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INDISPENSABLE ADVICE FROM REAL LIFE'S AGONY AUNT AND UNCLE
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Indy Lifestyle Online
PRESENT TENSE

My dear old Aunt and Uncle: tired of dealing with everyone else's problems? Here's an opportunity to demonstrate to your loyal readers how you would deal with one of your own. I've been wondering what presents are you going to give one another for Christmas and whether you would care to go the "Full Monty" and share with your readership your views on the gifts, munificent or otherwise, which you are about to receive? Have a nice one!

Michael, via e-mail

He says: Thank you for your seasonal good wishes. Alas, we are no longer allowed to style ourselves as aunt and uncle to our readers - something to do with Trades Descriptions - but never mind, our hearts remain in the same place. I only give token gifts at Christmas because I abhor the rampant commercialism that has hi-jacked what should be a time of spiritual reflection. Home-made gifts are even better. This year I shall be baking shortbread biscuits for everyone (my speciality) and putting them in boxes that I have decorated myself with hand-printed paper.

She says: We aren't that old, actually; but still. The essence of a good gift is something so slyly tailored to the recipient that it is something they would dearly love to own but never knew they wanted, and is hence a wonderful surprise on Christmas Day. The difficulty, of course, is that one would need a degree in psychology and an awful lot of time to work this conundrum out for every single member of the family. For those of us with full-time jobs to hold down, some gifts are universally acceptable and also easy to shop for. I give champagne to all and sundry and am more than delighted to receive the same in return. (For children, obviously one must choose a vintage that can be laid down for a few years without spoiling.)

THE PERFECT GIFT

Do you have any tips for elegant gift-wrapping? When I try it, my presents always look such a mess.

David, Hull

He says: Many shops these days offer a professional gift-wrapping service at this time of year, and often it's free as long as you have purchased your gift in their store. Failing that, if you are really all fingers and thumbs, why not press into service a young relative who's a dab hand with the gold paper and ribbon? You could reward them with a small extra gift, even if this one is not terribly well-wrapped!

She says: Oh, who cares? It's what's inside that counts. No one is going to turn their noses up at a lovely present just because it's not decked out in that horrible curly ribbon stuff.

PARTY POOPER

I've been invited to quite a few Christmas parties this year, and when people ask you along to their do, it always seems so churlish to say "I'd rather stay at home, thanks". Because I don't want to seem like an old misery I've found myself assenting enthusiastically to about four ghastly invitations I really don't want to accept. Is it very bad form to simply not to turn up?

Jasmine, London N5

He says: Yes, it is very bad, I'm afraid. Hosts invest a lot of time, effort and money in entertaining when they throw a party and to say you'll come and then not put in an appearance is suggesting that you can't be bothered (which in your case seems actually to be quite true - I wonder why you are so popular?) However, in a way you are solving your own problem because if you continue like this, no one will invite you any more.

She says: If a party is any good at all, the absence of one guest won't even be noticed in the general excitement - it certainly takes more than one abstention to make or break the evening. And if a party isn't any good, well then, lots more people than just you won't have turned up. So either way it doesn't matter. If pushed, say you missed it because you've had that nasty cold that's going round (there is always a nasty cold going round at this time of year).

I WANT, NEVER GETS

I feel completely bowled over by my children's Christmas lists, which they have all just handed over. I have three kids aged between nine and 14 and they all want so much stuff and such expensive presents that it makes me feel quite faint; and even worse they have all made it quite clear that they expect to get every single thing they have requested. Alas, my Christmas money is not an unlimited resource. What to do?

Harassed mum, Whitstable

He says: Your children are quite old enough to understand the concepts of budgeting and juggling limited funds and what you must do is all sit down together and talk the issue through. Make it clear to them that your money has a long way to stretch and that, although you'd love to treat them to their dream gifts, reality bites and their demands must be moderated. And also gently remind the little blighters that there is more to Christmas than the short-term thrill of acquisition.

She says: Fight fire with fire and teach the greedy little beasts a lesson. When they ask what you want, don't give the usual list of soap, chocolates, hankies, socks etc that has been carefully based on what they can afford. Tell them what you really, really want and don't hold back: La Perla lingerie, Bill Amberg handbag, Tiffany watch, new dishwasher, and so on. And make it quite clear that you expect to get every single thing. Once they've attempted to get through that lot on a budget of a tenner each, they will be chastened children with a seasonally-enhanced insight into what's reasonable and what's not.

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