What's your problem?

INDISPENSABLE ADVICE FROM REAL LIFE'S AGONY AUNT AND UNCLE

CAN COOK, WON'T COOK

I am hovering on the brink of a life-changing decision, and would value your opinions. I am in my early thirties and have half made up my mind to give up cooking. I mean really give up: even to the extent of not bothering to do my own pasta, although I am quite competent in the kitchen. For some time now I've been resorting to throwing things in the oven during the week, pretending it's just pressure of work that stops me making my own soups and stews, baking, etc., and hiding behind half-truths such as, "Oh, I really quite enjoy cooking when I've got the time and when people are coming round to appreciate it." But the truth is I hate it and don't care if I never chop another onion again. Entertaining is the worst: all that labour and then all that bloody washing-up. But I shall feel a bit guilty asking people to come round and then dishing up things out of aluminium containers. Will we become social outcasts if we stop offering people home-cooked meals?

Sue, Perranporth

He says:

This will certainly give a "can't be bothered" atmosphere to your dinner parties. Perhaps you could lay on something to make up for your lack of brio in the kitchen; maybe a cabaret or table dancers or something. Because guests are making an effort, too, you know, when they come over to your place, and just hurling a few supermarket meals in their direction strikes me as a bit of an insult.

She says:

What a brave stand. Just a few thoughts that might help: never invite people for "dinner". It implies slaving over a hot stove. Be casual, and say "supper" which suggests less fuss. Fork out for truly delicious cheeses, ice-creams, patisserie, breads and fruit that you can just transfer from packaging to table. Don't ever resort to the ludicrous strategy of decanting ready-made stuff into your own dishes: first of all, you'll have to wash the dishes, which negates the whole point, and secondly, so many people these days shop at Marks and Spencer and Tesco Metro that they recognise the dishes as old friends, and will be secretly sniggering when you claim to have created them from scratch. And finally: never apologise, just serve the food without any deprecating comments. Your new direction commands respect from all unwilling slaves of the Magimix and, dare I say, applause. Go for it.

HE-MEN ON THE TUBES

I commute every day for about an hour on various trains. Luckily, I avoid the worst of the rush hour and usually get a seat for at least part of the journey. Or at least, part of a seat, because men sit with their knees so far apart that, sitting between two of them, I am squashed on both sides. This seems so rude but loads of them do it (women, I've noticed, even when wearing trousers, never do). I don't like to apply opposing forces with my own knees in case it looks as though I merely wish to press myself against their legs, and I haven't plucked up courage to say anything about it.

Lisa, Colchester

He says:

It's a primeval thing. Men like to take up as much space as possible to look as big and imposing as they can and intimidate the other members of the tribe. This wide-kneed posture also draws attention to the genitalia, in a primitive display of potency. I'm afraid it's in our genes and will probably take thousands of years to be edited out.

She says:

If only someone were to market some kind of spike arrangement that could be strapped to the side of the knee, it would be a boon to womankind. The only way to make them shift without personal contact is to carry large bags and create an artificial barrier. But then again, carrying the bags is as irksome as having to sit in the teeny space left by selfish males with thighs at 90

degree angles. Ugh.

JUST BECAUSE I CRY

I'm in my late thirties and single. I have a very pleasant job as a valuer at a fine art auctioneers. Over a glass of wine, I like to listen to female torch singers and showtunes. Sometimes I sing them in company, too. My Don't Cry For Me Argentina, complete with hand gestures, always goes down well. But because of this everyone jumps to conclusions about my sexuality. In fact I'm robustly straight and always have been. But I'm finding it harder to meet eligible women. According to the media I should be besieged by female singletons. Instead I fear I'm turning into the kind of guest couples ask to dinner parties to show how tolerant they are of my supposed gayness.

Mark, via e-mail

He says:

To prove you're heterosexual, you need to be seen with a Woman. Get one of those lonely-hearts columns and pick anyone who sounds decent and/or desperate, then squire her to a few dinners and parties. Whether you continue the relationship subsequently is up to you, but the seed will have been planted in your friends' minds that you are Not Gay.

She says:

I've heard about the problem of confessing to be gay, but not the problem of confessing to be straight. This is a glittering, 24-carat example of the difference between men and women: women discuss things and analyse them; men grunt at each other. There is no way my friends could imagine I was gay because we all know the details, more or less, of everything the others have got up to (well, up to a point. Had cigars, macadamia nuts or mints been involved, I'm sure we would have kept quiet). If you don't want people to think you are gay, tell them you're not! These are your friends, for heaven's sake. Dear me!

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