FRIENDS OR FOES?

I am in a real social tangle. In my extended group of friends, as we all grow older, it seems that nearly everyone has at some stage had an affair, relationship or just a snog with everyone else. Unfortunately, not all of these encounters have ended happily and my brain is taxed remembering who can stand to be in the same room as who else. It severely restricts parties and dinner parties in particular: the seating plans are a nightmare. Please help.

Socially embarrassed, London W6

UNCLE ONY: The onus is on your guests to behave themselves, whoever they may meet at your table. It is a matter of simple good manners to behave with the same politesse to, say, an axe murderer who happens to be sitting next to one at dinner, as one would to one's best chum. I would ignore any such footling behaviour and invite whomsoever you please! After all, you are mistress in your own home!

AUNTIE AG: Take a few minutes to set up a detailed card-index scheme, angel. All hostesses used to keep one as a matter of course, to note down what they had fed people, so there was never any danger of serving up the same food twice. Rather than keeping notes on who has already tried your boeuf en daube or lime and banana parfait, your index needs to keep track of those ill-judged snogs and clinches, darling. Or is there one friend among them who has managed to upset absolutely everyone else? If there is, make sure you invite him every single time, and he will provide a handy focus for everyone else's bad feelings.

HOARD AND LODGING

Like a recent correspondent, I am married to a hoarder. My husband rarely throws anything away. The shed and cupboards are full of bits "that might come in handy". As for clothes, not only does he commandeer his sons' cast-offs (they are taller than him) but he has an almost pathological regard for old clothes. But here's the real rub. When, on rare occasions, he does suggest we have a clear-out, what is top of the list? My clothes - and some of them not so old. Any suggestions, short of asking the rag- and-bone man to swoop?

Joyce, Whitton

UNCLE ONY: Marriage, Joyce, is a delicate see-saw of give and take. I'm sure that there are things you do that irritate your husband as much as his hoarding irritates you. Who knows if even now he is not writing off to me to complain about, say, your constant tuneless humming or refusal ever to take the rubbish out to the dustbin! If hoarding is your husband's worst trait, then you are a lucky woman indeed.

AUNTIE AG: Oh, darling, you must be driven frantic. I am sure you have tried all obvious measures, like limiting hoarding space to, perhaps, just the shed or unobtrusively throwing out the oldest and raggiest bits and pieces he insists on hanging on to. However, angel, the fact that you have grown-up sons suggests to me that you have let this situation go on rather a long time to try to rectify it. Men are like puppies: they need firm, consistent handling right from the very start. Determined training from the beginning can turn round some seemingly hopeless cases. But the longer you leave it, the more set in their ways they become, and I'm afraid you can't teach an old dog new tricks, darling.

FESTIVE FEAR

We are about to have our usual Christmas sparring match about who goes and stays with whom. Her parents live on the south coast, mine are in Yorkshire, and it is impossible trying to fit them all in over the festive season, especially as we don't have a car and have to wrestle with the vagaries of Connex and GNER. We try to see one set at Christmas and the other at New Year, but whichever pair gets the actual 25 December starts getting all smug and the other pair feel hard done by. We are in our early thirties and can't help feeling that it is a bit exaggerated to make so much fuss about Christmas now we aren't children any more.

John, London SW4

UNCLE ONY: The fact that you aren't children any more is very likely part of the problem. Both sets of parents are probably harking back wistfully to days gone by when you and your wife met Christmas in a spirit of childish enthusiasm rather than adult cynicism, disillusionment and wrestling with train timetables. Why not try to recapture a little of that spirit by asking both sets of parents to stay with you and trying to recreate a truly traditional family festival that embraces everyone and leaves no one out.

AUNTIE AG: Embracing everyone and leaving no one out can be done with a lot less effort in some some lovely country-house hotel on neutral ground (the New Forest? the Welsh borders?). That would mean no one feeling put out at being abandoned on the 25th, angel. Even better, no one (particularly not you) will have to peel the potatoes, do the washing up, or hoover up the pine-needles.

SAY IT WITH BOTTLES

What Christmas presents should I buy this year? I have two parents, a girlfriend, a sister and brother-in-law, two nearly grown-up nephews and a grandma to sort out.

Andrew, Ipswich

UNCLE ONY: I cannot possibly say, Andrew, for the essence of a good present is one that is thoughtfully tailored to the individual, taking into account their tastes and character.

AUNTIE AG: Champagne, darling, for all of them. It is a universally acceptable gift. And if you buy a case and give them a bottle each, that leaves four for you as well! Perfect, no?

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