list, then you are betraying the fact that you actually CARE what the things you buy can say about you as a person, in which case you probably have far more money than sense! It also means that you are keen to have other people cast opinions on your taste, in which case, quite frankly, you deserve all the comments of scorn that you get!!! I myself have fairly simple taste, but here are a few things in my home which I feel might arch the odd eyebrow, should anyone see them. I have a very lumpy brown sofa, for instance which is incredibly comfortable and deeply unattractive, but I am blissfully happy with it. To the untrained eye, however, it screams ‘landfill,’ but this is not the main reason why I don’t have friends round to pour scorn over it or any other potentially unattractive objects in my house. No, the reason is this; I don’t care what other people think. It is really rather liberating, actually, and the fact that I don’t really seek out an opinion to validate my shopping choices, it means that I can be happy with what I choose or, occasionally, unhappy with what I choose and not have to explain it away to anybody. I get the odd puzzled expression from ‘him indoors’ when I plump for something a little unusual (the gnome I bought for the back garden was definitely an impulse purchase,) but I am very content with him (the gnome – not ‘him indoors!’) and I don’t have to explain him away to anyone else (again, the gnome, not ….on second thoughts, that might apply to both!)

To saddle oneself with friends is to continually have other people’s judgments thrown at you and the last thing that anyone needs in the world is more opinion and conjecture. Sometimes a chair is just a chair (as Dionne Warwick once sang) and it’s nobody’s business but mine (and the cat’s, who seem to have the monopoly on the armchair nearest the window.) The important thing to remember that it doesn’t matter what your taste, it’s special to you and having to be lectured by friends on what to buy and where to buy it should not be tolerated. It strikes me as a bit silly that acquaintances seem to have carte-Blanche to impart their wisdom on where to get the best buys and snobbery is rife, it seems. And they always seem to know better than you, don’t they? It was bad enough, as a spindly teenager with an awkward body shape, having a mother who seemed to think it was her mission in life to look at a new item of clothing I had purchased (with my hard-earned pocket money) with a pained expression, trying desperately to hide her disappointment that her off-spring had not picked up her eye for style. Not that I need her approval today, but at least now I suppose there has been some alignment us both concerning with what suits me and what doesn’t. I have a feeling that has more to do with my advancing age and my own taste developing, however. At least I don’t have a gaggle of interfering busy-bodies passing judgment on my wardrobe, just the occasional ‘look’ from my mother. I can deal with that, though…after all you can’t pick your family, but you can pick not to subject yourself to opinions from “friends!”

Friends and School

They are the ‘best years of your life’ we are told. Older relatives go all misty-eyed at the thought of their childhood chums all larking about together, sharing confidences and lipsticks, playing pranks and the endless merry go round of dating. I swear that this must have been some kind of idyll from another period of history, however because I am here to say that, no matter how much you try and dress it up, school is hell for children and teenagers alike and ‘friends from school’ make it even worse. Do you recall your first day at ‘Big School’ (as my mother used to refer to it?) You may have had to face the hell of going through the gates on your own, with one or both parents standing just outside the entrance watching you precariously make your way through the teaming hoards of older kids. You may well have also felt a total sense of abandonment that your folks had made you go to this god-forsaken school in the first place, and you would have been quite happy to stay at your Primary school for a few more years and learn about the Romans a bit more (I quite liked the Romans….nice togas.) Either you had to face the above scenario or, alternatively, you walked into school on your first day with ‘a friend;’ be it one that you have managed to hang on to from the Junior school that you can just about stomach to be around, or a surly cousin that your parents have arranged for you to go in with. I was, however, stuck with option three, whereby my mother marched down to the school office, dragging me behind her with a stern look on her face and barked at the receptionist “Who do I need to speak to about my Miraya’s allergies?” If I ever wanted to interact with other children before this, I am pretty certain they would have run a mile after hearing that.

I feel compelled to point out that I wasn't one of those odd characters in Primary school who tended to stand in the corner of the playground and stare, hollow-eyed and menacingly at the other children who scampered about (and yes, Melanie Hogbin, I am talking about YOU!) Equally I wasn't in a gang of children that would get all imaginative and play at 'shops,' or 'families,' or 'doctors and nurses' (though I have played all of these since.) I was sociable, but only to the extent which meant that I was never bored, although I hasten to add that never made any connections with others. My one attempt to do so back-fired spectacularly with Rebecca Harnett, with whom I was starting to get quite chummy, until Jilly Russell decided that she wasn't about to have some waif-like, tousle-haired tramp muscle in and steal her best friend away from her. She promptly reported me to the dinner lady for deliberately kicking Angela McCubbin in the ankle and, since Angela was also one of Jilly's associates, she backed up this story 100% when questioned by Mrs Ryles. I was out in the cold once more (or rather sat outside the headmistress' office for a week.) All these shenanigans made me vow that I would never again attempt to bestow my friendship upon someone just because I felt I should try to fit in, and I very quickly realised that Rebecca Harnett was a spoilt little brat whose friendship with Jilly imploded when she started dating Rebecca's former love interest who was still in Class 2. NOW who's the tramp, Jilly?!

The perils of friendship in your early formative years pale into insignificance compared to the difficulties you face when you become a teenager. Gathering a group of mates around you for comfort, support and amusement may seem like a good idea initially, but there are soon very dark forces lurking amongst the acne-cream and smelly sports kits which will come out and bite you on the backside. Everything might tick along swimmingly for a while until someone (and it really could be anyone from your little gang) has a fallout with someone else. You can be an innocent by-stander, minding your own business, when all of a sudden there has been an almighty abuse of trust on the part of one or more members of the group with someone and World War Three breaks out. The group is torn apart from the inside; people have to ‘pick sides’ as to who they are going to support and one has to make these decisions with very scant or highly inaccurate information to form an opinion with. Now, before I continue, I would like to stress that I recognize that this all sounds a little bit girly, but it’s exactly the same with boys. They only have to pledge allegiance to the wrong football team, for instance, and I have seen chaps being un-ceremonially flung out of the gang for supporting Arsenal when everyone one else is a Manchester United fan. For all my attempts to balance the books, however, I must concede that girls, for the most part, are far, far worse when we are talking about friendship fallout. Things can blow apart out of the most innocuous remark or action and, before you know it, you are having to choose between two different huddles of girls scowling at each other across a drizzly playground, with occasional undignified hand-gestures being flashed between them or cries of “What are you looking at, you cow?!” I saw one gaggle of girls divided by something as simple as a pleated, tartan skirt. It appeared two of the girls in one of the ‘it-girl’ groups at school had bought the same skirt from Dorothy Perkins and there was some kind of standoff as to which one of them was going to have to take theirs back. Can I just make a slight detour here, dear reader, and touch upon the mystifying world of fashion? Why is it that there are some occasions when it is perfectly alright (nay, expected) for people to wear the same clothes socially and yet there are other occasions where this is a cardinal sin, resulting in one of the perpetrators being required to exchange said item of clothing or never wear it out in public again? Whilst making my way through the streets of an evening, I have seen many a group of lads trundling aimlessly from one Wetherspoons to another, with at least three of them wearing almost identical Ben Sheman shirts. Equally I have witnessed many a denim-clad ‘hen-do’ where the whole party seem to be decked out in matching pink-fur cowboy hats and equally lurid tee-shirts emblazoned with “Jacki’s Last Night of Freedom.” But it seems that two teenage girls turning up at the shopping precinct on a Saturday afternoon wearing the exact same item of clothing is enough to shatter a gaggle of friends forever. Anyway, back to the plot: there was a complete stand-off between these two poor souls as to who was going to back down over the tartan-skirt debacle and, within the space of a weekend, entire relationships that had taken years to build had been ground into the dirt, all over a couple of feet of checked fabric. I was an on-looker to this scene, you understand, having never been considered worthy of being inducted into the inner sanctum of “Jen’s gang” and I was more than a little pleased that I had been left out of it. Boys may fight but girls can be bitches, and that can often be far, far worse.

