How to live: The pleasures and principles of stating the bleedin' obvious

"I love John Walsh's recipes for life" <i>Nigella Lawson</i> (With bite-sized apologies to TV's newest cook, and to Delia Smith, of course, and Jamie Oliver, Alan Titchmarsh, Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen and the growing army of experts who make modern life possible)
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The Independent Online

Are we getting saturated with advice? Are we drowning in gratuitous counsel? Can we take any more Top Tips about how to live from one day to the next? Handy hints and lifestyle briefings shout at us from every newspaper and TV station. How to trim your box hedge. How to make your thighs thinner. How to cook monkfish. How to look younger. How to make a killing in Las Vegas. We defer to experts everywhere. Could you mow your lawn with confidence in a world without Alan Titchmarsh? Would you consider slating your conservatory without consulting Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen? How did we make pasta con limone before Nigella Lawson told us how on the telly?

Are we getting saturated with advice? Are we drowning in gratuitous counsel? Can we take any more Top Tips about how to live from one day to the next? Handy hints and lifestyle briefings shout at us from every newspaper and TV station. How to trim your box hedge. How to make your thighs thinner. How to cook monkfish. How to look younger. How to make a killing in Las Vegas. We defer to experts everywhere. Could you mow your lawn with confidence in a world without Alan Titchmarsh? Would you consider slating your conservatory without consulting Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen? How did we make pasta con limone before Nigella Lawson told us how on the telly?

Once there were problem pages, with advice and sympathy for the emotionally desperate. Modern advice, by contrast, is functional, factual, sensible, utilitarian, fundamental.

Sometimes it's a little too fundamental. This week a TV documentary reveals how 67-year-old Beryl Rafferty achieved a "youthful new image" by sticking to eight pieces of insultingly obvious advice: walk more, take exercise, wear jackets, put on make-up, don't overdo things, don't drink stimulants after 5pm... But this is merely the culmination of a modern trend that might be called Kindergarten Counsel - talking down to grown-ups as if they were babies.

In How to Cook, Delia Smith taught us how to boil an egg. Nigella Lawson's bestselling recipe book is called How to Eat. The Sunday Times's Style section last week recommended that the best cure for "Tired All The Time" syndrome is to get more sleep. Cheese-biscuit snacks on planes now come in packages carrying the instruction: "Open pack and eat contents." Soon they'll be giving us instructions about how to visit the lavatory.

To hell with them all. All you really need to know is right here. We offer The Independent's definitive, cut-out-and-keep guide to the real essentials of modern living.

How to Get Up

Open eyes. Register presence of daylight through curtains. Hear mystifying words on radio ("...and what is Big Brother if not, in a sense, the risen Christ, all-seeing, all-knowing, and prepared to nominate us all for Hell?"). Close eyes. Groan. Scratch self thoughtfully. Hear noise of shower, wail of small child disdaining school uniform, clatter of tax bill through front door. Swing legs off side of bed. Attempt to stand upright. Fail. Repeat.

How to Breathe

Check heart is beating. Flare nostrils. Stand by open window. Open mouth. Fan air towards face. Flap arms up and down as if performing "The Birdie Song". When air enters lungs and makes chest bigger, blow out through mouth. Suck in again, then out. Repeat for remainder of life.

How to Walk

Prepare legs. Legs must be unencumbered by plaster cast, thigh-length waders, quick-setting concrete, electrodes and/or wiring, maddened shark, importuning ex-girlfriend etc. Surface to be walked on must be solid (no liquids or gas) and free of sticky, boggy, scalding or freezing properties. Arrange feet on ground or carpeted surface, such that right leg (R) is slightly ahead of left leg (L). On count of three, heave left side of body until leg L is advanced 50cms in front of leg R. Repeat, this time heaving on R side. Time heavings until become rhythmical and whole-body motion is constant. Repeat until exhausted or until body immobilised by a) wall, b) barbed-wire fence, c) mugger.

How to Read

Find shop with name "Waterstones" over door. Ask assistant for new book by Jeanette Winterson. Take purchase home. Take phone off hook. Sit on sturdy chair surrounded by a) chewing gum, b) mug of coffee, c) apple, d) pencil and pad for notes, e) copies of relevant reviews from Sunday papers. Open covers and locate first page filled with writing. Move eyes across lines, left to right. Repeat, moving downwards. Turn pages when necessary. Try to take in sense of what is being communicated: tulips, fellatio, the fate of Antioch... Fall into profound and lengthy coma.

How to Work

Acquire skill with words, figures, images, building materials, musical equipment, balance sheets, weaponry or narcotic substances. Persuade rich owner of capitalist enterprise to disburse large cash sum in return for regular and uncomplaining deployment of above skill. Ascertain optimum time of public transport to place of above transaction. Go every day except Saturday and Sunday. Buy charcoal-grey suit, tie, pigskin briefcase and (narcotic-substance professions only) handgun.

