Mary Killen Mary Killen

Dear Mary: how do I stop my book club banging on about their grandchildren?


Q. At the Ludlow Piano Festival, during a Tyler Hay concert, my husband and I spotted a fascinating-looking couple who were fellow members of the audience. We longed to know who they were and are kicking ourselves that we never found out the identity of this charismatic pair. During the interval we could have approached them but didn’t want to seem pushy or pervy by just introducing ourselves. What could we have said?

– S.S., Abergavenny

A. ‘Sorry to bother you but do you happen to be a friend of Derek Duck? Oh… he gave us a jumper to return to someone he said would be at this concert but we stupidly can’t remember the name of whoever it is. We’ve asked all the other likely men here. By the way, I’m Sylvia Smug and this is my husband Cedric – and you are?’

Q. I am part of a ladies’ book club with many good friends. Recently, however, almost the entire duration is spent sharing photos of grandchildren along with discussions on their progress. I am yet to become a grandmother and now rather dread these evenings. I feign interest, yet it is flagging. How can I steer the conversation back to book matters without offence? – T.J., London SW6

A. Arrive first. As the others drift in, announce that you are longing to get off your chest an encounter you’ve just had with a plumber, but you’re aware you are meant to be talking about the book and so you have brought an oven timer so you don’t go on for more than three minutes. Finish your anecdote as the bell rings. When they start to talk about the grandchildren, say pleasantly: ‘Shall I set the timer again so we don’t get distracted?’

Q. Our eldest daughter, five, is due to start at a London day school in September. The only fly in the ointment is that contact details of the other parents have already been circulated and one mother has set up a WhatsApp group for mums. I really don’t want to join and be part of the competitiveness, nor the trivial details that will be shared, but my husband has cautioned me about appearing standoffish. How can I keep my distance?

– Name and address withheld

A. Most schools have an official PTA class rep who sends a weekly email with all the important info. A WhatsApp group for mums should be optional, but it is sometimes helpful for asking questions at short notice. Why not join, so you can use the group in an emergency, but mute the chat? Be extra friendly at the school gate and if anyone asks if you have read on the WhatsApp group about the latest rivalry issues, look blank and say you are hopeless with technology.

Write to Dear Mary at