What's your problem?

INDISPENSABLE ADVICE FROM REAL LIFE'S AGONY AUNT AND UNCLE

STAY-AT-HOME MOANER

A very good friend of mine had a baby six months ago, and has recently been bemoaning the fact that she hasn't been out for an evening on the town since before the birth. The little girl was recently weaned off the breast and on to the bottle, so I thought now would be the ideal time for my friend to have a night off. I offered to babysit for an evening so that she could go to a party with her husband. To my amazement, she refused abruptly and quite rudely, acting as though I'd suggested she leave her child with a convicted axe-murderer. It was quite obvious that she was horrified at the very idea of leaving her baby with me. My feelings are really hurt. I've been visiting the baby ever since she was born; I absolutely adore her. I am a dab hand at changing nappies, and heating bottles, and I can't believe my friend doesn't trust me.

Lisa, Harrow

He says: Ladies' hormones are often very volatile after childbirth - it's an absolute rollercoaster of laughter and tears for new mums! But not so much fun for those around her, perhaps. I am sure your friend didn't mean to upset you. Try to be understanding; after all, leaving a child for the first time, a tiny helpless being that relies on you for everything, is an enormous step that would wrench at any mother's heartstrings. Leave it a few weeks for her to get used to the idea, and gently offer again.

She says: We all know someone like your friend, angel: tied to their baby so firmly that one wonders why they ever bothered to cut the umbilical cord. These stay-at-home parents often metamorphose into an even more annoying type: the ones who drag their kiddies with them wherever they go. (They tend to spend their evenings in the coat room at parties trying to pacify the screaming contents of a Moses basket.) It is incredibly irritating when no one else is good enough to wipe their ickle precious's bottom. When your rude friend becomes sufficiently stir-crazy she will probably humbly beg you to reconsider your kind offer, darling. And it will be up to you whether or not you generously comply. In the meantime, you are quite within your rights firmly to scotch any whingeing on her part about having to stay in all the time.

BOY'S BEST FRIEND

I want a puppy, and my mum said that she didn't want to get me a dog and end up looking after it all the time. So she said I could have a hamster to see how I got on and to see how well I looked after him. I have had my hamster Jarvis for two weeks now, and have cleaned him out every single day but my mum says I have to keep going for a whole year before I can have my puppy. I am getting bored of cleaning Jarvis out and I don't think it is fair. I never wanted a hamster anyway. I want a golden retriever.

Marcus, aged 7, Whitley Bay

He says: As a young person I am afraid it has to be said that your perception of the passage of time is very slow indeed. A single year in one's life doesn't seem long at all to someone who is as old as I am! (Or probably as old as your mother is.) A golden retriever puppy would take a lot of walking and exercising and looking after, and I think that if you are seven (although seven of course is very grown up) you might find that you don't have the personal autonomy to take him out as much as he would need. It's probably an excellent idea to wait until you can go to the park all on your own. Although I do understand your frustration, I must emphasize that patience is the key to this tricky situation. In the meantime try to forge a meaningful relationship with Jarvis and make him a pet you can be proud of.

She says: Frankly, Marcus, if you have already had enough of poor little Jarvis after only two weeks then your mother is quite right: she would indeed end up looking after the golden retriever puppy. (Just think of the mess.) A mere year of hamster-probation is incredibly indulgent of your poor mum, so stick it out and do stop moaning. (Incidentally, darling, it is "bored with", not "bored of". A common mistake: nip it in the bud while you are young.)

SMALL TALK FOR CELEBS

What do you do when you meet someone semi-famous at a party? The other day I was introduced to the drummer of a well-known pop group (he happens to live next door to a friend of mine). I just didn't know what to say to him. How can you talk to such a person without sounding like a pop- quiz feature in a teenage mag?

Paul, Bristol

He says: The cult of celebrity (or, in this case, semi-celebrity) is a pernicious thing. Do not subscribe to it. I would point out that close questioning of anyone, no matter what their walk of life, is horribly rude and definitely presumptuous. You certainly would not ordinarily set off on a quick-fire question round in a social situation. For example, if you were to meet a doctor I assume you would not be worried about feeling like a profile writer for the British Medical Journal? Famous people are people like any others; just act normally.

She says: There is a school of thought that says making enquiries about a new acquaintance's occupation is a conversational old chestnut that it is best to leave out altogether, angel. Starting off a chat with "And what do you do?" frankly lacks a certain sparkle, and many professionals don't really like talking about their work. In my extensive experience of party etiquette, poor beleaguered doctors brace themselves for a free consultation; teachers live in dread of a monologue on the state of the education system; and journalists steel themselves for a lambasting on the iniquities of the media, and so on and so on. Far better to stick to topics of general interest, and let the other person take the lead if they want to, especially if they are a celebrity. (And if they are the arrogant kind of celeb - the type who become infuriated if you don't start gurgling about how impressed you are with their fame, and how "grounded" they are despite it - they are slugs who don't deserve your company, darling.)

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