How to Eat

Insert index finger in mouth. Adopt gormless expression. Balance knuckle against top row of teeth. Insert lower incisor under outer rim of fingernail and agitate several times until corner section of nail comes off. Tear off section of nail with teeth and chew abstractedly. Makes light and inexpensive snack on dull afternoons. See also How to Pick Nose.

How to Look Thin

Wear black shirt and long black trousers. Add long black jacket and thin black tie. Accessorise with black shoes, black socks and long black walking cane. Acquire tall black dog or swarthy giraffe (optional). If still insufficiently thin-looking, affect long, head-to-toe, slim-fitting greatcoat in black and white vertical stripes, and tall stove-pipe hat with arrows pointing at sky.

How to Drink

Remove six lumps of ice from tray in freezer compartment. Put in long glass. Cut wedge of lime, squeeze over ice. Sniff glass. Sigh. Pour cupful of clear but evil-smelling liquid marked "Gordon's Gin" into glass. Add fluid marked "Schweppes Tonic Water" until effervesces. Gaze into frothing depths until bubbles assail nose. Leave for tantalising five mins. Raise glass. Open mouth. Pour mixture down throat, remembering to swallow. Huge sigh followed by (optional) colossal belch. Repeat until unable to locate ice-tray anywhere.

How to Have Sex

Reach puberty. Meet person of other, or same, sex. Share bottle of Sauvignon in fashionable wine bar. Discuss significance of English cricketing triumph at Oval. Go to person's flat. Remove clothing, shoes etc. Play compact disc featuring Corrs family, pianissimo. Utter plausible endearments in ear(s). Stroke any area of epidermis on display (apart from own). Become horizontal. Jiggle about. Express gratitude. Enquire how it was for person. Sleep.

How to Garden

Buy house that has abundance of green organic flooring at rear, and some tall, brown, scratchy, pillar-like organisms poking out of ground with branches, twigs etc sticking out of its sides. Hire sweating delinquent to weed flowerbeds. Acquire scissor-like device called secateur, and basket-like device called trug. Proceed round garden in straw hat, snipping off flowery bits at top of every bush and depositing in trug. Buy random selection of seeds, bulbs, cuttings etc at Garden Centre, guided by colour photographs on packets, and plant one inch deep in brown stuff called earth. Pray for rain. Explain vital importance of "wild garden" conceptualism.

How to Be Attractive

Cultivate pleasing voice, accent, taste in clothes, music, films, etc. Adopt small number of liberal-humanist views, expressed with conviction. Wash hair, skin, external organs (and behind ears) every morning. Shun company of thieves and murderers, eschew bare-knuckle fights, avoid courses of action resulting in criminal record. Memorise small repertoire of jokes about pandas, gorillas and people in bars. Tip waiters and cabbies 20 per cent. Learn ballroom dancing. Acquire skill in cooking, playing piano, paying compliments and singing old Frank Sinatra numbers. Possess £5,000,000. Buy Aston Martin DB8 and yacht (optional).

How to Watch Television

Enter room containing box with screen, cathode ray, wiring, controls etc. Sit on comfortable chair facing box. Look for remote. Shout "Anyone seen the remote?". Get up. Seize black contraption with dials, buttons etc. Point at television, without success. Shout "Who left all this PlayStation stuff lying around?". Locate TV remote beneath cocktail cabinet. Switch on TV. Change channels irritably. Search sofa for secondary box. Shout "Anyone seen the video remote?". At no time consider possibility of adjusting machinery by hand.

How to Decorate

Move everything out of dining room, including Bang & Olufsen hi-fi tower, cat, small children, rollerblades, ham sandwiches, dog, gymnasium equipment, goldfish etc. Sandpaper walls. Polyfilla walls. Leave walls like that. Paint all other surfaces with five coats of white gloss. Varnish floorboards. Buy transparent plastic table and chairs from Ron Arad. Find picturesque lump of wood in garden and put on mantlepiece. Do absolutely nothing else at all. Leave copy of Minimalism 2000 magazine in downstairs lavatory. Accept with modesty cries of admiration from acquaintances.

How to Stay Alive

Avoid bungee-jumping, underwater pot-holing, self-trepanning and three-day eventing. Do not apply for job as bomb-disposal expert, nuclear waste transport operative, crane driver, North Sea lifeguard, Harrods security officer etc. Try not to pick fight with Roy Keane, Lennox Lewis or Julie Burchill. Never walk into crowded backstreet bar in Harlem, New York shouting "Boy! I'll take a shoe-shine"...

And finally... How to Give Advice

Start by giving advice when asked. Should X forgive Y? Certainly. Should Y marry Z? No way. Will T be considered a slut if she asks V for a date? Undoubtedly. See how easy it is? Then start giving advice, unasked. You need a haircut. Tie your shoelaces or you'll fall over and kill yourself. Have you thought of going on a diet? Take my tip, never bet on the favourite. The trouble with you is... If you want my advice...

When you've mastered that, it's time for the combination of banality and condescension that is Modern Advice. Do not go out in the rain, for you may get wet. Sufferers from nut allergies are warned that traces of nut may be found in this packet of nuts. House prices may go up or down. And giving silly advice may seriously damage your health.

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