Why do parking problems drive us insane? People have been killed in disputes over parking spots - and Sheila was at the end of her tether when she wrote in complaining that her neighbours constantly parked in front of her house, leaving her to park miles away and stagger home with her toddler and shopping.

The neighbours could easily park in front of their own driveway. Admittedly, they would be blocking in their second car, but they rarely used it anyway. Why did Sheila feel that to park in front of their driveway, saying she would move if asked, would be so confrontational?

Certainly it was a relief to find that I wasn't the only one to become unhinged by, say, a double-parker who traps me in, even if I'm not planning on going anywhere. (It is as if inside me lives a retired army man in a neat blazer, with high blood pressure, who keeps saying things such as: 'But the driver's not to know I'm not going anywhere] I might have a mother dying of cancer.' )

I've found myself, eyes bulging with rage, rushing out to give cars the sticky-label treatment - lots of white paper glued on their windscreens with batty messages written in green felt-tip pen. An anonymous reader confessed to using the matchstick trick, an evil act that I only reluctantly pass on.

'If someone is either parking so you can't get out, or persistently parking selfishly,' he wrote, 'drive a sharpened matchstick into the lock of their car and break it off. If you're feeling particularly ruthless, drive another into the passenger seat lock as well and look on sniggering, later, as the wretched driver has to the suffer the indignity of breaking into his own car via the boot, sometimes with the alarm going off at the same time.'

Readers wrote in making legal points about highways and byways, they wrote about the laws of obstruction and about boundary disputes, they wrote in about the 'law of ancient lights' when a large parked van shades one's windows.

So deep did feelings run that it was understandable that Tony Freeman of London E17 advised against Sheila tackling the people next door. 'I have witnessed this sort of confrontation explode into violence between neighbours who had apparently been on good terms before,' he wrote.

Prevention might be better than cure, wrote D J Lafferty of Horsham. He thought Sheila should buy some road cones and 'when an occasion arises for a vacancy outside her house and Sheila has to go off somewhere, place the cones in her vacant place'.

But I know the D J Laffertys of this world. And I'm not the only driver who, faced with cones and dustbins, would prefer to spring out of my car, remove the cones, park and walk, than occupy the open space outside my home.

Why is it that cars and parking bring out the beasts in us? Nicholas Gough of Malmesbury, Wiltshire, offered the old chestnut about cars being an extension of our sexuality. 'If this is so, a loss of control over where the vehicle can be parked may result in the expression of many drivers' deeply repressed feelings,' he wrote.

But I don't buy that. If my dreadful, dented old Austin Metro is an expression of my sexuality, then God knows how I ever became a mother.

But none of this theorising will help Sheila. And since it is possible that her neighbours might, if asked, agree to her suggestion of parking in front of their driveway, why is it that she shrinks from asking them?

'It's because she knows that her request can result in only one of two outcomes,' wrote Alan Bird, sagely, from Twickenham. 'And she's frightened of facing the bad outcome - a feud with her neighbours.'

But Alastair Greswell of Bristol said that resolution of the dispute was unlikely to end in tears: 'They might have their own reasons for not using their spaces, which will become clear only if you say something.'

Sheila should summon up her courage and take Alastair's advice; but if she gets no joy, she will have to do what the rest of us do when we return loaded with shopping: double park to unload, drive for miles to park, and then walk. And if she feels white with rage, she can take comfort in knowing that the owners of the house in front of which she parked are feeling exactly the same.

PS: Dilly, who offered last week's dilemma about her 14- year-old son, who appeared to be sleeping with his 13-year- old girlfriend, was 'moved beyond words at the non- judgemental and compassionate replies that were received'. She intends to follow the advice given, by referring to the matter in an indirect manner.

Dear Virginia,

Recently I had an affair with a man who was very much in love with me. After about three months, however, I decided that it wasn't working out and, with much pain, ended the relationship. He has now started going out with someone else. However, I now find I'm pregnant by him. I am going to have an abortion. But should I tell the father?

Yours, Mary

Please send your comments and suggestions to me at the Features Department, the Independent, 40 City Road, London EC1Y 2DB; fax 071-956 1739, by Tuesday morning. If you have any dilemmas of your own that you would like to share with readers, let me know. I will report back next Thursday.

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