Counselling Auntie Ag and Uncle Ony

NO TEA PARTY

I have a fairly junior position in a large office and because of that I quite often offer to go to the canteen and get a round of tea. I don't mind going to fetch the tea, but while it's only 12p a cup, but if I have to get half a dozen or so that mounts up. All these people I get tea for are earning loads more than me but they never give me their 12ps and if it's an early morning round they sometimes ask me to get some toast or a croissant and if it's afternoon they might want muffins or biscuits. I know it sounds petty but I reckon it's costing me more than a fiver a week and it doesn't seem fair. The last straw was a bacon sandwich last week; it was pounds 1.20 all on its own.

Elaine, London SW1

UNCLE ONY: It most certainly is not fair; in fact it is blatant exploitation by those in a position of power of the young and vulnerable. Speak to your immediate boss, and ask him or her to have a discreet but sharp word with these greedy and insensitive colleagues of yours. With a bit of luck their consciences will prick them and they will stump up a few back payments.

AUNTIE AG: Indeed it isn't fair, darling, you shouldn't have to subsidise the fat-cats' tea breaks. But I would approach things obliquely; rather than making a big fuss, why don't you acquire a large tin, label it "Tea Kitty" in very large letters and place it prominently on your desk, with a couple of pound coins and some silver in it. It's more than likely that your colleagues are thoughtless rather than outright mean and simply haven't realised how much this is mounting up and that it is coming out of your personal funds; once the penny drops, so to speak, they will all feel they have to chuck in a pound every so often. I wouldn't be surprised if you found you were making a small but healthy profit after the first few weeks, angel.

GUEST CONTROL

I am a middle-aged lady of independent means and for one reason and another have decided recently to make a fresh start in life. I moved a few months ago to a very pretty new town where I live alone - in a way this was a mistake, because I immediately missed old friends and felt lonely. Because of this, when one of my neighbours made friendly overtures I accepted them; it was a bad mistake, because now she drops in on me every day and seems to think I want to spend all my time with her. I don't want to be rude to her; how can I gently disengage her?

Barbara, Salisbury

UNCLE ONY: So, Barbara, while your own loneliness is something we are to sympathise with, this lady, who must be as lonely as you, is not to be pitied. Other people have feelings as well as oneself, you know: the notion of "gently disengaging" is shameful, just because you have decided she is no longer useful. Don't be so selfish; this lady evidently relies on your friendship.

AUNTIE AG: One old trick, darling, not coined by me but worth repeating, is to put your coat on just before you answer the door. If it's someone you are delighted to see, you then say "Delighted to see you! I've just got in, let me take my coat off" and if it's someone you aren't delighted to see you can be terribly sorry but just off out. This, however, is a very short-term solution to the problem of unwanted guests and clingy friends. In the long run, why don't you get a job? I know you don't need the money, angel, but it would kill two birds with one stone: get you out and meeting people and also make you less available to your over-enthusiastic neighbour. Join something voluntary if the cash really doesn't count at all, angel. Or donate it to charity. Or send it in here, addressed to moi.

WINDOWS OF THE SOUL

We love our Edwardian terraced house but it is starting to look a bit shabby and we are beginning to get it done up. We have to get some sash windows replaced, and got several moderate quotes from local craftsmen. Then I rang the salesman for a company that makes the Rolls-Royce of windows, lovingly handcrafted from aged timber, perfectly hung and balanced, guaranteed for the next 2,000,000 years etc etc. His quote is six times as much as the others, but now I've seen the Rolls-Royce I don't want to settle for the Ford Escort, even though we absolutely can't afford it. I am disproportionately sad and discontented: after all I bloody deserve the best.

Helena, Beaconsfield

UNCLE ONY: Living beyond one's means is a great evil of the age in which we live. There is no point in having a fantastic set of windows and then not being able to pay the mortgage. Another great evil is this constant lust for ever-escalating acquisition. Some people would be glad to have any windows at all, let alone this Rolls Royce nonsense.

AUNTIE AG: Oh, darling, what a shame you ever got this salesman in: I bet if you hadn't you'd have been quite happy with your local chappies. But think about it. If you spend loads more than you can afford on windows fit for a palace, what about everything else you plan to do? You'll be sitting for the next however-many-years till you can pay them off, in a shabby house with fantastic windows - they will be like jewels in a plastic setting. Fix your mind on all the other projects and don't go calling in anyone else too exorbitant or you'll find yourself perennially sad and discontented and everyone round you will get depressed, angel.

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