Counselling: auntie ag and uncle ony

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SMOKE SIGNALS

I'm terribly worried that my teenage son is smoking what we used to call pot - I recognise a certain whiff from my own younger days. What can I do to dissuade him?

Richard, London SW4

UNCLE ONY: Don't panic! Many absolutely sterling youngsters go through an experimental stage and dabble in "soft" drugs without coming to harm. If you want to retain his confidence, refrain from lecturing or hectoring - particularly if you have tried it yourself and even enjoyed it. Join him for a "spiff" (as you'll find such things are now called - do use the right terminology if you don't want to sound like a terrible old fuddy- duddy!) and casually introduce the essential notion of moderation in all things.

AUNTIE AG: Everyone's children are doing it these days, darling, in fact it's quite de rigueur, so I wouldn't worry too much (unless you hold a high-profile Government post, angel, in which case, lock him in his room and throw away the key).

THE TAX MAN COMETH

I have a tax return that has to go back by the end of the month - the first one I've ever had to deal with. I keep taking it out of its envelope (well, plastic bag thingy) and looking at it, but it's as if I am hypnotised: I break out in a cold sweat and chuck it back in my desk. Quite apart from being fined pounds 100 just for being late this time around, I am terrified that I will keep getting more and more of the things, and be unable to sort any of them out, and the tax office will eventually catch up with me in the year 2020 or so, by which time I will be so much in debt that they will make me sell my house and all my possessions to pay the bill.

Desperate, name and address

not supplied

UNCLE ONY: Take it very slowly, Desperate, with a cup of hot, sweet tea standing by. Begin by checking that your name and address on the front of the form is correct: you should be able to do this instantly and it will give you confidence. Then, masking the rest of the questions with an opaque sheet of paper so you cannot see the full extent of the task, move on to question one. Complete it, then stop. Return to the form the next day, and this time try two questions in a row. Should you at any time feel faint, put your head between your knees; if you begin to hyper- ventilate, breathe into a paper bag. The following day, try three questions on the trot, and so on. Before you know it the return will be complete; cut out these instructions and repeat next year.

AUNTIE AG: I suspect it is not so much the form itself that is scaring you, angel, as a most rational fear of entangling oneself in the inhuman tentacles of the Tax System. But I think you already know it has to be done. As an incentive, darling, set aside the pounds 100 you will save by getting the wretched thing in on time, and spend it on some lovely little trinket you've been coveting (remember, the sales are on!). If you are a man, this may be less alluring. Perhaps you could get yourself a new golf club or a pint of beer or something.

LOVE AMONG THE FILING CABINETS

Just before Christmas I wrote to you about my affair with the office love-rat, who was engaged to be married to another woman. Thanks for the advice, but by a strange quirk of fate, his affianced turned out to be a love-ratess and has just left him for another man! I can't help but be secretly delighted: all systems go and full steam ahead. What do you think?

Prudence, Bath

UNCLE ONY: Can you really imagine that a "love-rat" is any better a proposition simply because he has been deserted himself by what you appositely call a love ratess? Tsk! Sometimes I wonder why I bother.

AUNTIE AG: Darling, I must say that on the face of it he doesn't sound like a wonderful catch, if even the love-ratess doesn't want him. But obviously there is a reason for your continuing enthusiasm, so go ahead - though rather than all systems go, etc, I would proceed with caution. Why don't you subtly try and dig out some information about his previous form? Could it be that this whole episode can be chalked up to the iniquities of the evil love-ratess? Maybe this whole rodenty episode is a total aberration. But if he has a history of rat-like behaviour, tread carefully. Good luck, angel.

A RESIGNING MATTER

I came back to work last week after a fantastic fortnight's break over Christmas, seeing friends, lazing around, eating and drinking too much. Now I am in total despair. I hate my job, I hate my office, I hate my computer, I hate my in-tray, I hate my colleagues. I don't think I can keep going until my next holiday. I want to escape permanently to somewhere hot, preferably with David Beckham.

Althea, Bedford

UNCLE ONY: Alas, we have built Christmas up into such a towering edifice that it's no wonder that the post-festive crash is such a powerful and depressing experience. To minimise this next year, I would recommend that you scale down your festive break. Only take a couple of days off, and spend them working for others - perhaps washing up in a hostel canteen. Going back to work will seem positively luxurious.

AUNTIE AG: The ideal solution is to marry a very rich man during one's break, angel, and never go back to work again. But don't count on David Beckham, because he has lots of training to do.

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