Agony Aunt: hugs are free

Image description: A cartoon figure holding a sign saying ‘Agony Aunt’ stood in a green field with a pink flower. 

Hello everyone. Last week was the week everything changed, and we can enter anyone’s home we choose! Anarchy! Uh, I mean, most of us students still haven’t had the vaccine, and quite a few of us haven’t seen Oxford since 2020, but we’re getting there. We can do it, #selflove.

It was Mental Health Awareness week two week’s ago, and it was all to do with nature – Even if you didn’t know about it, I hope that you enjoyed the great outdoors/your houseplant named Steve. I also hope we move beyond awareness and into activism.

Moving on, this week we have two peculiar addictions, and someone who is confused by government guidance (aren’t we all). Anyone who has been reading my column will know that we’ve had addictions to cooking, and addictions to shreddies. Today, it’s not much different. You are all so creative and unique…

“I am addicted to collecting jam jars. I don’t know why – maybe it reminds me of being a child and helping my granny make jam. I have 121 jars in my flat and I am struggling to get into the bathroom. It really is becoming a hazard for me and I think it is starting to weigh down the floorboards. Can you suggest a therapy to help me with this addiction?”

Every week a new person comes to me, thinking I am a TV casting scout for My Strange Addiction. I’m not a licensed therapist, so I’m refusing to suggest ‘a therapy’, but I will make a suggestion for what to do when you can’t get into the bathroom… I mean, the answer’s right there.

And let me say – I’m still quite incredulous that this a real query from a person that actually exists, as I’ve never heard of someone only hoarding one thing. Surely you would have other issues with collecting items in your house, besides 121 jam jars. Is this a code for something? Are the jam jars representative of your college dean keeping you hostage? 

Beyond these worries, here’s some suggestions for what to do with the jars:

  • Just stick the jars in recycling and walk away. Far away.
  • Pop them on an online marketplace or forum for free for some jam-making enthusiast* to repurpose.
  • Fill them with rice and make maracas. Get the gang together, make a maraca orchestra. An orchestraca, if you will.
  • Use that knowledge of granny’s jam; sterilise those jars and make some preserves.
  • Donate all 121 jars to a couple who are making a hideous pinterest wedding. They’ll fill them with candles or LED string lights, and it will look beautifully mediocre.
  • Go all Blue Peter and cut and stick transparent Quality Street wrappers on the outside to make a stained-glass effect jar. A couple of Christmases ago my dad did this unprompted, but he licked the wrappers to make them stick (strange man). Said jar is now filled with screws, which is fitting. God, now I’m the pinterest woman.

Hope your floorboards are okay,


*Apparently there isn’t already a word for a jam-maker, but ‘marmateer’ is on the table.

“I’m so addicted to pret lattes I spend more time walking there than I do on my degree – please help me.”

Again, with the addictions!

Right. This isn’t a problem, it gets you out of your home – unlike a certain collector of lidded glass receptacles, not naming any names.

Also, in the best way, any time you spend doing anything is your degree, when you’re a student! Even pooing. I really don’t like this whole notion that only time spent writing or researching is your degree. Your brilliant brain is always working away in the background, like a computer installing an update overnight. And this means lattes = not a problem. Maybe you should get a decaf, less sugar, and not have them after lunchtime to avoid sleep issues.

Don’t mix the metaphor and give a frappuccino to your macbook,


“Are hugs free? as I think that if I hug someone I should receive something in return? if I need a hug I think I should not have to ask it should be free?? Okay I am being selfish but what do you think? Do hugs mean more than just a free hug? Help I am struggling to get the meaning?”

I am also ‘struggling to get the meaning’ here, but I think I can help to clarify something for you. You are free to hug people, this doesn’t mean that hugging people costs anything now. I really need you to understand this.

Let’s break it down – what does ‘free’ mean? 

‘Freedom of speech’ doesn’t mean speech is free, although it is free. And when a not-guilty person is ‘free to go’ on one of those courtroom dramas, it is free-ing, but nothing to do with cost. A ‘free hugs’ sign actually does mean hugs are free, but it’s more emphasising that hugs don’t cost anyway and a comment on human kindness. But I’ve been researching, and you can pay people to hug you, by hiring a professional cuddler. Hugs not free???  Now I’ve confused myself.

A tentative embrace,


Image: Bronwyn Riani