As I mentioned, I didn’t exactly hook-up with any pals at school, but this turn of events did not hold me back. Indeed, since I was ‘neutral’ to both camps, if ever there was some kind of flare-up; it occasionally meant that the resulting factions often used to approach me in a semi-friendly, casual way. This was because I didn’t have an allegiance to “the enemy” and therefore could be trusted. It never amounted to anything, though and within a fortnight there would be a common consensus that the reason that they had been arguing amongst themselves had been resolved (e.g. Tartan skirts were no longer the must-have item of clothing.). As if by magic, the group would reunite and it would be back to little cliques of girls meeting by the tuck shop and bitching about someone else. I just considered myself very fortunate not to be a part of it, especially when the catalyst for a row had been a love interest. These particular rows were simply toxic – boys would normally react to love-betrayal by beating the living day lights out of their competitor (especially if they were formerly a mate of theirs,) but they would generally set about this retribution without the help of anyone else in the gang. You will not be surprised to hear, dearest reader, that it’s different for girls: they tend to band together for a common cause and, if that cause is a broken heart, they will stop at nothing to get revenge, pulling more and more of their friends into their network of evil. When Jenny Bickerly started dating Julia Harrington’s ex boyfriend, Harry (just 24 hours after they split up,) Julia rounded the troops and coordinated a blisteringly vicious attack on Jenny. She called round Jen’s house, warning her Mum that Jenny was on the pill as well as infiltrating the ranks of Harry’s rugger friends, telling them that Jenny had a particularly nasty sexually transmitted disease. In this case, the course of true love really didn’t run smoothly and Julia’s army succeeded in seeing Jenny off and re-instating Harry back in his rightful position as ‘Best Boyfriend Ever’ at Julia’s side. The whole thing was like watching a wildlife documentary close-up, or maybe a programme about strategic war battles. Anyway, it was fascinating and hugely entertaining, especially since it really had nothing to do with me. I never really felt that I was missing out by not having a gang around me at school and I seem to have come through the whole dreadful experience relatively unscathed, which is more than can be said for some of the characters from my youth, as you can see from these sorry examples here. After all, you don’t have to be friends with the actors, to enjoy the show, now do you, dear reader?

Friends and Socialising

Now, my literary companion, you may not see it as a hop skip and a jump from battling through puberty to a night out on the town but, trust me, they are both equally as ghastly in their own right (which makes them the same beast in my eyes.) In my experience both can often involve alcohol and/or food, (certainly there was a lot of alcohol sloshing about in my youth,) and both lead to their own difficulties when chums are involved…but we shall dip our toe in that murky pool in a moment. Truthfully the horror can start just at the organisation stage when planning a ‘big night out.’ Now I don’t know about you, faithful reader, but I need about a fortnight’s deliberation before I can decide on what outfit to wear for going to the dentist, let alone a night out where I am going to be judged on my looks, conversation and table manners! Of course, ‘going out’ has different connotations depending on your age (naturally,) position (possibly,) and marital status (most certainly.) If you are in your ‘autumn years’ for instance, a night down the Pink Coconut discotheque (is that what they still call them?) with the girls before a kebab and an argument on the way home is most probably not high on your agenda. Equally pretty young things are highly unlikely to be joining the purple rinse bridge on a quiet night of whist round at Mabel’s . No matter what your age though, dear reader, both these and a plethora of other social functions and get-togethers all have one key factor in common: other people.

Sad but true, dear reader: there are few shin-digs that don’t require you to be in the presence of at least one other person. More often than not, it usually involves going to a place where there are a large number people, many or all of which you won’t know from Adam. This might be preferable to alternative – i.e. a room filled with people that you know, such as a ‘nice surprise birthday party’ for instance. Yes, I can feel you wincing just at the mention of such a truly hideous occasion. I regret to inform you that, if you have a little address book of ‘friends,’ then someone (probably your partner,) will use it against you in order to fill a nearby dilapidated village hall with forty of your ‘nearest and dearest’ all in the name of joining you to celebrate another milestone birthday. The chances of such a thing happening seem to be most likely either in the more youthful stages of adult life (your 18th, 21st or even 30th birthday,) though they have been known to occur as you are trying to grow old gracefully. There appears to be this compulsion amongst your acquaintances that you have to celebrate the fact that you have managed to stay alive until your 40th birthday, and this misery is set to continue cropping every ten years from that point on…just heaven help you when you hit 100! It makes me feel queasy just thinking of it: people that you just about tolerate to have a conversation with, or even met on a holiday to Crete and swapped addresses with (you silly fool you!) all crammed into a musty box of a room with no life, save a couple of flashing lights from the disco (who’s idea was that?!) no matter how well intentioned the idea of a surprise birthday “do” may have seemed to the organiser(s). Iff they knew you at all, they wouldn’t subject you to such a night of misery, where you have to plaster on a smile and act like a performing sea-lion for a crowd of well-wishers, when all you want is to blow out the bloody candles and get the hell out of there. Birthday parties seem to be designed to benefit very few of the actual participants: the only person who does seem to come out of it with a slightly self-satisfied feeling is the so-and-so who arranged it all in the first place…and they can just burn in Hell as far as I am concerned.

And that is just birthdays. At least, in that instance, there is some kind of purpose that forces you out of the house on a dark and dismal evening. Even having to go and celebrate someone else’s anniversary does feel like it should have some worth, but my advice would be to try to cry off and make up a feeble excuse about having to babysit or tend to a poorly relative. My argument is this: if you didn’t have anyone in your life that was so insensitive as to put such demands on, then you could lounge at home, guilt-free, nibbling on HobNobs and watching back-to-back Inspector Morse. What could be more lovely than that? Well, maybe the added bonus of the spouse being out for the evening as well – gosh, wouldn’t that be a treat? But what about those social occasions that don’t have a purpose? You know the ones that I mean: the “girls’ night out” or a night at the racetrack for the boys? The nightmare kicks off before you have even stepped out of the house: if you’re lucky the dreaded ‘arrangements’ may have been negotiated in advance but the truly awful alternative is the ‘spur of the moment’ gathering, having been planned the day before or, (even more unthinkable) that very afternoon. With relatives, there is usually a certain amount of ringing round in advance in order to plan the event, but “friends” don’t follow the same rules. Not a bit of it: they will spring a suggestion on you on a mere whim, demanding that you come out to play for the evening, trying to tempt you with the promise of a meal at that nice little Italian place on the High Street and maybe a few drinks in the wine bar round the corner afterwards. Unless you are prepared with a quick fire excuse, you will ultimately succumb to their pleas to join them, no matter how resilient you may think you can be. It takes nerves of steel and a whole bank of pre-prepared ‘get-out clauses’ to try and stand up to such bullying: friends can be bullies in sheep’s clothing, if you like. They will cajole, plead, demand, and generally make a complete nuisance of themselves until you cave in and agree to whatever hare-brained scheme they have concocted all the in the name of ‘having fun.’

Even something as seemingly straightforward as a quiet drink at a local ‘watering hole’ can have serious consequences to your inner peace, dear reader. Depending upon the other members of your entourage, the evening could easily devolve into a drunken bar-crawl that starts off relatively civilised, but ends up with Brenda from Accounts losing her underwear somewhere along the way, or two people having an absolute slanging match. If a venue for this debacle has been pre-arranged as part of the initial discussion/cajoling/pleading/demanding for a night out, that’s one thing, but if some on you know utters the ominous words “We really need a good night out…where shall we go?” don’t feel tempted to suggest ANYWHERE. I repeat: do NOT make the first move in this little game of cat and mouse. Your idea is almost certain to be greeted with a wrinkled nose (which is disheartening in itself,) but I suspect the response from your antagonist will be a suggestion far more outlandish and unpalatable as he or she tries to go ‘one better’ thank you. You suggest a walk along a woodland stream – they suggest kayaking in it: you mention a cuppa and a nice chat, they suggest afternoon tea at a posh hotel at £50 a throw. You will either ending up conceding defeat and going along with whatever idiotic idea they suggest, or you will cry off. The latter is far more preferable to the former as you will most certainly not be in control of your own fate if you find yourself trussed up in a two man canoe with a grinning co-participant who is sporting a slightly maniacal look on their face, or some equally unsuitable activity. Better still, shun any kind of relationship with people that are likely to ask you along to ANYTHING: being a ‘Billy no mates’ never killed anyone, but I’ll wager that there have been a fair few slipped discs caused by well-intentioned pals talking poor misguided souls into ballroom dancing lessons with them. I’ll stick with the biscuits and predictable TV detective dramas, thank you very much.

