Counselling Auntie Ag and Uncle Ony

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HOUSE PESTS

My husband is delightful in many ways, but he is a terrible ditherer when people ask us to do things we don't want to do. His line in these situations is always "I'll just check with Sue", which is maddening: why do I have to make all the unpopular decisions? An example: we were

invited to a party at the other end of the country that neither of us wanted to go to. Another: a visiting friend-of-a-friend wanted to stay in our spare room for three weeks. My husband, instead of firmly and convincingly saying that we were busy that weekend or that our spare room was already occupied, said he'd "have to check" with me, which means that if there is any nay-saying to be done it's me that comes across as the dirty villain. How can I break him out of this aggravating habit?

Sue, Penzance

UNCLE ONY: I would suspect that your husband is quite simply uncomfortable with the fact that you expect him to tell lies - you can call them white lies or social lies, but they are lies nonetheless. Try getting him to tell the truth: "We really don't want to travel all that way to your party"; or, "We don't want a complete stranger staying with us, especially for such a long time". This can feel a little strange to start with, so he may also like to consider a course of assertiveness training.

AUNTIE AG: Actually, darling, if you follow Ony's advice you will indeed solve the problem, as you will both be so thoroughly unpopular that nobody will invite you or want to stay with you. However, supposing you do not want to break off all human contact, polite little fibs of the kind you mention are essential. My suggestion is a little drastic, angel, but there's no gain without pain. Whenever one of these ghastly situations comes up, acquiesce gracefully. Put on your best frock, lever your husband into a suit, and tootle off to the boring cocktail party in Edinburgh with a smile on your face! Welcome a whole family of friends' friends' cousins twice-removed into your home and give up your own room for them! Just say yes, yes, yes! You will have to endure a couple of nasty experiences but only a couple, for I guarantee that your silly husband will soon start thinking on his feet out of sheer self-preservation instinct.

TRAINSPOTTING

I am being driven to distraction by the commute from my home into my central London office. I can never get a seat on the train and the whole hour it takes me to get to work is a constant battle. It puts me in a bad mood for the whole morning, then I get fed up in the afternoon at the thought of the journey home.

Sean, Twickenham

UNCLE ONY: I can only imagine, Sean, that your city job is well-paid and rewarding, as the problem lies simply with your journey. Carry out a cost-benefit analysis: if you were to leave your job, what salary could you expect out in the sticks, for example. Draw up a list of the advantages and disadvantages of your current situation; if the only thing in the list of disadvantages is the journey, you'd be well advised to tough it out.

AUNTIE AG: Don't look on this daily trial as a boring old commute, darling. Look on it as an extreme sport. Instead of creeping out in a state of depression to join all the other sad sacks, put your trainers on in the morning and really go for it; storm out there, ducking and diving, bobbing and weaving (don't actually hurt any of your fellow travellers in the process) as if you were attacking a monstrous assault course. You'll probably halve your journey time, too.

DETOX DILEMMA

I am about to embark on a detox diet which involves very limited food for ten days, all fruits and salads and sprouts raw foods. The problem is that I have quite a hectic social life and have been invited to two dinner parties during this ten day period. I've always got lots on, and haven't been able to find a suitable free window to complete the whole thing without social engagements. What is the etiquette of dining and visiting at other people's houses in this situation? It's not so bad in restaurants where I can just eat vegetables but I don't want to offend my friends.

Emma, London SW4

UNCLE ONY: Dear me. A guest has certain obligations, Emma: one of the most important is turning up in a spirit that is ready and willing to fit in with the tone of the occasion. Arriving at a dinner party and not wanting to eat or drink does not strike me as fulfilling this criterion. Either go and participate, or don't go at all.

AUNTY AG: If you are determined to inflict this on your hostesses, darling, the most important thing is to inform them that you won't be requiring any food at all, and turn up with your own supplies. It is unspeakably rude to demand a separate menu including freshly sprouted mung beans and alfafa from some poor harrassed woman who is already attempting to cater for half a dozen. I do hope you know these hostesses pretty well, angel, so they won't think you are too bonkers (I wouldn't recommend even attempting any explanations otherwise - just cancel), and be sure to take a lovely gift. Another point: do not hold forth sanctimoniously on the virtues of detoxing when everyone else is tucking happily in. It will put them off and upset whoever has prepared the meal, as you will be implying that the cook is wantonly poisoning all the happy eaters. On the plus side, everyone else will be doubly and trebly grateful for all the delicious cooking on offer when you turn up with lots of tupperware full of naked greenery and they watch you chomping doggedly through it looking all pale and starved.

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