Take my advice, completely ignore this advice

John Walsh ON MONDAY

ADVICE, ADVICE, spare me all this advice. All my life, I've had advice coming down on me in sheets. I grew up with a framed copy of If on the wall of the family kitchen, silently hectoring away over breakfast - don't deal in lies, it said (fair enough), don't look too good or talk too wise (why ever not?), and if you've got a spare minute, why not go for a refreshing run and then you'll inherit the earth ... Kipling's plonking counsels never struck me as especially useful. Another of his homilitic efforts advised that, if you were in a foul mood, the best cure for it was to go and dig in the garden for an hour until you started to "gently perspire". Half an hour of excavating the tiny begonia plot at the back of our Balham semi and I was in big trouble, aged six, and in a worse temper than before. Thanks, Rudyard.

Parental advice was always fraught with Catholic ambiguities. "Keep your elbows off the table," my mother would say, "and always masticate your food" - but she always employed the latter verb in a tone of distaste, as if it might be slightly disgusting. So I just went on bolting my supper and took the consequences. It just wasn't my thing, mastication.

On my bedroom wall was a pokerwork bromide. "Lord," it said, "give me the courage to change the things I can, the fortitude to accept the things I can't, and the wisdom to know the difference." Emboldened by these wise words, I tried to change the time of my piano lessons so as not to coincide with Doctor Who on Saturday teatimes, and was told not to be so silly. I tried to change my name to Peregrine McLennon (it was the Sixties) and learnt that this too was sadly unavailable. I tried to change my hairstyle to a floppy, blues-singer fringe a la Eric Burdon of the Animals, and was frog-marched to the barbers on Lavender Hill for a short-back-and- sides. Climbing into bed that night, I looked up at the fatuous diktat on the wall, with its Augustanly balanced precepts in their gilt frame. Changing things, I told it severely, isn't about courage and fortitude. It's about getting past your mum.

Then came Desiderata, that irritating litany of quiescent advice ("Go placidly amid the noise and haste ... ") which was a fixture on every suburban wall in the Seventies. I never bought its vague, oriental meanderings. "Be patient; strive to be happy" it ended up - although you knew, by then, that if you went around being patient and passive and contemplative for long enough, you'd watch the whole world of achievement racing past your sorry ass.

As I grew older, people offered you career advice, health advice, relationship counselling. When I first went to America, they queued up to offer man- to-man strictures: "Never play poker with anyone called Doc," they said. "Never eat at any restaurant called Mom's ..." Then music started dishing out gratuitous counsel. First Impressions was a soul song that went round and round our heads in 1980. "This might sound like some kinda square advice," the singer told us, "But it pays to be kinda nice ..." Uh-huh, we said. Tell us more, O wise one. "I'm not saying for you to be no fool," it went on, "I'm just sayin' you gotta play it cool." Well, we'll certainly do our best, we said. Was there more? "Carry yourself like a man," the voice enjoined the limp-wristed among us, "and always try to unnerstand." Oh bollocks, we said, and whisked it off the turntable.

Now there's Baz Lurhmann's deeply annoying record on the airwaves. Mr Lurhmann is the film director who recast Romeo and Juliet as a hip tale of gunslinging groovers in LA, and rechristened it Romeo + Juliet as if Shakespeare's most tender tragedy was a mathematical compound. He's now discovered a graduation lecture by some platitudinous greybeard on the Internet, added a funky backing, and released it as a single - a musical version of Lord Chesterfield's letters to his nephew, the ones Dr Johnson vilified as teaching the morals of a whore and the manners of a dancing master.

You must have heard it. Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen) keeps turning up on my car radio. Read by an actor with a voice like a golfing jersey, it's a litany of advice to the young, some of it direct ("Floss"), some cautiously neutral ("Maybe you'll marry and have children; maybe you won't"), and some nonsensical ("Do not read beauty magazines; they will only make you feel ugly"). It's destined to be a big hit, for the simple reason that nobody under 35 has ever heard this old-fashioned, take-my-tip-young- feller stuff seriously uttered before. What used to be commonplace in paternalistic societies - the wisdom of age presuming to direct the faltering steps of youth - has become a quaint freak show.

And the quality of the advice is, frankly, no better than the rest of the stuff that's been pitched at me over the years. "Every day," the voice on the record says, "do one thing that scares you." Right then. Let's see. Bungee jumping? Driving down Baker Street with your eyes shut? Walking into a bar in central Brixton and shouting, "Boy! Gimme a shoeshine!"? I don't think so. To anyone about to cough up pounds 2.99 for this smug and worthless tirade, I'd say: don't do it. just take my advice.

u

HERE'S A riddle for you. What is it that's more powerful than God, that's more evil than Satan, that the poor know all about but the rich have little experience of, and that, should you be so foolish as to eat it or drink it, will make you die? Good question, eh? An epic question. A vast philosophical surmise. It started as a conundrum in a child's comic, has been asked by umpteen smart-aleck children of their baffled parents, and now turns up at fashionable London dinner parties, as a parlour game over the coffee and petits fours. All manner of existentialist conceits have been offered by way of reply, but the answer is childishly simple and it's at the end of this column.