Friends and Holidays

I promised you that I would return to the thorny subject of “abroad” and here we are, dear reader. Gather your belongings, collect your carry-on tote bag from the overhead locker, deflate your travel pillow and sally forth into uncharted territory with me (it’s a travel-related rant, you see?) Of course the term “holidays” doesn’t necessarily mean that we are going overseas. There are equally dismal times to be had with “friends” at home as well as in other far-flung destinations, but that slightly depressed feeling will surely come on at the very mention of a “group vacation.” Personally, I don’t travel well: I am perfectly content to stay home and shut myself away for a week or so, catching up on those household chores that one simply doesn’t have time to complete the rest of the time (bottoming out your drawers, organising the larder, that kind of thing.) It must also be noted that I have never actually been submitted to the terror of a jolly jaunt with chums, but I have heard enough tales of woe to know what I’m talking about here, let me assure you of that, my literary companion. They have come to me with stories of squabbles between themselves and people that they had once considered to be “close friends” until two weeks crammed into a tiny room above a taverna in Corfu (with the smell of fried calamari permeating every item of clothing they took with them) has driven them to the edge of despair. I have heard of people who have come back from a group trip away so hacked off with each other that they have never even spoken to each other again – just cut out the middle man and don’t engage in conversation with these people in the first place, that’s what I say!

So how is it, then, that perfectly sane, ordinary folk feel this unfathomable urge to spend a prolonged period of time in each other’s company all in the name of a jolly jaunt away? I feel this could be the very crux of the problem you see? Usually the longest time one has suffer someone’s company is for a few hours at best, but I would suggest that having to put up with a travelling companion’s funny little habits for more than 24 hours is more than any reasonable person can endure. From snoring to hanging their freshly rinsed underwear in every conceivable place around the villa, these little quirks are a ticking time bomb, you mark my words. Before you know it, you’ll be gritting your teeth in sheer frustration at the sight of a balcony covered in sun-drying bras and pants and wishing you could be on the next plane out of this hell-hole. I’m sorry to say this, dear reader, but if you will contemplate the notion of travelling with others, you only have yourself to blame.

There are many similarities between planning a holiday and planning a night out, although the pain and misery is far shorter and slightly more manageable when you are only going to be away from home for the evening, rather than fourteen days and long, long nights. To begin with, it’s the “where” question: home or away? True, if you are vacationing in your own country you do not have the issues with language, unidentifiable food stuffs and idiosyncratic local customs (though I could be persuaded to take up the idea of an afternoon siesta for the rest of my life, it must be said.) Having said all this, do not think for a moment that our own fair land is not riddled with barely indistinguishable dialects and peculiar edibles ( I never have, and never will attempt to eat a ‘jellied eel.’) At least you have a fighting chance of getting a decent cup of tea and it’s not ridiculously hot or fantastically cold, for the most part. But I digress: suppose you have, indeed, succumbed to the suggestion that it would be a fantastic idea if you and a few of your closest chums went off on a little vacation somewhere and, as a result of some very stressful and carefully executed discussions, decided in a destination that the majority of the group have agreed upon, what next? Well, if we just park the notion that it is absolutely impossible to please everyone as to the choice of destination for a moment (because, let’s face it, that is never going to happen,) the next issue is most likely when you should actually go. My own diary is a mishmash of crossings out, arrows pointing to changed dates and strange little cryptic reminders that, frankly, even I can’t decipher most of the time. Trying to navigate these obstacles and agree on a date for the jaunt is an issue in itself, but to then have to coordinate with other people who have equally hectic schedules must be nigh on impossible. This, my faithful reader, should be clanging enormous alarm bells for all concerned: the first warning signs that this really isn’t a good idea at all and you would be better off spending a couple of days going solo and pootling around some nearby garden centres. Trying to organise others is like trying to differentiate between twenty six shades of white paint at your local decorating emporium – pointless and inevitably futile.

And then there is “how” – as in “how do we get there?” Unless you are braving the ferry (the very idea!) and hitting Western Europe with all its little pitfalls (sea-sickness, questionable catering and the fact that you have to mingle about on the deck with foreign lorry drivers passing comment on your troupe,) then I am assuming you may end up going by plane. So that means getting your gang TO the airport on time and this is the first true test of whether or not you are going to be able to spend a prolonged period of time with these fellow travellers that you have subjected yourself to. Airports are ghastly places, huge and cavernous and it is all too easy to lose one of your party in the Sock Shop or Duty Free when they have just ‘bing-bonged’ the final call for your flight. The sheer stress of having to dash about, dragging your carry-on bag behind you whilst searching frantically in every conceivable location should be enough to convince anyone that travelling alone is by far the better option, oh you poor, misguided soul. I would put it to you, dear reader, that it is actually easier to wrangle a group of school children round a theme park rather than two or three middle aged women browsing Burberry at Heathrow.

So you have made it onto the plane – congratulations! Imagine that you have managed to organise your little travelling troupe into the correct seats, everyone is settled in nicely…now what? Well I don’t know about you, but generally, on a long journey, I quite like to have a quiet read, maybe a little snooze, or simply stare absent-mindedly out of the window at the passing panorama. Your friends will most definitely, however, have other ideas – after all, this would be the perfect time to discuss arrangements, wouldn’t it? You know the sort of thing: “Where shall we eat this evening?” or “What day excursions do you fancy going on?” All of this coupled with the inane chatter coming from your companions, weighing up options, talking through timings and, worst of all, involving you in the whole annoying process. Why? Why not just see what the day brings, instead of having to plan it out down to what colour sarong you should wear tomorrow by the pool? After all, isn’t the whole point of ‘getting away from it all’ about NOT having to enslave yourself to the timetable of life? You might as well be creating yourself a to do list that will successfully wish away your holiday before your very eyes, probably leaving you even more exhausted than you were before you left!

Even once you are safely ensconced in your hotel or villa, things do not seem to settle down. There is the inevitable evaluation of the accommodation arrangements which will see your travelling companions either gush enthusiastically about the marbled bathroom with gold taps, or turn their nose up at the less enticing prospect of a toilet that have a fifty-fifty success rate when one tries to flush the wretched thing. And you can bet your Euros that there will be ALOT of complaining: whinging about the weather, kvetching over catering, bitching over the impossibly beautiful bodies on the beach. Let’s face facts – you could have got all of that if you and your party had chosen a seaside resort in Blighty as your destination and have saved yourself the trouble of having to travel halfway round the world to grumble about your surroundings. If truth be told, the most preferable option would be not to attach yourself to a group of people to begin with as, if push comes to shove, As a solo traveller you can always write off a bad vacation and jump on the next plane home. And the best part is, if you asked “How was it?” you can lie through your teeth and make your work colleagues jealous – You can do that if you are being contradicted by fellow travellers, now can you? Ditch the baggage, dear reader, and go solo or, better still, don’t go at all!

