auntie ag & uncle ony

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My cleaning lady has used my Extra Virgin Olive Oil D'Ornellaia to clean the black surround on the fireplace. It has come up beautifully, but I'm livid, and planning to really tell her off about it next week. Do you think I should make her buy a new bottle?

Uncle Ony: It is possible that your cleaning lady, coming, I assume from a different background, is unaware of the distinctions between different forms of cooking oil. I suggest you don't make her pay, but next week talk her through the various oils in your kitchen, pointing out that the D'Ornellaia is particularly expensive and that you have stuck a label on it, saying: "Not to be used for cleaning".

Aunty Ag: Angel, don't be so mean. It's only a stupid bottle of oil. Your cleaning lady may well be taking the piss, and she does have a point since we are all currently disappearing up our own bottoms with olive oil fetishism. Tell her how delighted you are with the fireplace, so delighted, in fact that you're bought her a special bottle of Extra-Cheap-Double Basic Olive Oil de Tesco for next time, which you're told is absolutely the only one to use on fireplaces. If, however, you subsequently find her cleaning the bath with pesto or using your dried porcini as a Brillo pad, she is definitely taking the piss and you should give her a pound coin and ask her to bring a tin of foie gras next week to clean your boots with.

I have a very good friend - at least I thought she was - who works at home and screens her calls using her answerphone. When I call her, she never picks up and always takes a couple of days to ring me back. Last night I was moaning about this to a mutual friend of ours who said: "I don't know what you mean. She always picks up straight away when she hears my voice." I feel really hurt. Should I say something to her?

Uncle Ony: Yes, I think you should "wear" this wound energetically. The etiquette of answerphone screening is far from clear, but she is using it here to create a hierarchy of friendship. Talk to her about her need to control. Perhaps you could suggest she discusses it with a therapist.

Aunty Ag: Don't say a word and don't call her. You don't want a friend who makes you feel second best, and she doesn't want a friend who makes her feel guilty. If she values you, she'll call you, or rather leave a message on your answerphone because you won't be picking up, will you? Then wait a couple of days before you call her back, and let her do all the phoning for a while to restore the balance.

When my long-term boyfriend gave me the heave-ho two years ago, my friends were incredibly supportive, and I have got used to spending most of my time with them - visiting them in the country at weekends and always being available to make up the numbers at dinner parties. Recently though, I have met an attractive merchant banker, and would rather spend my time with him, but I feel guilty about making excuses to my friends. I don't want them to think I relied on them when I was lonely and don't have time for them now I have a boyfriend again.

Uncle Ony: Your problems, Caroline, are low self-esteem and blocking through old hurt. What makes you think so badly of yourself that you feel your friends will not understand you wanting to spend your time with your new partner? Is it really loyalty to them which is preventing you seeing as much of him as you would like, or fear of being hurt again? Do you want a partner, or your story? Try saying to your partner: "I give you this pain, so it will no longer come between us."

Aunty Ag: (Your problem, Ony, is that you talk complete gibberish). Caroline, do get your priorities right. Men come and go, friends last forever. Tell your friends, you're in the throes of a heady new passion, so you might be a touch less available but you still love them, and worship the ground they walk on as much as ever. Make up for the reduced contact with extra phone calls and attention, and don't, for God's sake, stop spending time with them, it'll keep the new man on his toes . How do you know he's not going to turn out to be a schmuck anyway? (Just in case he doesn't and you want to hang on to him avoid the following words at all times in his presence: "hurt", "pain" "self-esteem", "story", "partner".)

My best friend got married a few years ago and now has two small children. I think she's bored being at home all the time, and is always ringing up wanting me to go round for the evening. The trouble is, when we were both single we could go out and have a great time, but when I go round there, exhausted after work, it's all kids, kids, kids and I have to sit and admire while she and her husband give the kids their tea and put them to bed, and then I have to gush on and on to her about how marvellous the little darlings are. If I ask if we can go out instead she says it is to expensive to get a babysitter.

Uncle Ony: Hmm. Ask yourself why you are acting out the selfish career woman role so fiercely. What feelings are you blocking here? It seems to me the real question is not about how much you enjoy, or otherwise, your evenings with your friend, but how much you want children of your own.

Aunty Ag: Darling, tell me about it. I've spent more bloody evenings than I care to remember in a roomful of adults staring rapturously at a mindless two-year-old as if the child were something out of the more heavily encrusted emerald range from Tiffany's. The trick is to get out of the hideous evenings without the parents ever realising you are less than infatuated with their hideous sprogs. First call the husband, tell him you have an appalling personal problem which you need to discuss privately with your friend, and that you're sure he wouldn't mind babysitting just this once. Turn up, spend a quality five minutes showering the sproglets with inexpensive trinkets and kisses - taking care not to mark your clothes - then drag your girlfriend off to a bar and order a couple of Manhattans. Once she remembers how great it is she'll soon slip back into the habit.

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