I am having a party at my house later this month. I wish to invite a friend and her parents, but her older brother is very prone to foul language. As there will be children present and this young man does nothing to hide his rudeness even in front of youngsters, I really do not want him at my party. Is it considered in bad taste to only extend the invitation to his parents and younger sister?

- K.S.

Before you exclude anyone, have you tried speaking with the older brother about his, er, linguistics? It may be possible he's simply unaware that you find that unacceptable and may keep it in check if he's asked to. Failing this, however, as you are not actually friends with the man himself, it would be perfectly acceptable to leave him off the guest list for the sake of the rest of the attendees.

Doctor Watson, I know that Mr Holmes often does target practise indoors, buthow do you keep your hand in with firearms? Do you practise more often thananother gentleman would, seeing as how Mr Holmes' work is often dangerous? - M.P.

Dr. Watson visits his choice of firing range regularly, like most normal people with respect for rented property do. He does practise quite often, although heavens knows he gets enough practise in the field…

Why on earth a person would pay to go somewhere and fire a gun when one can do it from ones armchair is beyond me… - S.

I currently reside in my parents' home, and although they provide me with everything I need, I have recently been contemplating finding a small job to give myself a bit of my own money to spend. What is your opinion on ladies working outside the home, and what sort of jobs would you consider appropriate for a lady to hold?

- F.F.

There are an increasing amount of jobs that women have proved they can hold, and although I think I would make a terrible working woman, I do hope that one day every job will be "appropriate" for women. Currently, however, your best chances would be as a secretary, a bookkeeper if you are apt with numbers, or a hostess at a restaurant. Pick something that you are not only good at but that you enjoy.

Mrs. Holmes, no doubt you're paid for your column each week, and this may be a bit rude to ask, but what do you do with your private income? Do you and your husband share an account or are things kept separate?

- G.T.

There is only one account, but most of the money I make myself I donate to charity. Mycroft makes more than enough to support us, and he is a good enough man that if anything separated us, he would continue to support me as long as I needed it.

My husband and I own a business together; it was originally my father's, and he gave half the stock majority to him as a wedding gift and left the other half to me in his will. We are equal partners, and we perform most of the same duties. My problem is that whenever we meet with clients or shareholders, I am always treated as if I am a secretary, or worse yet that I am "playing" at being a working woman and am only there for show. Is there any way to respond to this treatment other than breaking someone's neck?

- H.T.

First of all, grow a backbone. If they treat you like a secretary, respond like the icy-hearted, iron-fisted tycoon that you are. Get mad at them. Investors want to make sure an employer knows how to maximize profit, and there's no better way to do that than to raise your voice once in a while. - S.

I don't quite know if you're the person to ask about this, but I could not think of anyone else… My sister allowed my nephews to name their pet rat after me. Should I be insulted?

- J.E.

Likely not. Chances are your nephews adore their pet, and as they gave it your name, it must mean they love you as well. And as your sister will tell you, once a group of boys get something into their heads, it's hard to talk them out of it.

Thank goodness, or nothing would ever get done. - S.

My cousin and I were hoping that our sons, both under eight months, would get along so that we could sit for one another. Every time they're together, however, it seems they're grabbing at one another's hair and clothes… Is this a sign of rivalry, or is it merely like puppies playing?

- G.Y.

The later. I've been reading a lot of baby books lately, and most of them say it's quite normal for babies to want to grab anything that moves, including one another. Merely make sure they're not being too rough, and if needed put them down in separate cribs or bassinets.

My stepdaughter is pregnant and expecting twins, and from her conversation she expects me to be an on-call sitter for her and her husband. I have no children of my own, had no younger siblings, and have absolutely no experience (nor desire to watch them). Do you have any suggestions on how to let my stepdaughter know this without sounding like an evil stepmother from a fairytale…?

- P.E.

Have you tried just telling her you don't want to watch her offspring? You hardly have to pussyfoot around it. Chip in for them to hire a nanny, or tell her the reason you don't have children of your own is because you drowned them.

