TRADING PLACES

This year, as last, it has fallen to yours truly to organise the office Christmas lunch. Which I don't mind. The trouble is the seating arrangements. Last year, I simply booked a table for 27 and let everyone seat themselves. First of all, the MD was left all on his own at one end because noone wanted to sit next to him. Meanwhile there was quite a scrimmage at the other end to sit by one of the younger female members of staff who is rather pretty. All very embarrassing, so how do I sort it out this year?

Margaret, Abingdon

UNCLE ONY: It's quite normal and healthy for the workers to retain a distance both physical and spiritual from the boss and for him to be aware of this; he probably found it flattering, as no doubt did the young lady for whose attentions all were vying! You have done your bit by booking the table, and you must let your co-workers sort themselves out, rather than trying to "police" their natural inclinations.

AUNTIE AG: How annoying, darling, after all your efforts, to have half the staff circling the boss like nervous wildebeest round an old lion and the other half throwing themselves on Ms Whateverhernameis like cheetahs on a gazelle. Tisk! This year, ask the restaurant to number at random all the seats on your table from one to 27. Then, in the office beforehand, put pieces of paper numbered from one to 27 into a hat and ask everyone to draw one. Each person sits in their designated seat and thus no-one feels either unwanted or overly popular.

BAH HUMBUG

My parents split up five years ago. I've more or less built up a new relationship with my mother - but not with my dad. He wasn't a good father, but he wasn't spectacularly appalling; the trouble, however, is that he can never quite be trusted to behave. He gets drunk and tells people he's my boyfriend, and although I am now a grown-up woman, I still find this hard to take. I know I sort of have a case for not seeing him on the grounds of his insensitivity and creepiness, but he's a sad old thing now, and I'd prefer to find a way of being nice to him.

AOB, Manchester

UNCLE ONY: It's the season of goodwill to all men, including reprobate dads - is this perhaps what has brought your father to mind? Do not be taken in by the usual seasonal outpouring of fake bonhomie. Think long and hard before getting in touch and don't make a Christmas-inspired false move. You are not responsible for your relations and are under no obligation to stay in touch if it makes you unhappy; your first responsibility is to yourself.

AUNTIE AG: Oh, darling, in essence Ony is right for once. Don't, for goodness sake, get carried away on a flood of Christmassy goodwill and find yourself inviting your dad for Christmas dinner. Start tentatively; meet him for tea in some establishment where the strongest liquid on offer is Darjeeling, and see how you get on. If things go well, it's then up to you how much or how little contact you let yourself in for.

THE FILTHY RICH

We work for a prestigious advertising company, admittedly in the less- than-exalted accounts department. This year, the executives have planned a glamorous Christmas party, to which they have invited a bunch of celebrities to enjoy a cabaret, gourmet meal, free champagne, the lot. But nobody below a certain status level has been invited: all the people who work very hard behind the scenes have been left out, and we are very unhappy about it.

Disgruntled & Friends, London W1

UNCLE ONY: Exclusion, particularly at this time of year, is a difficult emotion to deal with. I would suggest that you gather together and share your feelings; tell each other honestly how angry and abandoned you feel, and let your bad feelings out that way. Emotional catharsis can be as releasing as drinking champagne.

AUNTIE AG: What rotten swine, angels, troughing it up and leaving the rest of you in the office! The next day, you must all make a great point of asking for every last detail of the soiree: every canape they ate, every cocktail they drank, every joke in the cabaret, every bon mot uttered by Mick Jagger or Gloria Hunniford or whoever. Look as impressed as you can at the responses; wide-eyed gasps of amazement wouldn't come amiss if you can manage it, darlings. Be solicitous of their hangovers: proffer Alka-Seltzer every five minutes. This should make them feel bloody uncomfortable and guilty. If it doesn't, they have no souls.

OUT OF ORDER

Is it okay to get drunk at the office Christmas party?

Michael, Macclesfield

UNCLE ONY: In general, drunkenness is to be frowned on. But on an occasion when everyone is "letting their hair down" it does seem a little churlish not to get into the spirit of things!

AUNTIE AG: Beware, beware, beware. By all means get utterly plastered, darling, if the thought of turning into the cabaret doesn't worry you. Everyone remembers everything about the Christmas party for ever after and anything embarrassing will come back to haunt you. If you need any more warning, look at those sad people sunk in horrid stupor on evening trains at this time of year, still in their funny hats, missing their stops with sick on their shoes. Far better to drink too much with your real friends from work in a private capacity, and remain reasonably sober when your behaviour is on show to everyone from the post boy to the MD.

Comments