Dear Serena: Modern manners: Your cut-out-and-keep guide to surviving the minefield

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Dear Serena,

Young women wear such revealing clothes these days that I don't know what to do with my eyes. The other day, I glanced up as I was giving a lecture (I'm a college lecturer) and directly in front of me, about five feet away and right in my line of sight, was this enormous, curvaceous cleavage. Since it was so blatantly on display, does this mean that it is all right to look? Or should one look away? To look or not to look: that is the question. Advice, please.

Andrew, Pontypridd

It's funny how everyone goes on about the ill-controlled hormonal surges of the adolescent male, when most of the time they don't bat an eyelid at the half-naked wenches who surround them. Noticing scanty clothing on the young, meanwhile, is one of the first signs of ageing: the degree of nakedness in the streets is no greater now than in the Sixties, but each successive generation, once they've got their mortgages, continues to remark on the amount of flesh on show among those younger than them.

Young women, however, still have the same schizophrenic attitude to their bodies as they have always had: they dress to stand out among their peers, but hate being singled out for it. Despite all the signs to the contrary, they don't want you to look. Avert your eyes and think of Teresa Gorman; it's the only way of avoiding getting a reputation, however unjust.

Besides, one should remember the old truism that women invariably put on a stone or so when they first leave home. The tops in question may have been perfectly decent a year ago, the wearers just haven't noticed the change in themselves. When the buttons finally give up the ghost under the strain, they will be brought, miserably, face to face with the reality of their own ageing.

I don't believe in pesticides, but the greenfly are already infesting my roses. What should I do?

Sheila, Kentish Town

Buy a hand squirter, put in a few shards of household soap, top up with warm water and shake until it's dissolved. Use half to spray on the infestation, and the remainder to wash your best party clothes. They have obviously been sitting in the back of that wardrobe for far too long.

I was thinking of burying a time capsule for the Millennium. Where should I bury it, and what would you recommend that I put in it?

Toby, Ballygowan

Whatever you do, don't think about burying it in a greenfield site, as the chances are that it will be dug up to make way for a superstore by half-way through the coming century. Ever-decreasing ticket sales would suggest that the grounds of Althorp House might be a suitable spot: either that, or the environs of Sellafield.

As to contents, you should bear in mind that half the population, plus the producers of children's programmes and the PR arm of the government, will be competing with you in the run-up to the big day. As a result, our descendants will have any number of photos of political leaders, pictures of the Spice Girls, platform boots, etc. As everyone else will be vying to show what a sophisticated, caring society we are, I would advise concentrating on fitting in as many of modern science's more ghastly developments, to try to give a more rounded picture. Try, for starters, a silicone breast implant; a photograph of one of those cats with no hair; a CD case; a copy of The Sport; a photograph of Jocelyn Wildenstein; a Planet Hollywood menu; a Martine McCutcheon single; a Pot Noodle; a Body Shop White Musk scent spray; a picture of Canary Wharf; nylon underpants; the seating plan and inner dimensions of a Unijet plane; and Anchor canned spray cream.

I, too, am planting a Millennium box in my back garden, and would welcome suggestions from readers as to what to put in it. Suggestions to the usual address, with full contents to be disclosed later.

What will the spring bride be wearing this year? And what is the fashionable wedding present?

Polly, Nantwich

Seriously, Polly: there are support groups for this kind of thing.

My parents are rather old-fashioned and, despite the fact that we have been living together for two years, they insist that my partner and I have separate rooms when we go up to stay. I really resent this. How do I insist on sharing a room without alienating them?

Barney, Woolwich

As I'm sure they told you when you were a teenager, it's their house, and while you're in it you have to live by their rules. Life's really too short for you to be stewing about this sort of thing at your age; you should give in gracefully. If you've been living together for two years, it's not like you're going to be wanting to have sex or anything like that.

Knotty problems with the world today? Write to The Independent, 18th Floor, 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL, where they will be treated with the customary sympathy

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