Slip Stitch

Slip Stitch

A few years ago, I went to Melbourne to visit my daughter and even though I’d been warned that Melbourne is colder than Sydney; I didn’t take enough warm clothes with me. My daughter had a gas fire, so it was lovely and cosy in her unit, but every time we ventured outside the biting wind tore through my flimsy coat and made my teeth chatter, so we took ourselves off to a thrift shop to see if I could find a warm cardigan.

The shop was in a giant warehouse; the clothes arranged by colour and then size. I saw a young woman pushing a supermarket trolley heaped with crocheted garments. She was wearing one of those string vests and wearing sandals, despite the chilly weather.

I wondered how she was going to get all her purchases home and what she was going to do with all those woolly garments once she got there. I must have made a comment about this because she started chatting to me about how much she loved retro clothes and how she couldn’t stop buying them. She said that she would love to learn to crochet, and I said that she needed to find a granny to teach her. “That’s why I’m asking you”, she said. I was very surprised because I was only in my late fifties at the time and didn’t consider myself to be anywhere near old, despite my greying hair.

I explained I didn’t live locally, so I couldn’t give her lessons. I didn’t tell her that my skills were rudimentary and that I could only do the most basic stitches. I was still reeling from being mistaken for an old lady and she clearly thought that all ‘old people’ could knit, sew, and crochet.

In years gone by, this would have been true. My grandmother used to say that her key skills were talking and handiwork. She was a brilliant talker, but an even better knitter in her day. She was one of those women who could watch television, knit, and eat Cadbury’s Milk Chocolate all at the same time. She would glance down at her knitting occasionally if she was casting on or off or working on an armhole, but mostly she could easily handle doing three things at the same time. She only ever watched the ABC and refused to switch over to the commercial channels. It was as if they didn’t exist.

She had a stroke when she was in her seventies and for a long while she couldn’t talk and was paralysed down one side. At first she didn’t recognise anyone except my stepfather, whom she had always disliked, mainly because she thought he wasn’t as good as my father, who had died several years earlier. My stepfather went to see her in the hospital every day after work and helped her to learn to talk again. She changed her mind about him after that.

When she had her stroke, she forgot how to knit and never regained those skills. Someone taught her how to crochet and she spent the next few years making those striped blankets that old people use as knee rugs. She made them from leftover balls of wool in colours that didn’t always match, but it gave her something to do with her hands.

I didn’t inherit any handicraft skills from my grandmother. I start off projects with good intentions but sometimes lose interest when things aren’t turning out the way I want them to. I’m a terribly slow knitter and have only ever finished one garment, a vest I knitted secretly for my husband during my lunch breaks. I made a smocked dress for my goddaughter when she was a toddler, but it took me about a year to finish that as well.

I’ve been trying to persuade my eldest daughter to teach herself to crochet. I think it would be good for her to do something that doesn’t involve looking at a screen, but I know that learning a new skill is hard when you are on your own. You really need someone around who can help you when you drop a stitch or get muddled. I pointed her towards some YouTube videos, which have simple explanations, and sent her a ball of practice wool and a crochet hook in case she gets the urge, but I know it’s hard to get motivated on your own. Like quilting, knitting and crochet are pastimes that are often enjoyed with other people, especially when you are a beginner.

There’s been a world-wide resurgence of old-fashioned handicrafts over the last few years. Making something with your hands is fun and the repetitive nature of knitting, sewing or needlework is meditative and soothing. It doesn’t stop you thinking, but it gives you something to focus on, which often helps. Plus, producing something tangible is rewarding. So much or our work these days is intangible. It lives on a screen, and we have little to show for our efforts at the end of the day. I think that’s one reason writers are so excited when they publish a book. It’s something you can hold in your hands and say, I made this.

I’ve yet to get my crochet hook out, although I’m tempted to make something simple. A doll’s blanket or perhaps a knee rug for when I eventually turn into an old lady.

I’m still wearing the nice brown cardigan with the big buttons that I bought for three dollars at the thrift shop in Melbourne.

A cosy read

A cosy read

One of the great things about being retired is that you can go down a rabbit hole without feeling guilty. This morning I was trying to remember the name of a Scottish novel we read in my book group years ago, so I started tootling around the web looking for “books set on Scottish Islands” and came up with a list of top favourite Scottish crime novels featuring a book called Death of a Liar by M.C. Beaton.