We, of course, will be hiring a nanny as opposed to ever, ever leaving our child in his uncle's care… Although the suggestion of contributing towards a nanny or a sitter is a valid one.

As a pet owner and an impending mother, aren't you afraid that your cat might hurt your infant or make it sick? My mother never kept cats because she said they'll smother them in their sleep out of jealousy.

- T.C.

There have not been any official reports of cats smothering infants since the middle ages, and unless a cat scratches the baby or brings in dead animals that the child comes in contact with, my doctor assures me there's no danger. My Siamese likely doesn't know what a mouse looks like, let alone how to catch one.

I just broke one of the pieces in my best china, and while I'm far from hysterical, I'm also far from happy. There's no chance of putting it back together again, and now the whole set is uneven… Is there a solution to this, or am I merely going to have to resign this set to second best?

- H.J.

If it is fairly new, go back to the store where it was purchased and ask if they have odd pieces to buy. When inventory is broken in stores, they often keep the odd pieces to replace those in their client's sets for a fee. Failing this, you do not need to resign the whole set, simply never have more than eleven people using it at once.

I've been waiting for the opportune moment to ask you these following questions. The first is for Mr. Holmes only. When you eventually retire, what would you occupy your time?

What are your favourite places to go in London?

And finally, are you both aware of a story floating around about Mr. Holmes's brother and a mystery woman?- D.M.

I plan to remain a detective for quite some time, so retirement is very distant, but I suppose I would take up a hobby trade in the country rather than remain in London.

My London haunts include Simpson's, most reputable concert halls, and Scotland Yard (although I never enjoy being at the former. - S.

I believe I'll answer the last one… I think many people are aware of that rumour. The woman in question is reputed to be a rather well-known actress that Mycroft knew when he was younger, but she has not lived in London for quite some time. If this story was true, believe me, I'd know.

Little chance of that… - S.

Elsewhere in London:

Watson entered the flat, sidestepping several piles of what seemed to be unrelated. "Good evening…"

Holmes was just putting his test tubes away in their proper slots. His equiptment seemed to be the only things he ever kept clean and organized. "Good evening, Watson. Back from visiting sister mine, are you?"

He nodded, sinking into his armchair and rubbing absentmindedly at his sore leg. "Yes… She's not too pleased about her editors wanting your comments to continue, but even she couldn't disagree with the numbers. Are you sure you're up to being a regular contributor?"

"I'd hardly call a line here and there a regular contributor, Watson. Besides, if I ever cannot do it, Mycroft has a way of imitating me in written word. He just thinks of what he would say and then says the opposite."

"Uncanny," sighed the doctor with a long-suffering roll of his eyes. "The poor woman is getting so anxious… And thanks to your blasted salt or sugar theory she's now worried she's going to give birth to a hermaphrodite. She's rather concerned about what one would dress it in."

"Gender-neutral colours I'd imagine," Holmes replied, as deadpan as ever. "Or pink on one side, blue on the other. They all wear dresses until they're three or four, so I suppose it wouldn't be an issue for a while."

"Don't you dare get her going about it, Holmes, not after I just spent god knows how long assuring her of just how rare the condition is."

"Oh, would you calm down?" sighed the detective, glancing wearily towards his friend. "I swear, old chap, you're nearly as wound as the expectant parents themselves. Is it a pity or a mercy you were never a father yourself?"

A heave of a sigh came from the armchair. "… Mary and I tried to have a child, you know. But after so long with no luck we went to a doctor… He examined her and found one tumour, and then another…"

Holmes had not been there for the conclusion of that play, but Mycroft has summarized the ending. He strode over, touching the man's shoulder almost gingerly. "I… I'm sorry."

"Just as well. A mercy, as you put it. A child should not be motherless if it can be helped…"

"Dear Watson… If it's any help, rest assured you're going to be as much as an uncle to this child, and any forthcoming children, as I am."

The doctor looked up, somewhat surprised. "I'm not of any blood relation, Holmes, and…"

"Blood be damned, who do you think the girl is going to trust more with an infant, you or me? Besides, I rather like the sound of 'Uncle John', don't you?"