Finding myself in need of Marjorie Proops

He has taken to calling me Marjorie Proops.

Surely this man I barely (and I use that word advisedly) know cannot be aware of my propensity for splattering the world with unwanted advice. Nor can he possibly have heard about those glasses I wore in the '80s.

Perhaps he is just taking liberties; something always a possibility when you are scantily clad, as I am sure Marje would have been only too quick to tell me.

And lest you be concerned I have been indulging in some unseemly pre-Christmas shenanigans, possibly involving nakedness and the office photocopier - sorry, my life is far too dull for that. (Any photocopier I have known has enough of its own problems without me threatening to break its glass.) The man in question and I occasionally strike up a conversation as we warmly wend our way up and down the physio pool.

Sometimes, I fear he is going to drown; possibly a desperate way to escape a conversation with me. I have convinced myself it is because he is a sinker not a floater. If I could stop talking about myself, I would suggest wearing another aqua-jogging belt might help.

Now I think about it, he started calling me Marjorie after I admitted one day my non-compos look was due to the fact I was pondering my next column.

Some of you may be too young to remember Marje, the long-serving Daily Mirror agony aunt (or what might be ridiculously called today a solutions consultant) who was still in the role when she died at 85 in 1996. She always appeared on her columns knowingly peering through large spectacles. Now I read a little more about Marje, I realise quite how dull my life is.

Marje, although supposedly happily married to Sidney whom she referred to as Proopsie (good grief), had a decades-long affair with a Mirror lawyer.

She was accused of racism because she did not choose a black woman to win a bridal contest, but she also campaigned for a variety of causes including seeking better treatment for rape victims, promoting contraception and sex education, and a more tolerant attitude towards homosexuality.

Behind the scenes, she brought in experts to help deal with difficult concerns raised and reportedly answered them personally, reserving her columns for less serious problems.

She received an estimated 25,000 letters a year and her celebrity status saw her feature in a Madam Tussaud's wax work and a This is Your Life programme.

Recently, I have found myself in need of a Marje, but since I am not in the business of channelling, I will just have to use my imagination - you'll hardly sense the difference. Here goes:Dear Marje,Why is it when we are all meant to be rushing around full of the joy of the season, it is so easy to be suddenly ridiculously miserable and envious of other people?

That happened to me recently when I was enjoying a weekend coffee in a cafe. I observed a couple, with what appeared to be grown-up daughters, doing likewise.

As they supped, the father innocuously said something like, "Let's wind up the week." Heaven knows why, but that simple apparently happy family scene made me feel immensely sad. It made me think of everyone who may be unable to get much enjoyment out of the festive season because they are missing family or friends who will not be with them because of death, distance or discord.

They may be dreading Christmas Day because without those people's presence it will be different from what they might have enjoyed in the past. From experience, I reckon the anticipation is worse than the actual event. Being prepared to do something different and being relaxed about the details can also help. One of the most enjoyable Christmases we have had since my husband died was one where the offspring and their cousins spent the afternoon on a working bee in my garden after we had all enjoyed breakfast together. Our families only decided that afternoon we would pool our resources for an evening Christmas dinner. This year, I have got as far as decreeing to the offspring there will be a picnic, but so far we're not sure where.

What are your thoughts, Marje?

Dear Elspeth,I am not sure why you have written to me. You seem to think you have all the answers. Some of your behaviour seems a little self-serving. A working bee on Christmas Day?

My best advice would be next time you are in a cafe, for goodness' sake get a women's magazine. Kick that awful eavesdropping habit by concentrating on something uplifting and educational such as an agony aunt column.

Happy Christmas, Marje

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