Friends and Money

I am afraid, dear reader, that is necessary to turn our attention to the rather vulgar concept of coin or, to put it more plainly, money. Yes, it makes the world go around, yes it ‘can’t buy me love’ (apparently,) but what it CAN do it turn the most civilized of people into crashing bores and make for some very uncomfortable conversations round a dinner table. Take it from one who knows, mixing money with friendship never, ever, EVER works as you will see from the sobering tale at the end of this chapter. Even my old grandmother warned “never a borrower nor a lender be” – although I fail to see how she and grandpa managed to get the four-bedroom house in one of the nicer parts of Surrey without a hefty mortgage, if I am honest! It was strange, too, that good old ‘Gramps’ ended up losing the aforementioned house, along with the shirt off his back, when he was fleeced by some enterprising con-artists who befriended him at the golf club and told him they had inside information in the city, and if he played his cards right he could stash a fortune. Stranger still, then, when grandpa was on his uppers that Granny divorced him and then shacked up with a wealthy Cambridge Professor of English who continued to keep her in the manner to which she had become accustomed. Granny surely didn’t ‘borrow’ the money by securing this union with ‘the Prof’ but I reckon she must have ‘earnt’ it somehow (naughty Granny!)

But I digress; if experience is anything to go by, one shouldn’t trust anyone when it comes to money, no matter how much of a “chum” or “thoroughly good chap” they may seem. Money only ever comes into a conversation when you have it or don’t have it, and finding out the net worth of your acquaintances can never end well. It was once the case that a person never divulged how much money they made: I was always taught that it was not appropriate conversation in polite society (another of Granny’s pearls of wisdom, but surely she must have found out how much ‘the Prof’ was making before she married him?!) If her words were true, however, she much be spinning in her grave by now as it appears that, as part of today’s confessional culture, people seem only too happy to reveal how much money they have, how much they earn and even how much they spend on their weekly grocery bill. All this information appears to be made public knowledge and I fail to understand why. It is when conversations between friends turn to discussing work and the inevitably earnings, that things can get frosty. This is particularly true if one is doing a similar job to someone else, yet they are being paid considerably more than the other person. My cousin, for instance, is a teacher in a fairly well-to-do area and has a modicum of responsibility in her role which she is paid well for. Her friend (with whom she went to college,) is earning almost double her salary by working in a Public School rather than a State School. Since finding this out, my cousin has barely been able to speak to her former chum since, especially since this woman tried to argue that, in lieu of her whopping salary, she has to do the odd Saturday morning “prep supervision” with her little charges at a time when she (wrongly) assumed my cousin was off doing a spot of shopping in town. My cousin is thinking of striking her former college buddy off her Christmas card list – was there ever a more middle-class demonstration of fury, dear reader?!

You see? Just the merest mention of money and all social niceties are flung out the window – and it doesn’t end there, good grief, no! If you are unfortunate enough to have someone in your life who is “in the know” with matters financial, you may be even more unfortunate to have them share a little pearl of wisdom for two with you, with the supposed intention of making you that little bit wealthier. This was the sorry chain of events that led to Grandpa being so spectacularly ripped off, as he listened to someone whom he considered a friend, only to get his fingers burnt. Unsurprisingly, his pal seemed to get away with hardly a blemish on his character or financial records at the end of the whole costly exchange and it was Grandpa who took the burden for the whole hare-brained scheme. I have never really gotten to the bottom of what when on, but I remember hearing nothing but dark warnings that I shouldn’t listen to anyone when it comes to money and the best thing to do by far was to keep all your cash in a safety deposit box and never let anyone know how much you had in there. The closest I get to obtaining financial advice these days is asking the nice young man at the bank how long it will take for my cheque to clear (yes, that DOES age me somewhat, doesn’t it?!)

From one rather unfortunate scenario to another – divorce. I consider myself quite fortunate in that my beloved and I have long since given up the notion of trading each other in for a ‘better model’ (though once I had to deal with the misfortune of catching my husband looking at a ‘sales brochure,’ if you know what I mean.) However, I have known enough warring couples who have eventually admitted that their lives would be much better if they never had to see each other again, and have opted for the severance of all ties. All ties, that is, except money because that is never going to be an easy process, and friends seem to make it even worse. You have those acquaintances who think you should be trying to screw every last penny out of your ex-partner and set up meetings for you with a lawyer friend of their husband’s who will take your former spouse to the cleaners. Other friends who can put a spanner in the works are, naturally, you ex’s pals, who never liked you anyway, thought you were controlling and domineering and never let him off the leash long enough for him to get well and truly plastered with them on the odd night out. They have a chip on their shoulder the size of a jacket potato and will encourage your former husband or wife to dig their heels in and not surrender to any of your ‘demands.’ When it comes to the messy business of divorce, friends are the human equivalent of a leash of foxes going through your rubbish bins: they will rip the whole thing open for the entire world to see and skulk off with the best bits to share with their mates. They will just make the process much more painful and, frankly, who needs them?

I did mention my Grandmother’s opinions about being a financial support to friends earlier on, and, on this point, I can heartily agree with everything she said. Simply put, you just don’t lend money to people: certainly not strangers and most definitely not “friends” who are (if you think about it,) just strangers that you might know a little bit about socially. Even truly trustworthy companions should be regarded with caution when it comes to money: no matter how well you think you know someone, they will still find ingenious ways of shafting you. This is a true story of a situation a person I once worked with was thrown into: she had befriended a woman who’s daughter attended the local Montessori school ( more money than sense, I know) with her toddler. They became good friends and this woman was soon popping round every morning for a coffee and natter after they had dropped the little ones off at school. One day, my colleague was called by a mobile phone company to say that the model she had ordered was not in stock, but they were sending her an upgraded model in its place. Confused, she explained that she had not ordered a mobile phone and, upon further investigation, it was the woman whom she had befriended that was ordering things in her name, using a credit card registered by this person in her friend’s name , and collecting them when the postman arrived each morning as she was there having coffee. My colleague just thought she was being helpful dashing to the mailbox whilst she put out the HobNobs. Now you might consider this story far-fetched, dear reader, but this poor girl ended up having to take her “friend” to court and faced months of stress, all because she had been taken in by a woman with very sticky fingers and a distinct lack of morals. Whilst this story is true, is it not funny, but it does go to show I’m right, dear reader and you really are better off without characters like THAT in your life. Do yourself a favour and keep your financial dealings to yourself – confiding in friends could cost you dearly.

Friends and Family

Now, I consider myself very fortunate in that I have made a conscious decision to have very little to do with my extended family and I am happy to inform you that as yet, the sky had not fallen in on me and I lead a perfectly happy and well adjusted life, thank you very much. To some this might seem incomprehensible but indulge me, dearest reader, whilst I enlighten you with my theory about family and its tenuous links to what I can only call “enforced friendship.” I come from a relatively large family with a myriad of relatives scattered all over the country and, indeed, the globe and back in the dark ages before the internet and mobile phones, keeping in touch was something of a challenge. This meant that one became disproportionately closer (in the emotional sense) to relatives living nearby and herein lay the root of the problem: just because one lives close by to someone does not necessarily mean that they are going to become your best mate. I am thinking of cousins in particular: for me, there were a considerable number of these family members scattered around in the rolling Sussex Downs where I grew up and, whether you liked it or not, as children, one was made to spend most major holidays in their company. Whilst this is usually unavoidable, I grant you, the level to which you allow yourself to get sucked in to this charade is paramount. In my youth I was “befriended” by three cousins from one branch of the family tree and two on another, and both sets were at polar opposites on the social spectrum, without being too snooty about it. Before you start pointing a witchy finger at me and wagging it disapprovingly, you may be surprised to hear that this is not the main cause of my gripe – quite the opposite in fact! I found my more “well off” relations utterly pretentious, argumentative and overbearing and more than a little competitive (I still shudder at the thought of “The Swing-ball Incident,” which left a number of casualties in its wake and a permanent scar above cousin Clara’s right eye.) But I digress…

The main reason for my frustration is quite simple really and can be highlighted by this question: why is it automatically assumed that one will develop am unbreakable bond with relations just because you happen to be from the same gene pool? I have a brother who I am indifferent to (and that is putting it mildly!) so I hardly think it would be appropriate to consider someone I am obliged to spend time with a couple of times a year as a “BFF.” Furthermore, let us not forget those family members in far flung places that might only come out of the woodwork for something akin to a State occasion, such as a grandparent’s funeral (apologies for dampening the mood with the “f word,” dear reader, but I promise to try and lighten things up shortly!) I was required to attend just such an event and, far from feeling inclined to bond and catch up on old times, I was forced to recoil in horror as I watched one of Uncle Malcolm’s brood (Michelle) shovelling platefuls of vol-au-vents into her fake Louis Vuitton handbag at the wake. How can I possibly chum-up with someone THAT classy, hmm?! She caught my eye and gave a rueful grin before, unashamedly, launching herself at a tower of sausage rolls. The cheek of it! All the way through this, my mother was hissing in my ear that I really should go and catch up with cousin Michelle, especially as the two of us used to play together when we were toddlers. I had little choice but to inform my mother that I wasn’t about to become an accessory to the theft of a considerable amount of buffet fayre she was putting away in her handbag, just so I could pander to my mother’s belief that the tea-leaf and I could be “best buds.” My mother is desperate to conform to the myth that we are all one big happy family and Michelle and I could just pick off where we left off when I was three. I haven’t spoken to Michelle since that time (coupled with the fact that she has been holidaying at ‘Her Majesty’s Pleasure’ in Holloway on and off for the last ten years.) Still, I guess THAT could be a talking point to pick up where we left off, couldn’t it?!

