REAL ISSUES: AUNTY AG & UNCLE ONY

My wife has asked me for a pashmina for her birthday. I understand this is some kind of shawl-type thing for tossing over one's shoulders to keep the wind out. I have also been told that pashminas are very expensive. I was wondering whether, on the grounds of economy and practicality, a woolly scarf would be an acceptable alternative.

Richard, Milton Keynes

Aunty Ag: As it happens, woolly scarves are also rather fashionable this year, particularly the multi-coloured type that our grandmas used to knit out of leftover bits of wool and that we used to plead not to have to wear because they were so ghastly. However, the difference between a woolly scarf and a pashmina is much the same as the difference between an alley cat and a pedigree Siamese. I do not think your wife will be equally delighted with a scarf, quite frankly. However, if economy and practicality are really your priorities, why not get her a tarpaulin to drape around her shoulders? These are available at a knockdown price from your nearest motor-car supply store and are not only windproof but waterproof.

Uncle Ony: A truly successful present should involve some effort on your part other than simply plonking down your credit card for something your wife has requested. A gift should be chosen by the donor, not the recipient! Over the next few days, use your eyes and ears, be sensitive, and identify something that she needs but will be surprised by - perhaps something nice for the kitchen.

I am planning some home improvements and I'd like to have an en suite bathroom installed alongside my main bedroom. Having grown up in a house where there was only one bathroom, which six of us shared, I think of extra facilities as the height of luxury. However, when I confided in one of my friends, she laughed and said that en suite bathrooms are vulgar and low class, along the same lines as Austrian blinds and fake plastic coal fires. Could this be true?

Linda, via e-mail

Aunty Ag: En suite bathrooms are super. There is nothing like being able to hurl your towels around with gay abandon or go to the loo in the middle of the night without waking the rest of the household. It makes being at home that little bit more like being in a posh hotel. I hope you aren't thinking of a Gothic conservatory or stone cladding, however, because your tasteful friend will probably implode with horror.

Uncle Ony: Cleanliness is next to godliness, as our Victorian forbears so rightly noted. And bathrooms add value to your home. There is nothing wrong with progress, in its rightful place. If everyone thought along the same lines as your friend we would still all be washing in hip baths in front of the fire!

I am having my two grandchildren to stay for a week and I asked my daughter-in-law to give me a few pointers about their household routine. I am shocked to find that there is no routine! The children go to bed when they want. They also eat what they want when they want, and it has been made quite clear to me that I am expected to supply a whole range of nasty modern fads like individual pre-packed bits of cheese and strangely flavoured potato snack things and pots of sugary stuff (I have been given a detailed list). Should I conform to this regime and try to recreate their home atmosphere or should I follow my instincts of regular hours and home-cooked plain food?

Helen, Edinburgh

Aunty Ag: It will all end in tears if you do try to reform these modern moppets in the space of a week. Try to wear them out during the day so they're glad to go to bed early, and grit your teeth and serve up the glop they like. Attempting a radical change will leave you exhausted by the battle, and what for? So they can go home to uninterrupted late-night telly and monosodium glutamate. It's unwinnable, so don't even try.

Uncle Ony: In your own home, you make the rules. Don't be confrontational but stick to your normal habits. It will be good for the children, for it's never too early to learn that all the world is not the same - and won't necessarily bend over backwards to accommodate one's own foibles.

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

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<b>Kathryn Williams</b>
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<p>
When I was supporting Ray La Montagne I was six months pregnant. He had been touring for a year and he was exhausted and full of the cold. I was feeling motherly, so I would leave presents for him and his band: Tunnock's Tea Cakes, cold remedies and proper tea. Ray seemed painfully shy. He hardly spoke, hardly looked at you in the face. I felt like a dick speaking to him, but said "hi" every day. </p>
<p>
He was being courted by the same record company who had signed me and subsequently let me go, and I wanted him to know that there were people around who didn't want anything from him. At the Shepherds Bush Empire in London, on the last night of the tour, Ray stopped in his set to thank me for doing the support. He said I was a really good songwriter and people should buy my stuff. I was taken aback and felt emotionally overwhelmed. Later that year, just before I had my boy Louis, I was l asleep in bed with Radio 4 on when Louis moved around in my belly and woke me up. Ray was doing a session on the World Service. </p>
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I really believe that Louis recognised the music from the tour, and when I gave birth to him at home I played Ray's record as something that he would recognise to come into the world with. </p>
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