Aunty Ag: At the same time you could probably clobber them for not sending you to a Montessori school, not getting you psychoanalysed, and not beating you into playing the piano like a dream - I refer you to the excellent film Shine if you're not sure what I mean. (I assume from your letter that you haven't had any of these advantages.) Go for it.
Uncle Ony: Rather than suing them you should be thanking them. Pushing children to their limits and beyond does them no good. You might have been rich if you'd been a tennis champion but you might also have been irretrievably psychologically damaged. We should all feel sorry for poor little tennis moppets, because of the damage done to their psyches by the over-zealous nurturing of their killer instincts and will to win. Be glad that your parents have left you to be as sappy and laissez-faire as you want. Of course if you had been a tennis champion you'd have retired on your millions by now or become a top television sports commentator personality, but there's more to life than money and adulation. Trust me, there is.
I've got my mum and dad coming to stay for the weekend next week, which is lovely and I'm looking forward to seeing them. The problem is the catering. Usually when I have people to stay I buy in food from Marks & Spencer or somewhere like that so I don't have to spend half the time in the kitchen, but my mum is horrified if she opens the fridge and finds it full of ready- prepared stuff. She stands there peering in saying things like "pounds 1.99 for a bag of ready-chopped runner beans! You can get beans for just a few pence, you know!" and I feel so criticised it ruins my weekend. For me, the time is far more important than the cost but my mum just doesn't see it that way. How can I arrange things so we're all happy?
Flora, via e-mail
Aunty Ag: Lay in a mound of unadorned vegetables, with mud still clinging to them if possible, hand your mum a peeling knife and go and put your feet up - after all, while she's attacking the veg, she may as well do the rest too. You could gracefully offer to do the washing up afterwards, though.
Uncle Ony: This isn't about cost, this is about social mores. Subconsciously your mother feels she isn't being sufficiently valued by you because you aren't investing time and effort in preparing for their visit. For older people, splashing money doesn't count in the same way as genuine effort. Why don't you take a day off work before they come to prepare some home- cooked meals from scratch to put in the fridge? That way your mother will know you care but you won't have to neglect your parents to spend time slaving over a hot stove.
My husband swelters in the heat but absolutely refuses to wear shorts, even though I've bought him a lovely pair plus some nice sandals to go with them. It drives me mad watching him all hot and uncomfortable, especially when we're in the garden or walking in the country, but he absolutely won't get out of his usual clothes and into something a bit more appropriate to the summer. I have tried begging, cajoling and snarling but he refuses to be budged.
Marie, via e-mail
Aunty Ag: Cut all his trousers off at the knee. Then he'll have no option.
Uncle Ony: Stop trying to push your poor husband into wearing clothes he doesn't feel happy with. Imagine if he was trying to force you into a bikini or hotpants against your will: you'd be insulted and unhappy. Why should it be any different for him, just because he's male? In essence what you are describing is sexual harassment! He probably has dreadful legs, skinny, white and hairy, just like many other men, and doesn't want to show them off. Quite right too.
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