So you see, dear reader, I have very good reasons for NOT being pally with relatives located nearby, which then begs the question of why on Earth I would bother with those family members who are more far flung from Blighty? I have a significant number of relatives in Australia (many of which are GENUINELY related to convicts deported from our shores many centuries ago – Michelle, take note, dear!) Indeed a few of them are incarcerated too – really, you would think, looking at our family pedigree, my mother would be pleased I have made a conscious decision to keep myself to myself, wouldn’t you? And yes, I am very aware that the advent of emails and social media (not to mention the dreaded Skype,) have all conspired to make it even easier to keep in touch with your nearest and dearest than ever before. The issue here is, of course, that I don’t WANT to, and I have deliberately ensured that the only people who have my e-mail address are the National Trust, those lovely people at Lakeland Limited and Waitrose Home Delivery. I suppose I ought to include my parents in this list but, since the only thing my father can do is play solitaire on the computer and my mother doesn’t even know how to turn it on, correspondence appearing from them in my Inbox is very scant indeed. If there is a pressing need to get any information concerning my family I usually get it through ‘The Oracle’ – i.e. my mother – over the ‘phone, though, admittedly it’s most likely it will be idle gossip and tittle tattle (play to your strengths, Mother, that’s what I say!)

Whereas you have to be more determined to cut blood relatives out of your life, the “in laws” are an equally thorny issue and I had had my fair share of them as well. Take my former sister-in-law, Annalise as an example. Now, on the face of it, Annalise was a lovely girl; educated, beautiful and well turned out (all the things that would make anyone suspicious from the outset!) She and my brother met during their University days and, since they eventually married and settled relatively nearby, it was expected that we would become bosom buddies. I have always been a little wary of my brother’s love trysts in the past, trying to meet them half-way, only to have the indolent twit cut them loose after a couple of months. He was hardly a lothario, but this occurred enough times for me to think there was little point in doing all the leg-work of being chummy with his betrothed only for nothing to come of it. One can hardly keep up an acquaintance with someone who has been spurned by your own brother (awkward doesn’t even come close to describing it.) So my approach now is very simple – just don’t get embroiled with the in-laws because, before you know it, you are expected to attend social functions involving them and THEIR family. A classic example of this was Granny Pott’s 80th Birthday Party: I have no idea why I agreed to this (I think there was a chance that I might get introduced to her rather gorgeous nephew Ronnie.) Now this would have been relatively torturous were it my own grandmother’s birthday but it was actually sis-in-law Annalise’s ageing nana, and I rocked up to the shindig knowing no-one (and by no-one I really do mean that as brother and Annalise had broken down en-route to the Raddison Hotel, leaving me high and dry.) Not only was it tricky to work out if I had turned up to the right venue as I recognised precisely nobody, but I had to contend with elderly ladies coming up to me in the fifteen minutes I stuck around, asking me if I was “One of the Guilford ‘Potts’ or part of the lesser known Scottish ‘Potts’ clan?” To add insult to injury, one poor older gentleman was convinced I was his daughter with a wig on, and spent a few moments pulling at my hair quizzically asking why I was now a blonde! I told myself that nothing was worth this level of humiliation and made a run for it. As a result of this I vowed never to get embroiled in any in-laws again – a pledge I have not had cause to doubt from that moment on.

I have already mentioned my brother briefly and there is a very good reason for that – I feel I have just tolerated him for the last thirty-odd years and the fact that he is a chauvinist pig probably doesn’t help the situation! Maybe I have been unfortunate to be saddled with such an unsuitable sibling – there are those who consider their brother or sister as their ‘best friend’ and gush on about how “…he’s always there for me” and “…I don’t know how I would have managed without my big sister’s love and support.” I am inclined to think that these people are the exception rather than the rule and most sane, ordinary folk think the same as me – that nothing good can come of considering siblings as your “friends.” This, coupled with the fact that you are expected to be chums with their other half and, worse still, play the part of the fun Aunt or Uncle to their off-spring in years to come. What possible reason would there be for a sane person to drag other people’s children round the local zoo, unless you are some poor, unfortunate soul that has made a career out of caring for children. Some people I have known in the past are only too keen to pile their little nephews and nieces into the Volvo and head off to some outdoor adventure centre for a spot of chucking themselves up a climbing wall – not for me, I’m afraid. I genuinely do not feel that my life has suffered as a result of this attitude towards members of my family. When I hear the grim stories of work colleagues coping with visiting in-laws and their brood, not to mention the awkwardness when the guests seemingly refuse to leave after a week of taking over their relative’s once beautiful home (leaving a trail of destruction in their path,) I thank my lucky stars that I have had the strength of conviction NOT to encumber my life with the added complication of family. It’s not easy, I grant you, and you need to have nerves of steel along with some kind of grim determination to shut out the cries from parents to “Please just give your cousin Judy a ring – she is desperate to get away from that husband of hers and a week in your spare room would help her get her head together” but you simply must stand your ground. Otherwise you’ll be lumbered with your own ‘Cousin Judy’ who will overstay her welcome and give you a blow by blow account of her marital strife …and you will only have yourself to blame!

Friends and Food

Like fashion, food has to be a matter of taste – the concept is pretty much baked in from the start, isn’t it? (Do pardon the pun!) I really don’t know what gives people the right to become judge and jury when it comes to gastronomic matters, but there are a lot of them out there. At work, I often used to hear people waxing lyrical about a “…delightful little bistro hidden behind the mixture-storey car park in town that had the best sea-bass I have ever tasted.” Now, I have multiple issues with people who bang on about food, mostly to do with the fact that there is quite a lot of it that I am not very keen on. I don’t like fish, for instance, a revelation which is met with horror by some folk who think I should be taken outside and force-fed salmon until I grow gills. It’s not an allergy, you understand, dear reader – I suppose I could eat fish if I had to, but I’m just not that keen on it. And I do have sympathy with those people who have an allergy, I really do: a co-worker had a dairy intolerance which caused her no end of headaches when it came to being catered for at work training events. She managed it fairly well and often took something along to eat, but would you want to invite a group of people into your home for a meal only then to face the prospect of having to prepare something different for a number of them due to their specific intolerances? I knew of a chap that had a dinner party which comprised of a vegan, two coeliacs, a fruitarian and someone who wouldn’t eat anything green (I’m not sure if there is a proper name for this one, but the moniker “twit” springs to mind!) Needless to say, he regretted having invited this combination not for their company, but for the fact that he had to spend the best part of two days working out just what he could serve them, and eventually catered a different course specifically for each guest. I mean really….life’s too short isn’t it? It is not without a certain amount of resolute determination when I say that I have never had to host a dinner party in my life and, should the need arise for work purposes (not for pleasure, you understand,) I shall get the caterers in.

