Do you have any tips for raising self-esteem? I really think it would change my life if I had more confidence.
Laura, via e-mail
Aunty Ag: Get a tattoo on your forehead that reads "You're wonderful". People will constantly read it aloud in amazement - most gratifying for you.
Uncle Ony: How very sensible you are to want to up your self-esteem levels. If only more people took your pro-active approach! Begin with some positive affirmations. Every morning in front of your mirror, repeat aloud 10 times: "I, Laura, am a competent, attractive and unique human being." You can tailor your affirmation to concentrate on any areas where you are particularly conscious of weakness. I don't have space here to detail all the many other techniques you can use but you should definitely invest in my book: Self Esteem Levels! Up Yours! available at all good bookshops, with an accompanying tape read by me, for a mere pounds 39.99.
I have just read about a miracle swimsuit with so much elastic in that it holds you in and trims your waist and tummy. Do you think this can work? I have been thrown into my yearly state of panic and confusion by reading swimwear articles in magazines and newspapers and feeling terrible because I know I always look so ghastly on the beach.
Aunty Ag: It might work, I suppose, up to a point. But what is the point of losing a few inches from waist and stomach if your thighs are still enormous and dimply and there is a curtain of excess flesh hanging from each upper arm? (I don't mean to sound harsh, but fat stomachs rarely occur in isolation on an otherwise model-type bod.) Swimsuits are a horror experience for most women. Don't read anything more about horizontal stripes miraculously concealing an enormous butt or vertical ones making you look half a stone less. It's all lies. Buy a sarong, or maybe a kaftan. (Do they still do kaftans?) The main consolation I can offer is that on any beach at any time there is someone who looks worse than you. Go and pitch your sun lounger next to them. Cold comfort I know.
Uncle Ony: The point of swimwear is to be free and light, not swathed in layers of elastic like some crazed mummy creature from the crypt. I personally have been much cheered by the recent revival of the Seventies- style mini-bikini and would recommend them to any lady uncertain of her swimwear style. It's time you all stopped punishing yourselves so much about imagined bodily imperfections. Be proud of your tum! It shows you are a woman! I once again recommend my self-esteem course. Anyway, it's only May. You have a good few months for a rigorous diet and exercise regime before summer bathing weather really hits Brighton. You'll feel far better if you drop a stone or three, get toned, and don't rely on some dubious swimsuit to do the work for you.
I shall shortly be going on a business trip to Japan. I was very much looking forward to it until a colleague who has been on a similar trip told me about the centrepiece: a Japanese banquet. I can cope quite happily with sushi and sashimi and tempura but apparently they also serve up things like jellyfish, sea urchin and cod sperm (yes, really). This is meant to be a big occasion and the hosts think they are giving their visitors a treat, but I don't think I could put such things in my mouth without heaving. How can I avoid them without giving offence?
Marcus, via e-mail
Aunty Ag: If you can't fake a touch of flu on the day and miss the whole thing, be extremely enthusiastic - so enthusiastic that you don't bother with your chopsticks but raise the whole bowl to your mouth, in the authentic manner that we see on television. Make a great show of finding it all delicious, but don't actually tip anything from bowl to mouth. Then when their attention is distracted make discreet use of your napkin to conceal the offending morsels.
Uncle Ony: Why is eating jellyfish odder than eating cod or tuna? It isn't. This is the same kind of mental block that means many people who are happy to eat an animal's leg won't touch its liver or heart. It is just plain silly. You should be delighted to have the chance of trying something new and exotic rather than being so finicky and, frankly, pathetic. This is exactly the kind of experience you should embrace when you are sampling a different culture!