The current issue of OK! magazine features the spiky-haired Victoria Adams sitting on a violently patterned armchair, looking more than ever like a woodland goblin, and surrounded by yards of tulle and white satin from which she, and the Manhattan couturier Vera Wang, will shortly fashion a wedding dress. The dress is an interesting subject, but not a crucial one. Far more interesting, for cultural analysts, is what the former Posh Spice and her fiance David Beckham might consider ideal wedding presents.

For months, the features departments of the national press have been keen to get their hands on the Posh Spice Wedding List, not necessarily for the kindest reasons. What volumes would it speak of the consumerist British zeitgeist at the end of the century? What brutal abominations of taste would it harbour, what secret aspirations of gentility might it disclose? Coming out so close to the aristocratic shopping-list of ten-grand teapots and ruinously extravagant willow-patterned egg-cups that Edward P and Sophie R-J hope to elicit from their friends, would the Adams-Beckham list of nuptial requirements represent a more democratic, street-level, World of Leather/ Ikea/ Argos Catalogue array of must-have home furnishings for bedroom lounge and kitchen-dinette? Would it not tell us, more than any lifestyle magazine article could tell us, about the way the majority of the population wish to live now?

I don't know. I just know that when, in Sainsbury's on Saturday, I saw on the cover of OK! the words "Victoria's Secrets: My Wedding List", I shelled out pounds 1.45 without hesitation, heedless of the sneers of my Dulwich neighbours. Inside there was no list. "I'm not having a wedding list," said the eldritch songstress. "We're quite hard to buy for, so we've just said Marks & Spencer vouchers or Selfridges vouchers." Damn, damn and a side order of blast. You can hear a hundred Style Section hacks grinding their teeth in frustration.

u

I SPENT last weekend in Verona, wandering among the Roman ruins and the fervid romantic graffiti in Juliet's courtyard. One thing that struck me was the presence of enormous rubbish bins on the perimeter of the grand piazzas, ready to scoop up the debris of a million tourists.

It was hard to miss them, not because they were shocking municipal eyesores, but because they were all gaily painted. It's a smart idea of the city fathers: get a school to sponsor a bin, have the most talented children in Form 4B decide on a design and go to work on the boring off-white plastic. The result is a display of kinetic artistry that lifts the heart. My favourite, among all the naive pastoral scenes and joke faces, was a rubbish bin painted to resemble a vast plate of tagliatelli with meatballs, its spicy orange and brown highlights of funghi, basil and sun-dried tomatoes steaming away in the sunshine, an Olympian fork poised above it, ready to plunge into the seething tendrils ... Never before has a refuse bin made me feel hungry while walking past it. When Ken Livingstone eventually becomes mayor of London, I hope he copies this charming initiative without delay.

Answer:

Nothing.

Life and Style
The new Windows 10 Start Menu
tech
News
More than 90 years of car history are coming to an end with the abolition of the paper car-tax disc
newsThis and other facts you never knew about the paper circle - completely obsolete today
Arts and Entertainment
There has been a boom in ticket sales for female comics, according to an industry survey
comedyFirst national survey reveals Britain’s comedic tastes
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Sheeran performs at his Amazon Front Row event on Tuesday 30 September
musicHe spotted PM at private gig
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
Mystery man: Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike in '‘Gone Girl'
films... by the director David Fincher
Arts and Entertainment
Hilary North's 'How My Life Has Changed', 2001
books(and not a Buzzfeed article in sight)
News
Kim Jong Un gives field guidance during his inspection of the Korean People's Army (KPA) Naval Unit 167
newsSouth Korean reports suggest rumours of a coup were unfounded
News
people'I’d rather have Fred and Rose West quote my characters on childcare'
Life and Style
stoptober... when the patch, gum and cold turkey had all faied
Travel
Bruce Chatwin's novel 'On the Black Hill' was set at The Vision Farm
travelOne of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
Arts and Entertainment
Gay and OK: a scene from 'Pride'
filmsUS film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
News
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    LSA Level 3 required in Caerphilly

    £50 - £60 per day + plus Travel Scheme: Randstad Education Cardiff: The Job: O...

    Welsh Year 6 Teacher required in Barry

    £100 - £110 per day + Plus travel scheme: Randstad Education Cardiff: The Job:...

    Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

    £40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

    Welsh Teacher Year 2 required in Caerphilly

    £100 - £105 per day + plus Travel Scheme: Randstad Education Cardiff: The Job:...

    Day In a Page

    Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

    The children orphaned by Ebola...

    ... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
    Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
    The magic of roundabouts

    Lords of the rings

    Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
    Why do we like making lists?

    Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

    Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
    Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

    A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

    As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
    Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

    Paris Fashion Week

    Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
    Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

    Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

    One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
    10 best children's nightwear

    10 best children's nightwear

    Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
    Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

    Manchester City vs Roma

    Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
    Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

    Trouble on the Tyne

    Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
    Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

    Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

    and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
    Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

    Last chance to see...

    The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
    So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

    Truth behind teens' grumpiness

    Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

    Hacked photos: the third wave

    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?