The other thing that acquaintances seem to have given themselves permission to do is to foister recipes onto you. If this wasn’t bad enough, they then follow up this deed by grilling you a few weeks later along the lines of “Have you tried that recipe for mussels I gave you a while back?” Naturally, you haven’t (for starters, it contained mussels, for crying out loud!) One’s first compulsion is to lie, obviously, but you need to be so very careful with this as your interrogator will want a blow by blow account of exactly how you prepared it and what you served it with, along with accompanying wine choices and quite probably who consumed it. Before you know it, you could well be tying yourself up in knots only to be greeted with a puzzled expression from your interrogator along the lines of “You did de-beard them first though, didn’t you darling?” Ultimately this is pointless exercise as you will inevitably trip up, be found out that you haven’t tried the damned recipe in the first place and end up losing a friend by trying to cover your tracks. If someone I vaguely know even tries to give me a recipe these days, I smile sweetly and coo “Oh No…..I couldn’t possibly eat lobster/duck/reindeer/kangaroo as I am allergic.” It’s better this way, believe me, dear reader.

If you have the misfortune to go “out for a bite” with people, you are equally in muddy waters. I eschew all offers of a “nice meal out,” preferring to settle in with a ‘Dinner for Two’ selection from the Food Hall, which I begrudgingly share with my better half (though I have been known to announce quite innocently, that they had run out of the desserts and hide the evidence at the back of the ‘fridge, thus giving myself a double helping to devour with my morning coffee!) Why on earth would one want to have spend time in other people’s company, unpicking all their work worries and relationship issues whilst gingerly poking at a cold, congealing serving of pasta? I really do not like eating and talking and this is precisely why I prefer to eat at my own pace in my own company. Those folk at the office that feel the need to eat their Pret a Manger sandwiches together, congregating in the dismal kitchenette in a disturbing show of ‘siege mentality’ or sitting on the steps just outside the building just beyond me. And an even worse fate awaits you if your dining chum suddenly consume a mouthful of something “simply yummy” and insist that you try some of it: not great if they poke a forkful of it in the direction of your mouth (their fork, not your own,) or, even worse, offer you a bite of their sandwich, complete with strings of their saliva still connected to the bread. I have SEEN this happen, people, and it is NOT pretty. This is where having friends become positively dangerous to your health, with risk of cross infection a very real possibility when dining with those folk who seemingly have no etiquette boundaries. And smoking – oh, my dear reader – how many times have you been out dining with like-minded folk only to have half the table clear between courses so they could sneak outside for their nicotine fix, leaving you with the incredibly dull and uninteresting people to try and maintain a conversation with? Smokers may be killing themselves but, invariably, they make far better dining company, for some strange reason. Maybe it’s that they are so happy to be back in the warm and dry once more after their little adventure outside that they are more enthusiastic conversationalists? Who knows.

Friends and Neighbours

“Neiiiiiiighbours….everybody needs good neeiiiiighbours,” the song goes….except they don’t, goodly reader. Neighbours are quite often inevitable, unless you are living a solitary existence on a wind-swept moorland or a remote Scottish island. At some time in all our lives we have been geographically located close by to other residents in our street or road or tower block and one needs to play a very careful long game when setting the ground rules for co-existing with others. One false move and you could find you are saddled with friendships that are based on nothing more than the fact that your wheelie bin meets with theirs at the bottom of your adjacent driveways once a week and you share a view of the local cemetery from your respective rear bedroom windows. For some people this is all the incentive that they need to start up some kind of relationship with you and it can commence in such small and innocuous ways. Suppose it’s your first night in your new home: there is a gentle tap on the front door and you are greeted by Reg and Doreen from ‘next door’ beaming at you whilst holding a Tupperware container presumably containing some edible creation as a ‘welcome to the neighbourhood’ gift. Okay, so it contains nuts and your partner has a severe allergy, but you accept it with a gracious smile and the promise that, as soon as you are settled in, you will have them both round for coffee…and you’re sunk.

You have made a throw-away comment which will act as an emotionally binding commitment to keep the whole sorry exchange going on well into the future, potentially for as long as you’re alive or living at the address (whichever ends sooner.) You are now locked into a friendship which seems to have no set rules and does not even appear to be regulated by time: you may well find yourself forced to be social at the most inconvenient hours of the day and will not have any way of getting out of it. You will, for example, have to exchange cheery pleasantries as you venture out to collect the milk from your doorstep, only to be greeted by Reg pruning his rose bush at 6:30 in the morning, surveying your rather eclectic choice in novelty slippers as he does so. You can’t not respond – that would be rude and what would he think if you just shot him a cursory glance and scuttled back indoors before engaging in conversation? Or bumping into Doreen in queue at the Post Office, embarking on a long conversation regarding the young chap who lives across the road from you both who will insist on tinkering with his Ford Escort parked on the main thoroughfare, leaving oil stains on the tarmac which look thoroughly unsightly (a conversation that could go on for anything up to half an hour.) From social ‘pop-ins’ to invitations round for dinner, you won’t know if you’re coming or going and you will only have yourself to blame. Things become so co-dependant, before you can blink you will be nipping round next door whilst they are away to feed their cat or water their bedding plants, only to be thanked for your efforts with a nice box of Scottish shortbread from their sojourn in Edinburgh. You will be at their beck and call, both for care-taking duties and to while away the odd summer’s evening on the patio, women nattering aimlessly with the men folk being under the misapprehension that they can master a barbecue successfully. All the while they will be quietly, stealthily judging you: from the colour of your carnations to the condition of your shower curtain, no corner of your home will go unscrutinised and all the while they will find ever more subtle ways of letting you know that they are doing it. “Reg says that electric mowers aren’t good for the condition of the lawn, you know….you really should plump for petrol-driven, that’s what he says…” or “it can be so difficult to get rid of that dreadful-looking limescale in the toilet bowl, can’t it?” Comments that may seem to be all sweetness and light, but you know they are as loaded a banker on bonus day and you now have no way of escaping the constant judgment of your life. You have no one but yourself to blame, you know? If you do the sensible thing and avoid answering the door unless you can actually see the postman walking up the drive, or just resort to a polite nod and smile when you bump into fellow residents in the street, you can aspire to avoid the invasion of the nosey neighbour and retain some sense of privacy.

Regretfully, however, there are occasions when you find that your neighbours are not in the building next door, but actually living in the same dwelling with you. I’m talking about house-sharing: this is a far more challenging situation to deal with and I know this only too well, my dearest reader. Filthy bathrooms, abandoned washing-up and unacceptable noise levels are all the norm, irrespective of who your co-habitants are. The shock of this is understandable to a certain extent if you are shacked up with relative strangers, as you don’t really know what you are letting yourself in for when you respond to a card in the local newsagents requesting ‘a lodger.’ But the whole situation becomes totally unfathomable when you opt to share a dwelling with someone you think you know well, only to discover you don’t know them at all. It could be a ‘friend’ that makes the suggestion that the two of you find a little place somewhere nearer to work: they appear to be quite civilized and you find yourself coming up with a number of reasons why it would be a good idea. You even manage to locate a suitable property, fairly close to the bus-stop with a little convenience store just down the road. The rent is reasonable (split between you both) and the decor, whist it isn’t going to feature in “House Beautiful,” is acceptable. Before you know it, you both sign on the dotted line and the nightmare begins…

