They call it madness. We used to get on really well as housemates until one of our acquaintances told us we have a dysfunctional relationship. We are really worried about this. Is living with a perfect Virgo who has a bin-bleaching obsession and whose friend calls you a "bird" perfectly normal? Also, is burying the other person's garden ornament and sliding down the stairs on a duvet with your impy friend just harmless fun? Can you help us? Are we dysfunctional?

A & H, Ipswich

UNCLE ONY: I believe that your friend has detected an unfulfilled sexual undertone in your relationship, and that this is what has so distressed you. Bin-bleaching and antics on the stairway are fine, as long as both parties regard them as harmless fun (though garden ornament-burying has a slightly sinister tone. Does one of you regard themselves as an arbiter of taste, thus making the other one feel inferior?) Many friendships, whether opposite-sex or not, harbour a similar slightly sexual frisson - it's quite normal, and nothing to be ashamed of. So, do carry on, and may I congratulate you on your kitchen hygiene - so important, what with salmonella, E coli, and all the rest!

AUNTIE AG: I can't make head or tail of your letter, angels. What is "impy" exactly? None of this sounds dysfunctional - more student-style annoying, I would say. Though, admittedly, a lot of garden ornaments would be a damn sight better for being buried.


My husband's work keeps organising ghastly black-tie dinners in horrible big hotels. The food is always vile and I utterly resent having to get dressed up to go and be bored by my husband's workmates, who are a crashingly dull bunch. The trouble is, he sets quite a big store by us turning up and seems to think his boss won't look kindly on us baling out of the whole sorry scene.

Gina, Solihull

UNCLE ONY: In these beleaguered days, our work colleagues are our second family, so no wonder your husband is insecure about your rejection of his "relatives". Refusing to attend these affairs is tantamount to boycotting family occasions like weddings and funerals, and you will just have to grit your teeth.

AUNTIE AG: Oh, darling, think of your poor husband, having to spend all day, every day with this shower. Or is he a bit dull himself, angel? I couldn't help wondering, from your letter. If your husband sets such store by these grisly evenings, support the silly thing. Start demanding a new dress for each one. After all, his boss won't want to see you in the same Laura Ashley velvet circa 1987 every time. And you'll need a bottle of something fizzy to get you in the mood while you dress. This should make the whole rigmarole more worthwhile from your point of view, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if economic reasons make him very soon sharply curtail the number of invitations he accepts.


We are about to move to a lovely new six-bedroomed house - well, almost a mansion really, it's the home of our dreams. The problem is that our current house is number seven in the street, while the new one is number 315. I hate this because I think it sounds as though the new house is in a really long, boring, nasty street.

Richard, Bournemouth

UNCLE ONY: You have pinned an underlying acute anxiety about fitting into your new milieu onto this feeling of hatred towards your new house number, Richard - in short, a fear of alienation in your new street. Is this, perchance, a social as well as an architectural leap up for you? Why should a long street be more boring and nasty than a short one, after all? To ease your discomfort, make immediate enquiries about ways to meet and fit in with your neighbours. A good start would be to join the Neighbourhood Watch scheme - jump in with both feet and become the local co-ordinator! Find out about local history groups, pressure groups, social groups - throw yourself into the community and forget about your fears.

AUNTIE AG: Re-christen the place, if you are really so bothered, darling, and you think referring to it as "The Nook" or "Dunroamin" or whatever you come up with will really be less embarrassing than 315, which is a perfectly good solid number. Just don't expect the postman ever to be able to find you.


I tried to make a glut of plums into jam but the wretched stuff wouldn't set and we now have huge quantities of runny jam all over the place. My mother and sisters make perfect jams, so why can't I?

Saskia, Northumberland

UNCLE ONY: Comparing oneself to others is fruitless, Saskia (though evidently there's no lack of fruit in your life, ho ho!) and can lead to feelings of deep depression. Build your self-esteem when things go wrong by focusing on the things you do well, maybe better than your mother and sisters. And don't be too proud to ring them and ask for help with your next jam attempts - people love to be asked for advice and it is a real bridge-builder in sticky situations (ho ho!)

AUNTIE AG: Serve it at dinner parties with vanilla ice-cream and call it plum compote, angel - your friends will lap it up. Life is too short to attempt this kind of endeavour if you don't enjoy it, especially as Sir Terence Conran now sells designer jams - much nicer in the cupboard than nasty, sticky jars with smudgy biro labels, sweetheart.