This week, Aunty Ag and Uncle Ony on broken hearts, dealing with your child's schooling and how to tell the difference between good advice and bad

I recently wrote off to an agony column (not yours) with a knotty tangle involving my best friend, girlfriend and our two cats. I won't go into the details here as it is all too painful. Because, although somewhat dubious, I followed the advice I was given to the letter. The upshot is that my best friend no longer speaks to me and has actually left town, while my girlfriend has left me, taking the cats with her. The situation is in fact a whole lot worse and looks unsalvageable! How can I seek redress?

Graeme, Whitby

Aunty Ag: I suppose you could sue, but it would make you look pretty silly and also would not bring back girlfriend, friend or cats (unless you could sting this naughty columnist for enough compensation to make you suddenly a very attractive prospect, which is unlikely). Advice is not meant to be followed blindly. You also have to use your common sense. Though I suppose it's people with no common sense who are likely to find themselves in the position of writing to agony columns in the first place.

Uncle Ony: Agony columnists (even ones as professional, dedicated and experienced as ourselves, or me at any rate) cannot know everything about your situation and may miss a vital connection if you don't state it clearly in your letter. I think this is probably all your own fault, for omitting to mention some vital factor in the conundrum. We cannot be responsible for the consequences if our readers do not give us a full, frank and unexpurgated picture. Next time, be clearer and more detailed. Even the most consummate artists cannot work in a void!

My young son's best friend was recently put in for the entrance exam for a very swanky private school. This lad isn't the brightest, and to spur him on, my own son went for the coaching sessions with him and also took the exam alongside him. Rather awfully, first of all my son passed and his friend did not! And even worse, having seen the swimming pool, art studio and science lab and all the rest of it, he now wants to go to the school! We can't afford it. What can we do?

Marina, Sussex

Aunty Ag: Well, you can hardly show this poor child an Elysian vista of educational luxury, let him think all he has to do to get there is solve few sums and write an essay or two and not get his hopes up in the process. Does this place do scholarships? Could you get a job there as matron or gardener, with a place for your son in lieu of wages? Have you seen Forrest Gump and could you bring yourself to do what Sally Field did to secure Forrest's place at school? (Probably not such a great idea.) Can you persuade your son it would be much more fun to stay with his nice- but-dim chum at the local school? This last seems the most hopeful.

Uncle Ony: I'm afraid that your desire to help your son's little friend has left you in a very difficult position. However, if your boy is as bright as he seems, perhaps you won't find it too difficult to explain that there is a monetary factor in all this and you just don't have the cash. And then encourage him to build on his disappointment! Get him a library ticket and a season pass to the local leisure centre to spur him on! Direct him to the biographies of great men in history who have suffered similar setbacks at an early age and have made good! Suggest he starts a campaign to improve local educational facilities! He will probably end up as prime minister, and it will be all down to you!

What becomes of the broken-hearted?

S, Milton Keynes

Aunty Ag: Not much, in my experience, until they pull themselves together a bit and stop snivelling.

Uncle Ony: They go through an initial period of deep grief which they can also use as a growing experience, developing their characters through adversity and learning to know themselves better. Then they start to put their lives back together, perhaps with the help of a qualified therapist, happier in the knowledge that they will be better equipped to deal with the next setback that life throws at them.

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