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

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The Independent Culture
Dear Serena,

Do you have any suggestions as to what to do with leftover turkey?

Sam, Oxford

Just because you taped Immortal Beloved doesn't mean you have to watch it. Go for a walk. It will take your mind off things.

My mother-in-law bought my wife a hideous mirror for Christmas, which I cannot bear to have hanging in my house. She visits us frequently. What do I do?

Laurence, Hammersmith

Unless it was a really expensive mirror, the chances are that in a year or so she will have forgotten she bought it. I've already forgotten what I gave everybody this year, let alone last.

If, however, you think that the mother-in-law is one of those of fabled memory, here are a few suggestions: 1) keep it in a cupboard near the hall and have a hook waiting to receive it whenever the old girl rings.

2) Have children. Break the mirror and blame them. If you can't wait for children of your own, borrow a godchild. Failing godchildren, borrow a rugby team. Failing a rugby team, lend the hall out for an aerobics class.

3) If it's valuable, don't actually smash it, but use all the excuses above and put it in an auction somewhere a long, long way from home - Bristol would probably do, in your case.

Then again, you could bite your tongue and hang the mirror somewhere inconspicuous, such as the spare room. It's amazing how the human eye can filter out things it doesn't like once it's used to them; few people notice electricity pylons and TV aerials these days, though it was all they ever droned on about in the Seventies. I lived perfectly happily for five years out of a six-year tenancy with a Sixties coal-effect electric fire with veneer-effect plastic surround in my living- room. The same might happen to you.

Is it still socially acceptable to troll around the living-room gathering up discarded wrapping paper to save for next year?

Anne, Reading

Yes, but only the nice stuff. Save the rest for lining hamster cages.

Can you settle a disagreement? We went to our new neighbours for drinks on Christmas Eve. They obviously have a lot of money, yet their Christmas tree was artificial, and had multi-coloured fairy lights! My husband insists it was ironic, but I think they are just nouveau.

Julia, Surrey

Honestly, I'm sure there are classes to help people like you get over their crippling snobbery. White fairy lights are a fashion fad; you'll be dusting off those flashing cerise-and-lime ones in a couple of years yourself. So what if they're nouveau? Wouldn't you rather be nouveau than pauvre?

I only work one day a year and get very depressed in the interim. Have you any ideas how I can fill the time until next Christmas?

Santa, Lapland

Simple, darling. Your namesake, Santa Palmer-Tomkinson, and her lovely sister Tara don't work at all, and they never get depressed. Just have a lobotomy, get your name down on the PR lists for all the launches, and you'll never be miserable again.

I know it's more than a year off, but I can't get to sleep with worrying about the millennium. Any suggestions as to how I could avoid it altogether?

Sid, Kenilworth

Easy-peasy. Hire a boat and, on the fateful day in question, sail it from one side of the international dateline to the other at the crucial hour. That way, you can go from 31 December to 1 January without any danger of having to see Jools Holland outside Edinburgh castle.

I've just had a huge row with my mother-in-law, who wouldn't stop interfering in my preparations for Christmas dinner, decorations and games and so forth, and never shut up about the children's behaviour. Now she and my father-in-law have driven off in a huff, and my husband expects me to apologise. Do I have to? And why are mothers-in-law so difficult?

Sonia, Cheadle

Oh, for heaven's sake. Get this into your head: Christmas isn't for you, and it isn't for the kids: it's a festival designed for good Christians to find out just what it is they don't like about their relations, and do something about it. From the sound of it, you have had a successful festive season; now just make the apology and start preparing next year's hostilities. And if you think your mother-in-law is bad, try marrying into a different religion next time; then you'll really know from mother- in-law problems.

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

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