I was delighted to read that Death of a Liar is the 30th book in a series featuring the Scottish police officer Hamish Macbeth. I used to love the TV show which starred a very youthful Robert Carlyle. You can watch some grainy episodes here if you’d like a trip down memory lane. The TV show (featuring a cute little white Scotty dog) aired between 1995-97 in the highly coveted Sunday night drama time-slot, back in the days when we didn’t have control over what was on our tellies and had to watch whatever was on.

I was a big fan of the TV series, primarily because I have a soft spot for Scottish accents, but I’ve not read the books, although that might change. It surprised me to find that M.C. Beaton was the pen-name of a writer called Marion Chesney Gibbons. She wrote under four different pen-names and was also the author of the Agatha Raisin series. These books are known as ‘cosy mysteries’ because they feature low levels of blood and gore and have neat and tidy endings. Perfect comfort reads. Midsomer Murders and Agatha Christie books are other examples of the genre, as is The Thursday Murder Club by television presenter Richard Osman.

Marion Chesney started her career in the publishing industry in the 1960s and wrote her first novel after reading some poorly written romance novels and thinking she could do better. I love it when people write for that reason! She soon switched to crime novels and published 160 books during her career.

According to this article in the Guardian, her attitude to the television series was ambivalent, and at a crime-writing festival in Reading in 2010 Chesney Gibbons told a shocked but amused audience in no uncertain terms that Carlyle had been miscast because he was a Lowland Scot whereas Macbeth was a Highlander.

Chesney Gibbons continued to write well into her 80s and published her last Agatha Raisin book only a few months before her death, aged 83, in December 2019. She sold 21 million books during her lifetime and attributed her impressive output to the “curse of the Scottish work ethic”.

I still haven’t been able to recall the name of the books I was originally looking for, so that might be a task for another day. Or maybe someone in my book group will remember?

Sorrow and bliss

Sorrow and bliss

Last week I finally read Meg Mason’s book, Sorrow and Bliss. My middle sister recommended it to me ages ago, but I only just got around to reading it because I had to wait ages for it become available at the library. The library has 12 copies of this book, which tells you how popular it is.

I read it in two days and cried at the end.

I’m not sure how to describe it because it’s both funny and sad. It’s about getting things wrong and keeping going. Martha, (the main character) is both awful and endearing. Sometimes you want to shake her and say, don’t do that, but then you realise that often she can’t help herself.

Even though I loved it, I’m not sure it will appeal to everyone, so I thought I’d share an interview with the author so you can decide if it is something you want to read.

Finding the perfect interview with Meg Mason turned out to be more time-consuming than I imagined. Because the book has been so popular (they’re making it into a movie), she’s been a guest on just about every book podcast imaginable. I ended up listening to about five versions of the same interview and it was interesting to hear how differently she came across in each one. When the hosts were very chatty and casual, she was a lot funnier and more honest. In the more formal interviews, she sounded a lot more nervous and stayed “on script” the whole time.

I finally chose this interview with the author Kate Mildenhall because she sounds really comfortable. I suspect they know one another well because they are roughly the same age and probably hang out at the same literary festivals. In the interview, she reveals she dislikes her first book (a memoir) and when she sees it in a bookshop; she wants to scribble in the book and change some words.

This really resonated with me. When I worked as a film editor, I often had scenes where things just weren’t working, but I couldn’t fix them because I didn’t have the shots I needed, or I didn’t have enough time to make the scene work. I’m sure it’s the same for anyone trying to do something creative. Sometimes you know you should have started again, or spent more time, but for whatever reason, you didn’t or couldn’t. There was a deadline, or the kids needed to be fed, or you had to be somewhere. We often have a desire to make things look and sound perfect, but there isn’t always time to do that.

But it’s hard to give up the idea that we should do things well.

Every time I get down on the floor to do my exercises, I look at the little gaps where the paint stops and the skirting board starts. I did a pretty ordinary job when I painted that room, but I was recovering from a back injury when I did it, so it’s foolish to think that I could do anything other than a “good enough” job. Occasionally, I contemplate getting out the tin of half-strength chintz grey and finishing it properly, but then my knee hurts and I decide to leave it for another day. I’ve got other things to do. Maybe not very well, but to the best of my ability.

