auntie ag & uncle ony

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Last year my aunt, who is a spinster, bought me an onyx phallus for Christmas. It has a round base then this, well, erect phallus protruding vertically from it. There was an embarrassed silence when I unwrapped it. I thanked her and quickly moved onto something else but I have felt extremely awkward with her ever since as I suspect it may have been a lesbian suggestion. I'm terrified about what she's going to buy me this year.

Frances, Matlock

Uncle Ony: It never ceases to amaze me how the younger generation feel that any appreciation of sexuality or sexual beauty by the older generation must constitute a perversion or some kind of grubby pass. Why should your aunt not appreciate the phallus? Why should not she feel that you might do the same? Maybe the real problem is your own response to - particularly male - sexual beauty, perhaps even insecurity about your own sexuality.

Aunt Ag: Darling - I think you'll find it's a kitchen roll holder.

Ever since the Panorama broadcast, my husband has become quiet and withdrawn socially and only comes to life when the conversation revolves around the Princess of Wales. Instead of reading the papers and watching the news in a balanced way he ignores everything except the bits about her to which he reacts violently, yelling "Oh for heaven's sake, of course she's not self-obsessed."etc. etc. The other day I caught him ringing a radio phone-in from a cordless phone in the bathroom to defend her. I'm starting to feel my marriage is - to borrow a phrase from the Queen of Hearts herself - a little crowded. In fact if the Queen of Hearts comes anywhere near me she might just end up as a "battered this or battered that".

Sophie, Northampton

Uncle Ony: Yes, you see this sort of sneering, thinly veiled sarcasm and jealousy is exactly the sort of thing the brave Princess of Wales was trying to explain in her broadcast. Ask yourself an important question here. Would you feel the same way if Diana were not stunningly beautiful, slender yet curvaceous, long legged yet buxom, vulnerable yet strong, with a gaze from those extraordinary dark blue eyes which is at the same time crying out for protection and full of sexual promise? It is not the fact that your husband is feeling the sort of protectiveness any man would feel which it is the problem - it is your own feelings of inadequacy and jealous rage. (I have to say, incidentally that if Diana had come to me instead of Susie Orbach the broadcast would never have been necessary in the first place.)

Aunt Ag: Angel - millions of women up and down the country are suffering in precisely the same way. Until we get a major celebrity (Princess Anne perhaps?) to go on screen and bravely articulate what we are all going through, I think the only solution is to turn things to the good and get on with some serious shopping till the crisis passes. (Just a hint - Pied a Terre black satin and diamante Christmas Party shoes - only pounds 225 !) That will teach him to let his attention stray elsewhere.

I work in a very stressful job and find it impossible to work without smoking.The three people I work with are ex-smokers and spend all day making bitchy remarks and pretending to choke to death every time I light up. Smoking is allowed in the office, and it is not possible for me to sit elsewhere. I wish I wasn't addicted but I am and resent being made to feel like a freak and a pariah.

Tim, City of London

Uncle Ony: Yes, you see "I wish I wasn't addicted but I am." As if you had no say in the matter. As if it were nothing to do with you. Actually smokers, far from being weak-willed victims of addiction are strong willed, determined to persist in ruining not only their own health, but the health and working environment of everyone around them. It disgusts me. You must give up immediately. How would you feel if a colleague persisted in releasing carcinogenic farts into your immediate working environment?

Aunt Ag: (Carcinogenic farts? Oh dear.) Darling, I'm afraid the only way to get them to shut up is to suck up to them without shame. Lure them out for a bottle of champagne, confess, brokenly to your battle with nicotine addiction, your admiration for them, your remorse with each little puff which pollutes their air. Ask humbly for their help in getting you down to - ooh 10 more than you really need to smoke a day. Ask that they cease to feed your self-loathing with their criticism, but instead help you by keeping a chart of your attempts to cut down. Gradually knock off the odd daily fag which will give them a delightful triple sensation of feel- good altruism, moral self-righteousness, and tremendous achievement. By the time you've got down to your normal level they'll be so thrilled with what they've achieved they'll be lighting up to celebrate.

Every year my husband's mother buys us the most disgusting gifts for Christmas a blue glass swan on a wave perhaps, a multi-coloured clock shaped like a hamburger. Last year she bought us hideously garish ready- made curtains which we have had to live with for an entire year in our otherwise tasteful living room. We can't hide the repulsive gifts in cupboards as she's always dropping round unexpectedly. The house has begun to reflect her bizarre taste more than our own. She's been dropping hints for months about a "big surprise" she's going to get us this year. I don't think I can bear it but my husband is adamant that we mustn't hurt her feelings.

Jane, Manchester

Uncle Ony: Is this really about taste, Jane? Does the colour of your curtains really matter more to you than the feelings of someone who evidently cares for you very much. l suspect the real problem is that your mother- in-law has subconsciously put her finger on the flaw in your marriage - lack of colour. It seems to me your husband and you might have some talking and rethinking to do.

Aunt Ag: Ugh. Why so many people imagine the anniversary of our lord's birth gives them licence to dress other people or redecorate their houses is beyond me. Don't have it, darling. Just tell her categorically, - you don't want any bloody surprises for the house for Christmas because you like to choose the things you have around you yourself. Then if she goes ahead you're perfectly entitled to shove the stupid thing, whatever it is, in a cupboard. And during the course of '96 - who knows? - you may well find the blue glass swan gets knocked off its shelf by a freak earthquake and the hook which was holding up the Hamburger clock gives out quite, quite of its own accord.

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