I really am getting very annoyed at doing things I don't particularly want to do simply because I've been tricked into accepting invitations. Often people will start what appears to be a harmless conversation with the words, "Are you doing anything this Tuesday/weekend/summer?" I, being an honest type, fall into their trap by answering, "No". Usually if I'm not "doing anything" it is out of choice - I like occasionally to do lots of nothing, or at least to be able to leave a gap to be filled with my own preferred pastimes. However, on far too many occasions I've then been invited to something absolutely awful with people I'd rather not know - of course you can see my predicament! I try never to preface an invitation with such a sneaky opener, but it seems that more and more people are using it. What do you suggest as a simple, polite but definite way of declining in such circumstances?

Miss Owen, London, SW6

UNCLE ONY: Dear me, what arrogance! There is nothing "sneaky" about people inviting you out, Miss Owen, they are simply being friendly. Loneliness is one of the scourges of the twentieth century and, frankly, many people would love to be in your "predicament." I hope for your sake none of your friends are reading this, or your problem may be solved more swiftly and definitively than you might have wished.

AUNTIE AG: Just because you are never inundated with invitations, Ony, there is no need to dismiss the problems of those for whom it has become a complete nightmare. I quite agree this is maddening, darling. The way round it is never, ever, under any circumstances, carry your diary on your person. That way, when someone says "Are you doing anything next Thursday?" you can quite truthfully reply, "I really don't know! I'll have to check when I get home!" This gives you the opportunity to think about their offer, weigh it up, and if necessary discover a prior engagement, angel.


The other day, I went to the Ivy restaurant for dinner as a birthday treat and ordered a gin and tonic as an aperitif. It came with a straw and I hate drinking gin and tonic through a straw so I took it out. Now I am worried that I have committed a drinks faux pas. Is there such a thing as straw etiquette? And if so, what is it?

Maud, Ealing

UNCLE ONY: Of course there's no such thing as "straw etiquette." If it exists at all, it's the kind of ludicrous finickery dreamed up by chi- chi establishments to intimidate their clientele. Be brave and independent and use your straw if you want to and don't if you don't!

AUNTIE AG: In practical terms a straw can be helpful, as it means any ice cubes in your glass don't bang against your teeth, should you take a substantial sip. Also, where appropriate, you can use it as a stirrer. And don't forget that sipping through a straw heightens the effects of alcohol (remember ordering cider and black and a straw as a student?) But straws are by no means compulsory (unless you are five). If you do choose to use one, the most important thing is to avoid any nasty slurpy sounds.


I am a professional sportsman at national level and, as such, I have to be very fit. I train assiduously, but I am unable to resist the lures of junk food. I'll have muesli and fruit for breakfast, pasta and salad for lunch, then ruin it all with a doner kebab for supper. Is this a psychological defect? How can I mend my ways?


UNCLE ONY: Subconsciously, you feel you do not deserve your status as a professional representative of your country. You are sabotaging your own efforts because you do not feel worthy. Could there be something in your emotional life, perhaps quite unconnected with sport, that you feel ashamed of? If so, begin by dealing with that. Forgive yourself, and resolve to work on your personal faults. Then start to develop your visualisation techniques: tell yourself ten times every morning that you are a worthwhile human being. As you feel more confident in other areas, you will find your dependence on dead, greasy, fat-laden, overcooked, overspiced mutton laced with diesel oil will decrease.

AUNTIE AG: Oh, darling, surely with your punishing physical regime the odd kebab here and there really doesn't matter? Just run a few extra miles to work it off. Or, even better, wean yourself from doner onto shish. Doner isn't terribly good for you, but shish is simply grilled meat, which I'm sure would be acceptable to your trainer. And all the chilli sauce might give you an extra burst of speed the next day.


A woman at work is accusing me of sexual harassment but I was just flirting. (I did pinch her bottom once but it was only a joke! I was being post- modernly ironic, as I tried to explain.) She has not yet made a formal complaint and I hope she won't take things that far, but I still feel shocked, angry and upset. What can I do?

Mark, Birmingham

UNCLE ONY: Alas, Mark, gone are the days when one could offer a friendly smile, joke, pat or pinch to a member of the fairer sex without risk of a writ! I'm afraid that both the law and public opinion would condemn you and I can only suggest you give this lady a wide berth in future.

AUNTIE AG: Yes, bloody well stay away from her. There is nothing post- modernly ironic about bottom-pinching, so don't kid yourself - in fact it is positively neanderthal and so are you. Tsk!