Windows of opportunity

Windows of opportunity

Photo by Nathan Fertig on Unsplash

There’s a school of thought that says your opportunities narrow as you get older. This might be true in terms of career advancement, but I’m not so sure about that. In Lucy Kellaway’s new book Re-educated: How I changed my job, my home, my husband & my hair,* she tells the story of reaching 57 and deciding that she should make the most of what time she has left.

Her life-changing decisions weren’t the result of a cancer scare (as is often the case), or the death of a loved one, but were prompted by finding a house that she really, really loved. As a columnist for the Financial Times, she had the chance to purchase her dream house, and this was the beginning of an amazing new life. Finding the cash to buy the house involved leaving her husband, with whom she had a cordial but not especially close relationship. He had already moved into the basement of their Georgian house and they had and grown-up children.

I was fascinated by the idea of falling in love with a house and was amazed to find that you can actually see her iconic house on a design website, complete with the long orange bench top she describes in the book.

After buying The Frame House she leaves her job at the Financial Times to train as a secondary school teacher. This is a hard slog and there are many times that she wonders what on earth she has done! There’s a lot in the book about how the education system works and how hard teachers work.

The book made me feel a bit like an under-achiever although on the upside; I have a penchant for books in which people (mainly women) reinvent themselves, so I enjoyed it immensely.

It made me think about all the things in my life that I’ve put on the back-burner until I have time to do them. Time is something I have plenty of at the moment and luckily I don’t dream of becoming an astronaut, but I still have aspirations to be fitter and healthier, make really awesome sponge cakes, write a book, and maybe start a small business. All these things are possible and not very costly, so it’s not money holding me back but a lack of focus and low self-confidence, both of which I could overcome with a bit more determination and some more self-love.

One of my friends has just started learning Spanish and I know better than to ask her why. I know she is doing it because she wants to. She told me she lived in Spain many years ago and spent most of her time drinking in bars and dancing until the wee small hours. These are excellent things to do in your twenties, but now she’s in her sixties and she wants to travel around the countryside, talk to people and eat the beautiful food. Priorities change. I hope she’ll get back there one day, but even if she doesn’t, she’s enjoying coming first in her Spanish class.

So without wanting to sound like a motivational speaker, if you have some dreams in your bottom drawer, get them out and dust them off because there’s never a better time to do something interesting.

*This book is only available as an ebook. The hard copy will be published on September 21, 2021.

Sunshine on my shoulders

Sunshine on my shoulders

My friend and her husband mind their two grandchildren one day a week and enjoy it immensely, even though they find it exhausting. The baby has a sleep around lunchtime, and they have been told to put him in a room that’s heated to precisely 22°C. He’s zipped up in his sleeping bag (blankets are forbidden), and needs to be woken at a particular time, definitely not later than 3pm. There’s a long list of instructions and they follow them to the letter.

When my children were babies, I argued endlessly with my mother-in-law about how my children should sleep. She always wanted to put them on their tummies, but I thought I knew better. The SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) advice at the time was that babies should sleep on their backs, and I insisted that this was how I wanted it to be. I’m sure she probably still put them on their tummies when I wasn’t around, but fortunately they survived!

My mother once told me she enjoyed having her last baby the most. When she had her first baby, she worried constantly about doing the wrong thing, but by the time she had my baby brother (her fifth child), she had learnt to trust her own instincts and ignore the advice of experts. The nurses at the Baby Health Centre were terrifying and there were many rules to follow.

In the 1950s, the number one rule for a healthy baby was fresh air. “An abundance of pure, cool, outside air flowing fresh and free day and night” was how they described it in the baby manual. In the 1930s they took this edict to ridiculous lengths with the invention of baby cages. In London, they literally hung babies outside buildings to ensure that they had enough fresh air. In his book, The Care and Feeding of Children, Dr Luther Emmett maintained that babies needed to be aired to ‘renew and purify the blood’.

A baby suspended in a cage several floors up to ensure adequate sun and fresh air

Even though baby cages went out of vogue, the idea that babies needed both sun and fresh air persisted, and in the 1940s and 50s, mothers were told to put their babies outside in the sun so that they could soak up some of the sunshine. Not only was sunshine an antidote to nappy rash, it also helped prevent rickets. Scientists were aware of the relationship between sunshine and Vitamin D deficiency, but I suspect that most ordinary people just thought that the warm rays of the sun had some special life-giving properties.

And maybe they do.

