REAL BODIES: AUNTY AG & UNCLE ONY

Afraid your mum's racist attitudes will cause a Millennium world war at home? Haven't got time to see your friends? Never fear - Aunty Ag and Uncle Ony have all the answers

My mother is the kindest and sweetest of women but like many of her generation she has unacceptable views on race. This is despite the fact that for the past five years she has been living with Jeremiah, a carpenter of Afro-Caribbean origins. This relationship has done nothing to change her views. Indeed Jeremiah actually supports her in many of them. All this is liveable-with in the privacy of the family but unfortunately my family circle is getting wider. This New Year will be the first with my new partner, and her two children, both teenagers who have reached the stage where they are eager to set the world to rights. All six of us will be together in a farmhouse I have rented in Devon. This seemed a good idea back in September but now I would be grateful for any suggestions as to how to keep the peace.

Marc, via e-mail

Aunty Ag: Perhaps they will have an amicable discussion and reach a consensus! And pigs, of course, might take to the skies. Don't try peacekeeping. Any kind of referee in this kind of discussion inevitably gets savaged by both sides. I suggest that you and your partner retire to bed with a bottle of champagne if crockery starts flying, and leave them to slug it out. As well as the champagne, pack a first aid kit, and if possible make sure that you all travel in separate cars so that if anyone wants to storm out and leave they can.

Uncle Ony: You say yourself that your mother's views are "unacceptable". So why, over the many years of opportunity that you have had, have you never sought to modify them? I fear that this spinelessness will now be rewarded as it is deserved. The best advice I can offer is that you and your partner should keep a close monitor on the conversation and be prepared at a moment's notice to introduce neutral topics of interest, for example, the weather, the evening's television viewing, etc.

I have a close friendship group of around a dozen people, and I find that after having been promoted at work, I see them less and less. I am particularly worried about this at the moment as, between a seasonal rush at work and my various family responsibilities, I know I shan't be able to see them all over the New Year period. I don't have time to have a party and anyway I feel I will have left it far too late.

Tess, Airdrie

Aunty Ag: Not having a party is probably the friendliest thing you can do during the so-called festive season. All these people will be in just the same boat as you: frantically busy and weighed down with work and family. The last thing anyone wants is another invitation, and everyone is grateful for those friends who don't demand attention at this (let us be honest) perfectly vile time of the year. So don't worry. Pick a weekend in July, plan a summer barbecue, and look forward to it. Chilled champagne on the lawn is far more fun than struggling through a rainstorm to get a glass of mulled wine (yuck).

Uncle Ony: Surely some of the onus of keeping up these friendships rests with the other halves of them? Just as you have not managed to find the time to get in touch with these friends, they have not managed to find the time to contact you either. As people's circumstances change, so does the tenor of their relationships with others. Someone you used to see every week you now might find you see once a year. This is nothing more upsetting than the evolution of the friendship. Just go with the flow of it and everything eventually will find its own level.

Should I persuade my children to write thank-you letters this year? It seems a bit outdated and I know that most of my friends don't bother getting their children to do it. My two are aged eight and 10 and I kind of feel they are old enough to make up their own minds about whether to write.

Mary, Lewes

Aunty Ag: Bear in mind that a charming little note takes mere minutes to write and ups one's chances of getting an even better gift next time.

Uncle Ony: By all means absolve your children of their one small festive responsibility. If everyone else lets their offspring behave like mannerless brats, that's a perfect reason for you to let yours do the same.

Send your problems to Aunty Ag and Uncle Ony at The Independent on Sunday, 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL or agony@independent.co.uk

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