Most of us welcomed in the new year with clinking glasses and a bright and hopeful look at the horizon. Not Michelle, however. For her the new year held no future or promise. Why? Because this was the year, and the month, that she would turn 30. And she couldn't bear it.

How would she cope? Was she the only one, she asked, to feel terror at reaching the big three-oh? Surprisingly, the people who shared her phobia were by no means all women obsessed by the march of the crow's foot. Mark, a banker, is also about to turn 30 and he is suddenly 'obsessed with ageing and death. I look at others, and see how they will age and how fleeting their youth is.'

First, let's look at how it appears from the other end of life's spectrum. The oldies who wrote were so game that I think they should be called 'full-of-beanses' instead. Joan Carter, of Haywards Heath, has a gripe not with her 30th but her 80th birthday. She was recently driven almost speechless with rage at receiving an application for a medical certificate for fitness for sea travel from a shipping line with which she had booked a trip. It asked if she needed a wheelchair, if she was continent and able to eat unaided. 'I am thoroughly able-bodied,' she wrote. 'It is humiliating to be treated like this because they've noticed your birthday.'

Her attitude puts a long lens on Michelle's problem, particularly when you add the remarks of Kay Newman of Otley: 'For most people in human history life expectancy has been about 30 years, and it still is in many places. If you have reached 30 compos mentis and on your feet, you have won the rat-race.'

Michelle's anxiety was put into a sadder perspective by Anne Hamilton, of Watford, who wrote: 'My younger sister, then aged 27, attended my 30th birthday dinner. She had just had a mastectomy. When I half-jokingly and tactlessly complained about my age, my sister said quietly: 'I think growing old is a privilege.' She died on Christmas Eve 1989, aged 30.'

Then there was the 'in praise of older women' brigade. Justin, 25, wrote: 'Teenage girls, curves and silky flesh aside, look positively featureless. To get a teenage model with an interesting face, the agencies need to look to weird-looking people like Kate Moss. The real beauty of older women is deep inside. Maturity is a precious asset in the field of sexual relationships . . . If you're both suffering from lust, well, an older woman 'knows the score' far better, so nobody is going to get hurt when you've both had your fun.

'To any woman over 30 I say: Come dance with me] Smile at me across the room. You're beautiful, almost certainly] And your younger sister can go home alone.'

(As an older woman, a quick tip for Michelle here: do give a wide berth to any young man who uses the phrase 'Come dance with me' because he assumes you 'know the score' about sexual relationships. Dirty old men aren't always old.)

More convincing, to me at least, was the argument from Moira, of Craigavon, who reminded Michelle that she will be coming up to her sexual peak and that many women are at their most productive and creative after the age of 30. 'It's also the age that you are well and truly an adult. Much of being young is great, but a lot is dreadful. Think of all those awful dates, lack of money, lack of confidence and poise. Thirty is not the beginning of the end: it is the beginning of your maturity.'

But I think Ian Kirkpatrick, writing from France, hit the nail on the head. 'She may not realise it, but Michelle is suffering from what I call the 'arrival at zero' syndrome' - a frightening leap into a new decade.

My hunch is that the worst times in our lives are actually during the nines rather than the noughts. At 29 we're the old crones of the twenties decade, full of worry and anxiety like Michelle. Similarly, at 39, 49 and, no doubt onwards. But the moment we hit the zero, we're young and regenerated again. At 29 Michelle has lived too long in her twenties. She is destined for the axe, to be reborn as a frisking lamb of the thirties.

Claire Whittenbury, of Norwich, bears this out. 'The thing that frightened me most before my 30th birthday was that I had not achieved enough. A very dear friend wrote on her card: 'Just remember, Alexander the Great was 36 when he died, so get out there and conquer the world.' But when I woke up the day after the celebrations, the feeling of dread that I had expected to turn into doom had disappeared and all I felt was an enormous sense of relief. The depression automatically lifted and all the fears suddenly seemed to be unfounded.'

So slough off that slimy, grimy, old twenties skin, Michelle. Slip into something newer and a lot more comfortable.

Dear Virginia,

MY BEST FRIEND - who is childless - is godmother to our nine-year-old son. She sent him a pounds 10 gift token for Christmas. We spoke to her on the phone on Boxing Day and I thanked her on my son's behalf. But when she visited this week she jokingly said he wouldn't be getting any more presents from her because she never had a thank-you letter from him. He is very fond of my friend, and was very upset by what she said, because he felt he had done something wrong. I feel angry because I said thank you, after all. Surely no one writes thank-you letters any more? My husband says I should have got my son to say thank you on the phone, and perhaps I should, but what do I do now? If I or my son write, it'll only look as if he's after more presents next Christmas. It is such a small problem but it keeps me awake at night.

Best wishes, Adrienne