In Kazuo Ishiguro’s book, Klara and the Sun , the sun is characterised as benevolent and he also has mysterious healing powers. Klara, an empathetic and wise robot, asks the sun to intervene and provide his “special nourishment” to Josie, her human, when she is unwell. It wasn’t until this week, when I was sitting out in the sunshine, that I realised that the AFs (artificial friends) in the book are solar powered. For them, and perhaps for me, the sun is indeed magical.

This is a sad, wise, and funny book. It made me think a lot about friendship and about the mysterious healing powers of the sun.

You can read a great review here.

Portrait of an artist

Portrait of an artist

My husband and I were lucky enough to spend a few days in Sydney last week. People often recommend being a tourist in your own city and I have to admit, it’s a lot of fun. Even though I used to work in an office near to where we stayed, it was a long time ago, so it was quite an adventure to be in the big smoke.

We stayed in the Fullerton Hotel next to the old GPO, right in the middle of the CBD and close to everything. It’s a beautiful old building, tastefully restored. The Salvos were having their Red Shield Appeal launch in the Grand Ballroom and it was great to hear a brass band echoing through the building. We could see the old clock tower from our room and the bells rang every quarter hour and on the hour, but I suspect they are silent between midnight and dawn because they didn’t disturb our sleep.

The clock tower in the GPO in Martin Place.
The clock tower at the GPO in Martin Place

We were in Sydney to see Hamilton (the musical) which was fantastic, but we also went to the Archibald’s while we were there. The Archies (as they are known colloquially) is the biggest art competition in Australia and a cool $100,000 in prize money goes to the winner of the best portrait.

This year the Archies celebrated their 100 year anniversary, so there was a separate exhibition featuring winners from the last 100 years. It was fascinating to see how styles (and tastes) have changed over the last century. The Archies are always controversial because everyone has strong opinions on what they think should have won. To counter this, the Trustees of the Art Gallery established the Packing Room Prize in 1992, in which the staff who receive the portraits and install them in the gallery vote for their choice of winner. The prize money is a mere $1,500, but I think it appeals to our sense of egalitarianism that ordinary people get a say in the matter. There is also a People’s Choice award, so you can vote for your favourite portrait after you’ve been to the exhibition.

As a person with no artistic talent whatsoever, I’m in awe of people who can paint and draw, but there’s a big difference between admiring a work for its technical brilliance and admiring a work because it makes you feel some kind of emotion. I thought this portrait of Professor Mabel Lee by the artist Hong Fu was brilliantly executed, but there were other paintings that stole my heart.

A portrait of Professor Mabel Lee by the artist Hong Fu.
Professor Mabel Lee by the artist Hong Fu

There’s something about this portrait of Tané Andrews by Nick Stathopoulos that’s very moving, but I’m not sure what it is. According to the description, Mr Andrews is an artist who works in a gallery near to where Nick Stathopoulos lives. I especially loved the white shirt. You can almost feel its soft silkiness.

Portrait of the artist Tané Andrews wearing a white shirt painted by Nick Stathopoulos.
The white shirt – portrait of Tané Andrews by Nick Stathopoulos

It wasn’t until I got home that I realised that Nick Stathopoulos also painted the portrait below, which I think is magnificent. It won the People’s Choice Award in 2016, so even though I can’t articulate my feelings about these works, I guess I know what I like.

A painting of Deng Adut by Nick Stathopoulus
Sudanese refugee and lawyer Deng Adult painted by Nick Stathopoulos

Here’s a link to all the finalists in the 2021 Archibald’s. Which one would you vote for?

Shut that door

Shut that door

I’ve just finished reading Monogamy by Sue Miller. I’ve read a few of her books so I knew I was in for a great read, but to be honest it took me a few chapters to get into it. I think this is because I’ve been reading some very undemanding books (aka trashy) and this one needed a bit more concentration. As I’ve mentioned before, I sometimes find it hard to start new books.

Monogamy is about marriage, fidelity, and grief. It’s about what happens when you lose someone you love, but then find out that they aren’t necessarily the person you thought they were. It’s beautifully written, but I found some of it confronting. Not only did it make me think about my own relationships and how they have affected my life, I also found some of the explicit descriptions of their physical relationship disconcerting. Not because they had any weird sexual proclivities, more because I’m just squeamish about sex scenes in books and movies. I can watch murder scenes (albeit with my hands over my eyes, peeking through my fingers), but sex scenes sometimes make me squirm in my seat.

