You'll stop smoking and biting your nails? Bonne chance

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RATHER than doing it on Saturday afternoon, when you are puffy, self-hating and have just cut yourself while opening a can of tomato juice, why not spend today, when you are clear- headed and happy, analysing and reviewing your list of new year's resolutions? Approach them in a realistic, practical fashion with the help of Aunt Agony.

1. Lose a stone. Remember last year? You started off on the Hay Diet and put on 4lb; segued into the F-Plan and put on 2lb; read Dieting Makes You Fat and put on 3lb; borrowed Fat Is A Feminist Issue and wondered why, dammit, you'd never developed bulimia . . .

Face up to the fact that you're never going to be a model, because models don't have varicose veins. Stop spending Saturday morning in Harrods' food hall shopping for 'presents'. Don't be too proud to invest in a truss. And remember, 13 1/2 stone isn't that enormous. Look at Cyril Smith]

2. Write novel. A rather expensive resolution, I'm afraid. You still have a stack of hand-made paper left over from 1983; a dozen Italian pencils from 1986; an Amstrad Powerbook from 1989; a Victorian fountain pen from 1992. And what have you got to show for it? Psychosomatic repetitive strain injury.

Be grateful that you never reached the stage of receiving rejection letters, which, so I'm told, are much more upsetting than writer's block. But please do stop going on about Mary Wesley: society prevented her from being published until she was in her seventies, not sloth. If you haven't found the muse yet, dear, I'm afraid she may be on permanent vacation.

3. Take regular exercise. Buying a bicycle is not regular exercise. Fantasising about Ryan Giggs is not regular exercise. Wearing a sports bra is not regular exercise. And stop droning on about Jane Fonda giving it all up for Ted Turner; you're not married to a billionaire.

It isn't 'too cold' to go swimming. Your stubbly legs are not slowing you down. And nobody is 'laughing' at your crawl. All right, maybe the lifeguard is, but who cares about a 6ft 2in 24-year- old and his friends?

4. Stop neglecting allotment. Excellent, dear] My spinach went on for ages; the rocket grew like a weed; the freezer is full of raspberries and currants; and the larder stuffed with strawberry jam. All on 23 hours of back-breaking work a week] If you get stuck into it, this might take care of resolution No 3.

But hurry, hurry. Mr B at No 12 is trying to have you kicked off for 'wilful neglect'; Mr and Mrs F are very upset about your snail problem; and Mrs T has started dumping her bindweed runners in the south corner. A (legally binding) contract to keep all three supplied with manure for the next couple of years should win them over again. Added bonus: now you can stop lying about spending Sunday afternoons in bed listening to Gardeners' Question Time.

5. Give up smoking. Dear God, not again. What can I say? You say you've got a husky voice; I say Lauren Bacall was a movie star. You say your marriage wouldn't survive if you gave up; I say why not put it out of its misery. You say French cigarettes are chic; I say French women are chic. You say you've tried acupuncture; I know you're scared of needles. Some things are beyond even Aunt Agony.

6. Cut down on drinking. I think a new approach is required, don't you? Last year you cut out spirits, wine and beer. Champagne, you said, was the elixir of the gods. For the first 10 days it was a glass when you got home from work. Then you lost that funny stopper thing, and it was a half-bottle. Then no one wanted to go out with you after work. Then you claimed half-bottles were 'unecological' . . . and so on. It was two bottles a night by the end of April, wasn't it? Isn't psychotherapy a better way of dealing with inner loneliness, dear?

7. Learn to knit. Good old No 7. Last year it was learn to bake bread; the year before, learn French. It's a jolly good idea to have a self-improving resolution that you won't feel guilty breaking. Good luck] Or should I say, bonne chance] (Look it up, dear.)

8. Grow nails. Nature is an amazing thing, isn't it? You can bite them down to the quick, chew off the cuticles and suffer from a major calcium deficiency, and your nails will grow back. Maybe. If you have a pair of steel gloves welded on.

9. Have cat put down. This is more like it. You never wanted one in the first place. The kids left home years ago. The cat never recovered from the move. The other cats in the street hate him. You hate him. He hates you. Why should you spend every weekend deodorising the carpet? The Animal Liberation League has better things to do at this time of year. Take two Valium and call the vet.