Q. Success has come to me in later life with an unfortunate side effect. Since my career has taken off, I cannot see my friends as much as I used to, no matter how dearly beloved they might be. Moreover, on recent occasions when I have managed to see some old friends, it was obvious not only that we are losing shared references but also that they think I am now too rich and grand for them and would rather see ‘celebrities’. When they ask what I have been doing recently (meaning why I have been too busy to see them), I sound like an insufferable snob if I tell the truth. ‘No wonder you’ve got no time for us any more’ is the usual refrain. It’s true that I haven’t got time for them, but I wish I had. The problem is only going to get worse as I get busier. What do you suggest I do?
— Name and address withheld
A. Dame Muriel Spark experienced similar problems with friends in her fifties when her career began peaking. She solved the problem by moving to New York and then Rome. You too could buy a second home abroad. It doesn’t matter if you don’t go there that often — the fact that theoretically you no longer live permanently in the same city as your friends will make the bereavement easier for them to bear, since they can assume that you are abroad, rather than that you are just ignoring them.
Q. I was fortunate enough to be invited to the Cartier Racing Awards at the Dorchester, a very glamorous and enjoyable evening where awards are given to the top racehorses in various categories. Although I don’t work in racing, I am a frequent race-goer and have owned horses, including a Classic winner, for more than 30 years. So I was somewhat surprised when a man I know to have no role in racing and no horses in training greeted me with the words, ‘What a surprise to see you here!’ I was furious but could not think what to say to put this patronising man in his place.
— S.T., Chirton, Wiltshire.
A. You should have assumed an especially sympathetic expression, then cooed, ‘Oh poor you. Is that what a lot of people have been saying to you?’ Then, patting him reassuringly, ‘You just ignore them and have a great evening.’
Q. My husband and I, when we go and stay with people in England, like to take our own teabags with us. I don’t want us to get labelled as cranky, but is this acceptable? We prefer Northern Irish blends such as Punjana and Nambarrie, and these brands are generally unavailable in English households.
— H.S., Portadown
A. It is quite acceptable. Your habit is totally harmless. The key is to exhibit excitement about the brand you have brought with you and offer it to others, rather than to pull a grim face when offered the brand your host prefers.