You need to pay the first month’s rent in advance, along with a hefty deposit but your new flat-mate is ‘a bit short at the moment’ and asks you to cover it until they get paid at the end of the month. They may well even stump up a little of what they owe you come pay-day, but it’s not the full amount and they never appear to have quite enough money to cover all their share of the bills. They are able, however, to afford red wine, the evidence of this is cluttering up the small kitchenette you both share, and rather pungent blue cheese, which stealthily stinks out the communal ‘fridge. They use up all the hot water, leave used coffee cups everywhere, insist on rinsing out their ‘smalls’ and hanging them on every radiator in the building. They are, in short, bloody annoying and should be taken outside and buried under a pile of their own discarded take-away boxes. No sane person would choose to put themselves through such pain and torture, and if you really think that you and a friend would be able to forgive each other’s little foibles, then you haven’t really grasped the fact that there are hidden dangers lying in wait until you sign that tenancy agreement before they raise their ugly heads. There are no such things as “amicable housemates”, my poor, delusional reader: do yourself a favour and get a place considerably smaller, but inevitably cheaper and more affordable for one person. You won’t regret it, I promise you: the freedom to do as you please, without having to suffer the company of others is just boundless. If you are unable to afford a little place of your own just yet, well then, dear reader, you may just have to grit your teeth and resign yourself to the fact that living with your parents may be your only option for a while. Yes, it feels like you are in suspended animation: your surroundings remaining mostly unchanged since you were in your teens and your folks are still insisting on curfews and house-rules, even though you are 34 years old and a legal secretary in the city. But in reality, it is most certainly ‘better the devil you know,’ and at least you know that your parents actually like you (or are legally obliged to be civilized towards you at the very least, even if it doesn’t feel like it some days!) Above all, do not be fooled into thinking that you can achieve the impossible: sharing a home with friends is not like an American sit-com, full of japes and humorous must-understandings. It is brutal, sleep-depriving and, for the most part, utterly intolerable. You are worth so much more than that, dear reader, and don’t you forget it!

Friends, Christmas and New Year

Ahhhhhh Christmas…such a special time of year, isn’t it? A chance to get together with loved ones and share in that special time. Closely followed, of course, by the New Year – when you can join together with like-minded folk and revel in celebrating the passing of another year and starting a new one. Nothing could be better, and friends make these times even more special, don’t they? Don’t they? Well, actually, no, they don’t (not in my eyes anyway.) Now before you start calling me “Scrooge” – other well-worn Christmas clichés are also available – allow me to impart my wisdom and warn you that, rather than it being a warm and cuddly time of year, the ‘Holiday Season’ is fraught with stress and worry, and friends will make it even worse, believe me. You end up playing a hopeless game of catch-up with your nearest and dearest and, whilst it is pretty much compulsory to have to factor relatives into this bonkers time of year, you do NOT have to succumb to dragging other people into the picture as well. I put it to you that the fewer individuals you can possibly get involved with around the holidays, the more serene and calm your Christmas and New Year will be….now doesn’t THAT sound appealing, hmm?

As we all know the run up to Christmas seems to start earlier and earlier with each passing year – I swear I could hear Jingle Bells playing as I passed a store last year in the middle of JULY (!) You may even start having tentative discussions with relatives about festive arrangements in early autumn: you know the sort of thing….who is going to who’s house this year and so forth. It can also be, at this time of year, that friends start to mention their plans as well and then float the idea that maybe it would be nice for a small select group of your pals to get together for a pre-Christmas dinner, maybe at a nearby Carvery out on the by-pass, or somewhere in town…followed by a few drinkies to round off the evening. Not only, then, do you have to co-ordinate your family in their arrangements but, before you know it, you become the social secretary to your friends and end up getting saddled with making all the arrangements for the “do”. If you are really unlucky, you might even get saddled with paying the deposit for the venue, because everybody knows how tricky it is to get a table in a restaurant on any night after the beginning of December? With all the work Christmas parties hogging the venues, the eatery will no doubt ask for a hefty wad of cash to hold the table for you. So you are already out of pocket and you haven’t even begun to think about gift and food buying for you own special celebrations….but it is about to get even worse. Presents are an obligatory part of Christmas and it is a fraught task trying to budget as it is: making sure that whatever you buy Auntie Betty is going to be approximately the same price as the gift you are going to get from her (anything more than a fiver is VERY unlikely, let’s face it.) But friends and gift giving? You are sailing in uncharted waters, I’m afraid and you are almost certainly going to be caught out in one of two ways. This will either be by the friend who obviously thinks more of you than you do of them and splurges a huge amount on some lavish present (thus making you feel a complete heel as you plumped for the Body Shop two-piece bath set from the outlet store.) The other option is that you over-spend on their gift, thus making you appear very needy, having to “buy” their friendship and making you feel slightly bitter in the process as you spent £189.99 on the Champney’s “Top-to-toe Spa Day” for your chum when you could have spent it on yourself. Just think…if you didn’t have these people to deal with in the first place, you could have bought that lovely winter coat you have had your eye on since September, couldn’t you?

There are other minor annoyances that one needs to deal with when you have other people in your life: Christmas cards are just a small irk of mine. Folk that you see on a semi-regular basis will send you a card mid-November and it will not just be a run-of-the-mill job, oh no. Dear reader, they will have hand made the wretched thing, conjuring up the inscription inside to ensure that it is both festive and personal to you. This means you can’t simply pop into the corner shop and pick up the first card you find covered in glitter with a robin or snowman on the front: you are forced to deploy your own creative flair in order not to be outdone. You know from bitter past experience that this never ends well and you end up passing off your efforts as something one of your children has done to explain away its naivety. Never commit to ANY activity that involves a Pritt Stick. That is to say nothing of the second guessing as to whether someone will send you ‘Season’s Greetings’ in the first place: I am sure you know the feeling when you get to the second week in December and you haven’t had a card from some obscure person in your life, and you breathe a little sigh of relief that this acquaintance has finally got the hint and not bothered to send you one through the post this year. This relief quickly turns into frustrated rage when, just as you think you are in the clear, it arrives exactly one day after the last posting day for mail, just before the good old Post Office shuts down for the holidays. This means you have no way of returning the ‘favour’ to the smug so-and-so who sent you the card and leaves you feeling embarrassed and shamed for your lack of thought and care towards others. There really is no need to put yourself through this ignominy, you know? Simply eschew any connections with these people and those social obligations to take part in this slightly odd festive ritual of card-sending from the outset. Members of my family are fully aware that there will be no such pointless post from me, so why would I even think about engaging in such activity with others?

Right, so we have made a conscious decision that Christmas is a very private and special time, whereby you should attempt to limit yourself to immediate family only and even then, make sure that you can stand to be in a room with them for two or three days in a row before you commit to anything. But what about New Year’s Eve? The one time of the year when people seem compelled to spend the evening with other allegedly like-minded folk and party the night away. I have a sneaking suspicion, however, that the vast majority of us would like nothing more than to be tucked up at home all on our lonesome, watching the New Year’s fireworks display on the Thames from the comfort of our sofa, rather than feeling obliged to join in the merriment. Friends often make this notion practically unattainable as they feel it is their moral duty to enforce the fun, no matter how much you might protest. “You can’t stay at home on New Year’s Eve!!!!” they berate you, staring in disbelief that you would even suggest such a thing. It becomes utterly futile trying to convince your chums that you really would rather stay home than face enforced celebration with a bunch of people in various states of sobriety, being hideously over-charged for the privilege. From drinks to taxi fares to door entry at the local night-spot, the ‘powers that be’ ( or ‘they’ if you will once more!) seem to think that, just because we are about to lurch into yet another cold and inhospitable January, they have carte-blanche to charge at least three times the price for everything, and expect you to be fine with this. Well I am here to tell you, dear reader, that I am NOT and I refuse to fill my life with people who make me feel socially abnormal simply because I would rather not partake in this bizarre ritual. It is a matter of personal choice and I will not be bullied into “making an effort” and, frankly, if these people were actually the ‘friends’ they proport to be in the first place, they would respect my wishes to be left well and truly alone. You know that, if you were to relent and tag along with your merry band of compatriots, you would end up becoming the one that has to listen to everyone’s problems, hold their handbag whilst they are ‘unwell’ in the toilet and make sure that everyone gets home safely. This is not for you – this is a job for a social worker and, if you don’t feel that ‘social’ in the first place, I put it to you that you are the wrong person for the position.

