Problems such as e-mail etiquette, babies in public places and greedy girlfriends are far too complicated to work out for yourself. That's why Aunty Ag and Uncle Ony are here

You know all those shape-up-for-your-holiday-in-two-weeks diets that appear at this time of year? I'd really like to know if any of them work.

Gail, via e-mail

Aunty Ag: No. None of them. But I suspect you knew that already.

Uncle Ony: Taking care of one's figure is not a two-week job. You have to work at it all year. Suppose your holiday is usually in July: well, the time to start working on your body is August of the year before. It's like keeping up a house: leaving everything to collapse until the whole place is falling down is a very bad idea. If, more prudently, you keep up a rolling programme of maintenance, you will never have to suffer. So shore up your girders, repair your plasterwork, touch up your paintwork on a regular basis! (Rather a neat analogy, I flatter myself.)

It's my girlfriend's birthday soon. We haven't been going out all that long, but she has been dropping hints about presents she would like and they are all rather expensive. I'm a student on a tight budget and haven't got much cash. Of course I'd like to get her something nice but I was thinking more in terms of a bunch of flowers than a gold bracelet. How can I avoid spending more than I can afford?

Dave, Keele

Aunty Ag: Split up with her the week before her birthday. Then patch things up shortly afterwards. This way you will avoid having to spend any money at all.

Uncle Ony: Your girlfriend sounds like a rather grasping young woman. Surely she must know of your financial constraints? A bunch of flowers is a delightful gift that any true lady would be delighted to receive and under the circumstances would be quite adequate. If you haven't been going out all that long, it is quite reasonable for you to want to wait and see whether she is worth investing in expensive jewellery.

The other day I had an e-mail from a friend that came in when I was very busy at work. I glanced at it and made a mental note to reply to it later on. A couple of hours later I had another e-mail from the same friend who was very angry! It said "I know you've read my message, why are you ignoring me?" It turned out that she had attached a receipt request which told her when I opened the message, and she was peeved because I hadn't replied instantly. How long can one reasonably leave it before replying to an e-mail?

Sally, via e-mail

Aunty Ag: If you find a message in your mailbox that is most definitely a personal one from a friend, why not wait to open it until you know you have a minute or two to reply? There is something disappointing and slighting about not getting a swift reply to an e-mail even though there's no reason to assume that the recipient is free to whizz back a quick response.

Uncle Ony: Business e-mails deserve immediate attention but personal ones do not. After all, this is your employer's time you're stealing. (I use the term judiciously.) I utterly deplore the use of electronic mail for personal correspondence. It is lazy and sloppy. Pen and paper is the way to keep in touch with friends.

The other day I wanted to go to the cinema with my wife. We couldn't get a babysitter so we took our four-month-old baby Tamsin along with us. We were turned away because the film had an 18 certificate. Surely this can't be right?

Marcus, Notting Hill

Aunty Ag: I'm afraid I'm on the side of the cinema staff here. Cinemas are no place for babies. They scream and need attention at inopportune moments. This is mildly annoying for you but immensely aggravating for everyone around you. Kindly stay home with a video next time.

Uncle Ony: If only the uptight British had the same attitude as our Continental cousins - in the rest of Europe babies are welcome everywhere, not ignored and rejected! Little adults need to experience a wide range of varied situations in all kinds of companies to become well-rounded big adults. Don't let this unfortunate incident stop you persevering with Tamsin's social education!

Send your problems to Aunty Ag and Uncle Ony at The Independent on Sunday, Canary Wharf, 1 Canada Square, London E14 5DL or

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