Real bodies: Aunty Ag Uncle Ony

Should you flee to rural bliss? Auntie Ag and Uncle Ony bring you back to earth. Plus neighbours who ask too many favours and husbands with weird sartorial requests

How can one deal with borrowers? Over the past week I have parted with the following: pounds 5 to a colleague who left his wallet at home, two first-class stamps, a small jar of coffee to a neighbour who'd run out, my favourite jumper to a friend going on a date and my garden trowel, again to a neighbour. This is a pretty typical week for me and I wouldn't mind except that I know from experience that I'm unlikely to get any of the smaller items back, and the others are almost certainly not going to come home in the pristine condition that I lent them out!

Mark, Sunderland

Auntie Ag: In almost all situations the trick is to lend what is needed cheerfully but at the same time to ask for the loan of an article of greater value. For example, the neighbour who wanted the trowel: say "Of course! And would you mind letting me use your lawnmower?" They can hardly refuse, given that they are making free with your property, and you have a hostage against your own item's safe return in good order. This doesn't work with cash in quite the same way, but you can follow the general principle: if repayment of your fiver is not forthcoming, ask to borrow pounds 10 next week. (You could even end up making a profit, as if people "forget" to pay you back there is no shame in "forgetting" to pay them back too.) As for the stamps, however, I have no remedy to offer. Anyone who is sufficiently organised to buy a book of stamps and keep it handy in their wallet must just resign themselves to the fact that at least 50 per cent of the stamps will be borrowed but not returned.

Uncle Ony: You are a Compulsive Helper who just cannot say no to others. All your self-esteem comes from helping others and without your "fixes" of helping you will collapse into a psychological jelly. This is a rather unattractive disorder, and not one that people will admire you for, even though in the short term you are rendering them small services - in common parlance, you are "sad" and will be taken advantage of mercilessly. Call a therapist now!

We live in an up-and-coming area of London and our house has doubled in value over the past three years. My husband is very keen for us to cash in the value of our property, move to the country, and for both of us to work part-time from home. I've got absolutely no problem with the part-time work bit, in fact I'd love it, being quite lazy, but the thing is that I like the things that go with our life in London: new cars, jewellery, designer clothes and the like. I don't want to wear wellies in the sticks and never go to parties. I am very fond of my husband, of course, but don't know if I can bring myself to make this sacrifice.

Emma, via e-mail

Auntie Ag: Move somewhere lovely like York or Bath or Salisbury, sufficiently rural to satisfy your husband's country yearnings, but still with plenty of gorgeous shops and things going on. (You can even dial pizza in the provinces now, or so I understand.) Think of the lovely house parties you could have! But on no account let your husband persuade you that keeping a few chickens or a sheep would be a good idea. You wouldn't enjoy it.

Uncle Ony: Your craving for material trappings is probably a function of the life you lead: you feel that you need the external symbols that prove you are wealthy and successful. You would probably find that once you no longer had to keep up a front with colleagues and acquaintances, your desire for designer gew-gaws would dissolve. Unless, of course, you are a fundamentally shallow and materialistic person with pathetically few inner resources, which might well be the case.

My husband keeps trying to persuade me to wear a wetsuit. I kind of don't mind, though I'd feel a bit silly. Should I comply?

Maggie, via e-mail

Auntie Ag: If you are scuba-diving or wind-surfing it is probably an excellent idea.

Uncle Ony: Most of the things we do are pretty silly when you sit down and analyse them. If you are not actually repelled by the notion, why not agree to try it just the once?

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