In the world of romance writing, books with explicit sex scenes are known as “open door” books. You follow the main characters into the bedroom and get to read a graphic description of what follows. Books that leave you at the door are described as “closed door” books, for obvious reasons. The door is shut firmly in your face and you have to use your imagination. I don’t think these labels apply to literary fiction, but romance readers are very picky about their books and there are lots of rules.

Personally, I would rather move on with the story of “what happened next” rather than linger in the bedroom for too long. There are exceptions, of course. In Emily Maguire’s book Love Objects, there is a very graphic bedroom scene near the beginning of the book which is integral to the story. The book wouldn’t make sense without knowing what happened in the bedroom.

I was talking to a friend about this recently and she agreed she finds long descriptions of sex to be irksome. Not because we are prudish, but because they simply don’t add to the narrative. Also, they aren’t necessarily very romantic in the truest sense. If you think about what constitutes a ‘romantic evening’, then that depends on where you are in life and what makes you feel happy and loved. It could easily be very romantic to see your partner doing the washing up! No roses or champagne required in that scenario. I have to admit that I’m a sucker for romance when it’s handled sensitively. We both agreed that the most wildly romantic movie in the world is The English Patient. Check out this clip and see if you disagree. I haven’t read the book, so I don’t know how the sex scenes are handled, but in the film they are beautiful. Also, Ralph Fiennes is unbelievably handsome, so that helps!

In “Monogamy”, I suspect that the sex scenes were included because they were illustrative of their relationship. They showed that her husband, (despite his unfaithfulness) had been a generous and caring lover. But if they make the book into a movie, I hope they leave some things to our imagination.

Farewell Eric Carle

Farewell Eric Carle

I was looking at the Publisher’s Weekly list of the bestselling children’s books of 2020 last week and noticed that Eric Carle’s book The Very Hungry Caterpillar was number five on the list, so I was sad to read of his passing last Sunday. If you have children, you might have read The Very Hungry Caterpillar once or twice, or perhaps a thousand times, as I have!

I set off in search of my copy and couldn’t find it, which made me sad, although I’m sure it’s around somewhere. Perhaps one of my children has snaffled it?

First published in 1969, the book was an immediate success and has remained on the bestseller list ever since. Over forty million copies have been sold over the last five decades and it’s been translated into 60 languages. The book has enduring appeal thanks to its combination of lovely writing and beguiling pictures. The caterpillar seemed to have an insatiable appetite and you never quite knew what he was going to eat next. Also, kids (and adults) know what it’s like to be VERY hungry and eat anything in front of you, even if you end up with a tummy ache!

My kids loved the fact that you could poke your fingers through the holes in the book. Carle said that he was inspired to write a story about a bookworm when he was using a hole punch one day. Originally entitled “A week with Willie the Worm”, his editor convinced him to change his protagonist to a caterpillar and the rest is history.

Eric Carle sounds like he was a lovely man. In an interview with The New York Times in 1994, Carle said when he was a child, “I always felt I would never grow up and be big and articulate and intelligent. Caterpillar is a book of hope: You, too, can grow up and grow wings.” I love that idea. Who doesn’t want to turn into a beautiful butterfly?

So thank you Eric Carle for writing an excellent book. It has given my family hours of enjoyment and I’m looking forward to reading it again when I find it. If not, I’ll just buy a new copy because thankfully, it’s still in print.

Some kind of legacy

Some kind of legacy

I met some of my old work colleagues for a drink the other evening and it was lovely to catch up. They’re all super-focussed on their work and full of office gossip, some of which I can’t really follow because I don’t know who everyone is anymore. It still feels weird not being at work, even though it’s been more than a year since I left, but I’m mostly able to fill my days doing something useful, even if it’s just weeding the garden. I sometimes feel like I’m on holiday and one day I’ll wake up and find that I’ve been ordered to return to the office. That would be terrible!

Although I miss the sense of purpose that goes with having a job, I don’t actually miss the work (except for strategic planning meetings which I love). I think choosing your own projects is a lot more fun than having other people decide how you will spend your days, but I’m not very good with deadlines. When no-one is relying on you to finish a task, it’s very easy to put it off until another day. This is especially true when the task is something boring, but I also find it quite easy to procrastinate about doing things I enjoy, such as writing. It’s inexplicable really.

