New Year tip: give up sex and see if you die

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Lucy Ellmann

Perfect Teeth in Just One Hour, How to Add Years to Your Life... Another year and another bunch of articles on how you can and must improve yourself, especially if you're a woman. Women are always in need of improvement. The Express recommends a Richard Gere-style retreat. This can take many forms, some presumably less inspiring than others; disconnect the phone, put the television in a plastic bag in the cellar for a week, listen to Borodin's 2nd String Quartet, take a bubble bath with candles and champagne, leave a note for the milkman and pretend you've gone away, read Three Men in a Boat, put on a face pack, make puff pastry whilst listening to La Traviata, eat a mince pie to the sound of trumpets or pat the cat. Nirvana ensues.

The Daily Mail thinks health is the main issue for the first week of 1997. It offers Do's and Don'ts for anyone interested in being told what to do by the Daily Mail.

Don't for instance get stressed, divorced or pessimistic, don't drive when tired, don't overdo the salt or use sunbeds or exercise overmuch or go to too many parties or eat pork pies. Don't drink very hot beverages, don't drink coffee at all, don't be embarrassed, don't go to the sales (could cause angina), don't feel guilty about not being healthy (this makes you iller) and most comforting of all, don't be a man.

Do exercise, make love, take vitamins, eat carrots, breathe properly, consider hormones, aspirin and getting a better job, and "have a good chin-wag" (presumably about carrots). It seems to me you could safely reverse all this and do the don'ts without serious consequences. As a test, give up sex and see if you die.

I've got a much better fund of advice for you on how to live, gleaned from the 1903 edition of Enquire Within upon Everything. This is my kind of book. In fact I wish I'd written it. Brace yourself for the solution to EVERYTHING.

How to dance the polka: "The gentleman and lady place themselves in position as in the waltz. The lady steps to the right with the right foot, draws the left foot up to it and springs slightly on the right foot; then stops to the left with the left foot, draws the right foot up to it and springs slightly on the left foot, at the same time turning to the right... The gentleman's step is the same as the lady's, but of course he commences with the left foot."

But of course. There are also hints for the correction of the Irish brogue, or the Scotch, and some important reminders about Americanisms: "There are many expressions peculiar to Americans with which we are now getting quite familiar, such as - `I guess'; `I calculate'; `I reckon'; `You bet'; `fix yourself up'; `run a store'; `haven't a red cent'; `to boom'; etc, etc, (if you wish not to use `to boom' too much, that's up to you)."

Still on the subject of conversation: "The Woman who wishes her conversation to be agreeable will avoid conceit or affectation, and laughter which is not natural and spontaneous. Her language will be easy and unstudied, marked by a graceful carelessness which, at the same time, never oversteps the limits of propriety... Some persons have a mania for Greek and Latin quotations; this is to be avoided. It is like pulling up the stones from a tomb wherewith to kill the living. Nothing is more wearisome than pedantry..." And yet, "the two Grand Nodes of making your conversation interesting are to enliven it by recitals calculated to affect and impress your hearers, and to intersperse it with anecdotes and smart things."

The success of these tips might depend a little on your audience: it might be wise to knock them all unconscious first, as a precaution. After which, you might need to treat as for apoplexy: "Raise the head; loosen all tight clothes, strings, etc; put a cork or roll of paper between teeth to prevent tongue being bitten; apply cold lotions to the head, which should be shaved; apply leeches to the temples, bleed, and send for a surgeon." So there you have it. Everything you ever needed to know, and more besides.

Did you hear about all those Christmas holiday-makers stuck in their caravans because of the snow in Clacton-on-Sea? This is actually a fate worse than death! I was once compelled to live in nearby Jaywick Sands for a year and it's no joke. I have yet to discover a drearier spot. No sea was ever so grey. No hope of happiness for miles around. Thus, a Butlin's camp had inevitably been plonked there, along with a few gnomes. The desperate caravanners were rescued. I was not so lucky.

So Cilla Black is an OBE. With a few more Blind Date weddings she'll probably be a Dame. But it'll never happen. I watched Blind Date over Christmas with a Canadian who was bemused and troubled by it. And she was right. Only the British would settle for a dating game so doomed to failure. The contestants are chosen on the basis of their personality, but how can anyone assess their personality when all the answers are evidently composed by Our Graham, Cilla's incorporeal companion? In the end, the chooser chooses a date by trying to figure out which one people in the audience seem to like best. Then off the two go to the Bahamas, only to find out, too late, that they come from different classes and romance is therefore out of the question. My friend thought that there'd be more chance of success if they were all just picked out of a hat and sent off without the preliminaries. But who wants success when you can have repulsive doubles entendres, the losers' embarrassment and a succession of slinky dresses?

Did you hear about the woman who had a broken neck for 45 years? When she complained to doctors, one said she had period pains; another decided it was stress. She got tired of asking about it. Finally, her most recent GP sent her for an X-ray that revealed that her neck was broken, and that another jolt at any point over the last 45 years could have killed or crippled her. Period pains? In your neck? Even the female body is not quite that mysterious.

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