I work in a media business where there is a high ratio of women to men. As a result dancing partners are in short supply at our Christmas party. As one of the younger, and I must admit more virile men about the place, I have already been claimed by the office manager. She never misses an opportunity to drop a hint about this, which is greeted with Carry On-style sniggers and nudges by everyone in earshot. I must stress this is not a matter of workplace banter. As I recall from last year the old dragon turns very rapacious after a drink or two. And as organiser of the function she has the privilege of booking a room in the hotel where it is held. I am afraid she expects to cement our partnership with more than a goodnight kiss. I can expect no support from my female colleagues. Behind their pretended sympathy I can detect the greedy glint in their eyes as they anticipate the access to the stationery cupboard and the freedom with the kitchen which they imagine this liaison will bring to our department. I have no desire to do a Captain Oates over this. Resignation is out of the question because I am on four weeks' notice.
Terrified, via e-mail
Aunty Ag: The coward's way out would be a strategic minor illness on the day. Food poisoning is an old favourite. But it's Christmas, so be bold! Get drunk. Not just tipsy or merry or jolly, but staggeringly, hogwhimperingly, you're-my-besht-mate, sick-on-your-shoes kind of drunk. No one will want a Christmas kiss from you, let alone anything more. And even if this dragon pounces, (a) you probably won't be capable and/or (b) you won't remember anything anyway.
Uncle Ony: This is not at all amusing. It is the ugly phenomenon of sexual harassment. Women can be just as guilty of it as men, and men can be just as upset by it as the weaker sex, however stiff their upper lips! Contact your immediate superior, your personnel department, your union, and, if necessary on the night, the police!
How do I get what I want for Christmas? I know it's pathetic but every year I open the presents that my family has brought me and spent loads of money on and then spend the rest of the year trying to explain where that beautiful mutton-sleeved jacket has gone when it's actually nestling on the rails at Oxfam.
Elise, via e-mail
Aunty Ag: Doesn't your family ask you what you'd like beforehand so you can offer sensible suggestions? Most relatives are delighted to get a few pointers. If, however, your family doesn't operate this way, enlist the help of a friendly relly (sister? cousin? your mum?) to phone all the mutton-sleeved-jacket-donors in November with some firm ideas of what you'd really like. Probably too late for this year, though.
Uncle Ony: It's the thought that counts. You should be grateful that anyone is getting you anything, rather than carping about minor inadequacies in their choice. After all, what is so wrong with a mutton-sleeved jacket, if it is a symbol of love and goodwill?
I am dreading Christmas because since my mother died, it's just me and my three brothers: I'm the only female. It's not that I mind cooking the dinner but I find that I feel physically self-conscious with just them, and I find some of the humour a bit coarse. I am afraid to speak up and tell them how I feel because they already think I am the snobby one, and either I will upset them and make them feel inadequate, or else they will just think I am a snotty prig.
Angela, Bishop's Stortford
Aunty Ag: Let your brothers sit around being vulgar and gruesome together. It sounds as though they are quite big and ugly enough to sort out their own Christmas, and if that means they have to make their own dinner then so be it. Let them baste their own turkey, peel their own sprouts and make their own gravy. Take off for your best girlfriend's celebrations and join in there.
Uncle Ony: As the old saying goes, we can choose our friends but not our family. But family they are. And Christmas is a family time; a time of togetherness; a time to forgive each other's failings! So they are a trio of big galoots, rude and insensitive and coarse. So what? Boys will be boys!
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