I’m assured by my work friends that they still mention me at the office (which was gratifying because no-one likes to be forgotten), but I was really interested to know what they remembered. They said it usually starts with, “as Marg would say…” and ends with one of the things I’ve been banging on about for years. It’s nice to think that someone was actually listening! It’s a bit like when your kids say something back to you that makes you realise that despite them pretending they were on another planet, or had cotton wool stuffed in their ears, they were taking it in all the time.

It just goes to prove that key messages do actually stick in people’s minds if you keep them short and repeat them often enough!

So here (in no particular order) are the sayings of Marg…

  1. White space is good Give your words room to breathe. White space makes complicated ideas more approachable and easier to comprehend.
  2. Slides are free, use as many as you like Don’t squash all your information on to one slide (see above).
  3. Simple is not the same as simplistic There’s a vast difference between making something clear and understandable and reducing a concept to a meaningless motherhood statement. The most beautifully designed products are incredibly complicated, but easy to use.
  4. What are you are trying to say? Once you know, you can write it down. Say it as simply as possible. Your readers will thank you.

There’s nothing really new of inspiring here, but I guess it could be worse. I reminded them of my favourite saying from the Best Marigold Hotel.

“Everything will be alright in the end. And if it’s not alright, it’s not the end”.

John Lennon

Do you have any favourite sayings that you’d like to be remembered for?

Dear reader

Dear reader

I’ve just finished reading a lovely book called Dear Sweet Pea by Julie Murphy. It’s for middle-grade readers (8-12-year-olds), who are ready for novel length books, but not quite ready for young adult fiction, which often has quite strong themes around sexuality, loss, and the difficulties associated with transitioning from childhood to adulthood.

Dear Sweet Pea has all those themes, but they are softened. Body consciousness is dealt with gently, and relationships are all about friendship, rather than romance. It’s an enjoyable read with the main character inadvertently falling into the role of Agony Aunt when she gets involved with an eccentric neighbour who writes an advice column for the local newspaper.

It reminded me very much of a book for grown-ups called Dear Mrs Bird by A J Pearce, which has a similar storyline. Set in war-time England, Emmy (an aspiring war correspondent) takes a low-paid job at a rundown newspaper and begins to secretly answer the letters to Mrs Bird, the resident (and rather fearsome) advice columnist.

Advice columns have always been popular in newspapers and magazines. In the nineteenth century they offered advice on domestic concerns, as well as personal issues like how wives could make themselves indispensable!! They were a good way for women to ask questions about love and about sexual matters in a time when these things were not discussed openly, and doctors were mostly male.

Women have always wanted to know what’s normal and often don’t have anyone they can ask. Some topics are just plain embarrassing and hard to discuss with even your closest friends.

A good place to find the answers to embarrassing questions used to be Dolly Doctor, a column in Dolly magazine, published in Australia from 1970 to 2016. If you want to take a trip down memory lane, back issues of Dolly have been digitised by the National Library of Australia and can be found here.

Another well-known Australian agony aunt was Kate Samperi who wrote a column in the Women’s Day magazine from 1970 to 1993. She gave advice about life, love and happiness in her ‘Dear Kate’ column.

America’s most famous agony aunt was probably Elizabeth Meriwether Gilmer, also known as Dorothy Dix. She was born in 1861 and was the highest paid and most widely read female journalist in the world at the time of her death in 1951. Her advice on marriage was syndicated in newspapers around the world and her name lives on to this day in Australian politics, where a ‘Dorothy Dixer’ refers to the practice of asking a government Minister a planned question during Parliamentary Question Time. This provides an opportunity for a Member of Parliament to either show off or waste time on a matter of little importance.

Modern versions of Dorothy Dix include Dear Sugar, a column originally published anonymously by Cheryl Strayed (author of Wild) and Ask Polly, a column in The Cut magazine, where writer Heather Havrilesky gives no-nonsense advice about a range of issues including how to find new friends, when to break up with your boyfriend and whether you have to thank your aunt when she gives you terrible gifts. Be warned that there is often quite a lot of sweary language (prolific use of the *f* word) in both these columns, but I like their tough love approaches.

I guess there will always be a place for agony aunts in various guises, because despite all the changes in the last 100 years, people are still deeply insecure and in need of reassurance.

I hope you have someone you can talk to, but if not, you can always write to me and I’ll do my best to answer.