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.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Voices
Ed Miliband and David Cameron are neck and neck in the polls
election 2015Armando Iannucci: on how British politics is broken
News
i100
Life and Style
Great minds like Einstein don't think alike
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Life and Style
A nurse tends to a recovering patient on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
health
News
science
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
News
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
people
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
News
A voter placing a ballot paper in the box at a polling station
i100
News
people
  • Get to the point
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

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Bristol

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment C...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment C...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

    £13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

    Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

    £18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
    Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

    Flesh in Venice

    Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
    Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

    Juventus vs Real Madrid

    Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
    Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

    Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

    Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power