Counselling: auntie ag and uncle ony

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A DIVINE SIGN

I have been working out for nearly two years now and I have been very happy with the development of my body, especially my chest. However, the other night I was flexing my muscles in front of the mirror before going to bed and I noticed that the shadows it formed bore an uncanny resemblance to the face of Christ in the Turin Shroud. This has put the fear of God into me. Should I be worried?

G Butler, Edinburgh

UNCLE ONY: This is an, admittedly unusual, variation on all these supposed holy apparitions in strange-shaped root vegetables, dusters, bagels etc. I'm afraid that all these are simply random configurations, on which superstitious people pin their own hopes and dreams and beliefs. There are no exceptions to this rule, not even your chest muscles. Observations of this kind are, frankly, no more and no less than a variation on the late-lamented That's Life television programme's hilarious takes on saucily-formed carrots and parsnips and so on. However, you do not mention in your letter if you are a man or a woman. If you are a George or a Gerald, my only suggestion is that you pull yourself together. If, however, you are a Gertrude or a Gloria, it occurs to me that you may be suffering from a false sense of body-image (common with the ladies, not so with the lads!). Perhaps, Gertrude or Gloria, if such you are, you could send me a photograph revealing the full extent of the "problem" that I could assess, to see whether you might be a candidate for intensive one-to-one therapy.

AUNTIE AG: Oh, darling, if you've been working out for nearly two years now I should think you're just a bit over-tired. Probably all the blood has rushed from your brain to your biceps. I'm sure the last place Christ would choose to appear is on your chest, angel - it's hardly the most significant or high-profile place to manifest. Calm down, have a glass or two of champagne, give yourself a little rest from the body-building, and don't go back to the gym until you feel better.

NUBILE AND NERVOUS

I am in my thirties and lots of my friends are having babies. I have noticed that some of them are delightfully placid and a joy to be with, while others are screaming brats. I am terribly nervous that, were I to start a family, I would end up with the latter, not the former. Is there anything one can do to maximise the chances of ending up with a little angel rather than a little devil?

Maria, Honiton

UNCLE ONY: A baby is not something that you can have delivered to order, Maria! You sound most immature and selfish to me. The responsibility of creating a new life and piloting a tiny human being through its most formative years is not something that you can arrange to suit yourself! A wee infant is a complex mix of both its parents with a big dollop of its very own self to boot and it comes with no guarantees attached. In any case, behaviour in early life is no guarantee of what happens later on. Your child could be an angelic nursery-schooler and turn out to be a crazed chain-saw wielding serial killer. By the same token, it could be known mostly for pinching all the other toddlers in the class and stealing their toys, and then forge a successful career as a brain surgeon. If you cannot get to grips with this, I would advise a long wait before you set foot on this very responsible road.

AUNTIE AG: Having a baby is indeed a scary lottery, darling. There is a lot of stuff talked about playing soothing music to your unborn baby and the like, but I would take it with a soupcon of salt. However, take heart. It's true that some kiddies are utterly charming and others are stomach-sinkingly vile. But do the parents notice? No. They are all always convinced they have got one of the adorable kind. Should you take the plunge it is guaranteed you will think your own child the most beautiful, intelligent and talented little tot ever to grace the planet - it's Nature's way, angel.

EMAIL JUNKIE

My firm recently installed e-mail, both internal and external, on all of our computers. Now I spend loads of time each working day e-mailing gossip to and fro and chatting gaily to all my friends and colleagues. This is great, but should I feel guilty about the time-wasting factor involved?

Lucille, London

UNCLE ONY: Your misuse of your computer, your electronic mail facility and your working hours do in fact constitute theft, Lucille. Theft from your employers, but also theft from yourself; because once you start wasting time on trivial pursuits and stop caring about doing the best you can at work, it will have a slow but steady effect on your self-esteem as a worker. Be firm with yourself. Use the tools you have been given for their proper purpose, and eschew the gossipy overtures of others.

AUNTIE AG: Sometimes, Ony, you can be the stuffiest old killjoy that ever walked the earth. Lucille, darling, it's more than possible to e- mail happily and also do your job as well as you ever did, and the proof is that about 80 per cent of British office workers with mailboxes do precisely that (the remaining 20 per cent are very boring and have no friends). The fact of the matter is, angel, that nobody comes into the office at nine, gets down to work, toils solidly till five and goes home again. The leaven of office life is a chat over a cup of tea, a bit of gossip, making the odd personal phone call, and so on and so on - illicit e-mails are simply one of a whole list of little treats that make the world of work bearable, so don't you feel guilty.

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