And, heaven forbid, what if they invite you to a house party on the big night? I have to admit a lot of the reasons for not going out that are listed above go out of the window when someone mentions that they are having a few friends round for a night of jollity and merriment. Let’s face facts, gentle reader, you cannot play the poverty card as a reason for not venturing out on New Year’s Eve if the whole bash is being done on the cheap at home, now can you? “We’re having party games!” they screech, as if this is an additional incentive to attend. Oh yes, THAT will clinch it for you….a dozen or so hapless fools trying to pass a balloon from one person to another without the use of their hands whilst having consumed far too much red wine, with the host flapping her arms up and down in wild appreciation of the silliness if it all as if this will make the spectacle more ‘fun.’ Ohhhh the shame, the tedium and not to mention the halitosis from the home-made hummus that has been festering on the sideboard since 4pm with a few limp strips of carrot as its accompaniment. Plus, of course, there is always the risk that they might run out of booze and you are left with the prospect of having to raid the spirits collection stuck at the back of the drinks cabinet, ending up trying to adjust your pallet to the taste of Ouzo and orange juice with a hint of Limoncello (as the host has decided to go all ‘continental’ and have a go at making dodgy cocktails with leftovers from the couple’s Mediterranean holidays.) One is also still faced with the thorny problem of trying to get home at 3 am, since, unless you booked your cab six months in advance of the occasion, you have no chance of a ride home (and even then, it’s fifty-fifty whether it find the house you are trapped in or, indeed, if they will bother to turn up at all.) This kind of enforced celebration should be outlawed, in my view, with transgressors forced to walk the streets on New Year’s Day morning and clear up the filth and detritus that their fellow revelers have left behind. Trust me, they will not be able to face another après-club kebab when they see one at close quarters in the harsh light of day, strewn across a pavement and covered in vomit (I DO apologize for the very vivid image there, good reader, but I am in high dudgeon at present so I am sure you will understand.) I feel that this would not only be a fitting punishment, but also act as a service to the community. I shall survey their pitiful, shuffling bodies cleaning the street outside my warm, comfy home with more than a hint of smugness…and quite rightly so!

In conclusion…

So there you have it, gentle reader. Just a few of the many, many MANY reasons why cluttering up your life with other people really isn’t the holy grail that you might have been previously led to believe it is. If you have gone through life feeling somehow disadvantaged by the fact that you have been, for the most part ‘sans amis,’ please do not be so hard on yourself. If anything, judging by some of the horror stories I have picked up over the years, you have probably done yourself a favour! This book is by no means a comprehensive or exhaustive list of reasons and I am sure, if you put your mind to it, you can probably think of some other benefits which you are more than welcome to share with ‘the group.’ However, I can assure you, my dearest reader that each reason contained within this little tome has been carefully researched and, I hope you’ll agree, they make perfect sense.

If you are one of those people who quite often feels like a bit of a square peg in a round hole, socially inept, or would describe yourself as a ‘bit of a loner’ then that’s just fine. You do not have to feel obliged to conform to folk’s expectations; you can be quite content in the knowledge that there are others out there who feel exactly the same, and I do hope this has given you courage to break free from convention and feel happy in your own company. You will hopefully have learnt to spot the signs of those nefarious characters that might try and worm their way into your life and befriend you, meaning you have thus developed a way of repelling them without appearing completely ignorant (no-one wants to be considered rude, after all!) You can maintain professional relationships at work, keep family at a safe distance, eat what you like, buy what you like and spend your free time doing exactly what you want, rather than being glued to a screen, stabbing at a keyboard and typing meaningless messages to people.

Be warned though, following some of the advice in this book may, unfortunately, have the opposite effect. It is entirely possible that ‘they’ might want to become your friend even more: by being aloof and non-committal, you may appear (to the untrained eye) to be something of an enigma, or a mystery, if you like. People might say “Ooooo she keeps herself to herself doesn’t she? I wonder what does on behind closed doors there…” or “He’s a bit of a dark horse – reckon there’s more going on under the bonnet than we know…” All this might conspire against you and make you even more appealing as a chum – a “closed book” just waiting to be prized open by a “caring friend.” FIGHT IT! Fight the urge to ‘stop off for a drink after work with a colleague’ or ‘pop round for a coffee with the neighbours’ because, before you know it, they will be sucking every ounce of life out of you and turning you into…..one of them. Zombie-like you will feel powerless to their pleas to swap e-mail addresses or ‘phone numbers’ and will be forever hooked into their grasp; at their beck and call 24 hours a day, as a shoulder to cry on or an ear to confide in. Ultimately, this will result in losing any sense of control over your own life and turn you into a therapist / counsellor / taxi service / caterer / social calendar organizer….ALL of which you are not qualified to be. This may all sound a bit grim, but mark my words, I have seen strong people brought down by these ‘befrienders’ before, and it is not a pretty sight. I hope this book has enabled you to start building your metaphorical barriers and battening down the proverbial hatches prior to a befriending attack – you will need all the ammunition you can lay your hands on, trust me.

What this book doesn’t do, I’m afraid, is teach you how to shake of people you have been daft enough to let into your life in the first place (you silly fool, you!) For this you will need to be very strong and have the determination to extricate yourself from them, but I do not, for a moment, say that this will be a pain-free process. If you are a decent person (and I have no reason to believe that you are not – you have read this book, after all!) you will not wish to cause any undue suffering to yourself or other folk, but it may well be a necessary evil. It is a sad fact, dear reader, that this might well be a necessary evil, although you may well be able to minimize the damage to your own Khama by letting the other person down gently. You could stop taking their calls, be vague about the fact that you have changed your number, shut the curtains and pretend to be out until, eventually, they get the hint and stop trying. If you are a good egg, this may generate some feelings of guilt, but you really shouldn’t let this get to you – what you are doing is for the greater good, after all (albeit you own greater good, but when was self-preservation such a bad thing?!) Just have the confidence to believe in your own convictions and bite the bullet – it will be messy but it’s nothing that a spot of shopping or a nice cream bun won’t fix – and you won’t have to take anyone with you for either of these little treats!

So go forth and be happy in your own world, and roam free - I feel that you and I have developed something of a mutual understanding over the course of this book and I do hope you feel the same. Before to start looking at me suspiciously and thinking "Hang on, is this a friendship starting to form before my eyes?" then think again. Have you not absorbed the purpose of this literary journey? It has been a pleasure to share your company for a while but I am not looking for a buddy, here, just doing my bit to educate others as to the perils of friendship. Now go forth and spread the word...erm....actually no, don't do that. That would involve you talking to other people and if you have learnt nothing from my wise words, communication with others is where 99% of friendships begin and we don't want that, now do we? Maybe just email someone the title of this book (anonymously, of course,) or pop it on a Post-It note and leave it where folk can see it. You are an intelligent person and I am sure you will find away to get your message across without having to say it. Whatever your future plans, remember that you are in control of your own destiny and other people are merely an unwanted and unnecessary distraction. I wish you nothing but happiness and joy, safe in the knowledge that you have finally had an insight into the many benefits of having no friends!


The Many Benefits of Having No Friends

Join Miraya Hartley as she guides you through the day-to-day hazards and social awkwardness that comes with weighing oneself down with unnecessary friendships, offering words of comfort and practical advice. Tackling such thorny issues as “Technology”, “Family relationships” and even “Holiday Seasons” she aims to reassure the troubled reader that “One can, indeed, be fun!” This “self-help” manual of sorts will help the disaffected and the downtrodden break free from the shackles of the opinions and actions of others as Miraya recounts her own journey on the path to social freedom. Within this publication, Miraya has relied on her years of experience to help others build the confidence to reject the intrusion of others , which has helped her become one of the most well-adjusted and confident women in Britain today! Join her in her quest to help the masses rise up against the tyranny of friendship and share your findings with others (if, of course you have anyone left in your life after your own “social pruning!”) (Miraya wishes to point out that there is categorically no clinical evidence to suggest that any of her recommended techniques are, indeed effective in ridding yourself of unwanted friends but , as she puts it “You may well be successful in losing a few in the process!”)

  • ISBN: 9781311739445
  • Author: Blue Panda Press
  • Published: 2015-12-29 19:40:08
  • Words: 23346
The Many Benefits of Having No Friends The Many Benefits of Having No Friends