Thursday, April 23, 2009

Advice — embrace or avoid?

Reaching the grand age of 25 next November (the 21st, and all birthday cards will be welcomed), I have had a number of snippets of advice passed my way over the years and have heard snippets of advice passed to others. So I felt that, given the body of advice upon which I can now call, it might be appropriate if I passed on some of it.
None will be original, and the chances are that some of what you read here will be so familiar to you that you will ask yourselves just what exactly I must be thinking in passing it on. There might, alternatively, be pearls of wisdom here you have never come across. If so, all the better. All I can do is offer what I am about to record in the best faith and trust I shan't bore you to death.
The idea for this entry came just 45 minutes ago when, as often I do, I was day-dreaming and imagining seeing my son off on his first date (and, as though you hadn't guessed, I am not 24, but a good deal older, though were you to conspire in the fantasy with me that I am far younger than I am, I would be very grateful).
In my day dream, I take my son aside and ask him whether he has enough cash for the night to treat his date, and assuming that he might not or that he might well do with a little more, I slip him another tenner. And when I do so, I repeat the advice I heard and older man give a younger man in a radio play years ago: 'Don't spend a lot of money on a woman you don't know. Only start spending more money on her when and if you know her better and feel she is worth the expense. And if she doesn't like not having money lavished on her, tough and at least that will let you have more the measure of her.'
I heard it just the once, although at an age when I had already probably made the mistake against which the advice counseled. But i do remember telling myself to remember it and pass it on to a so, if and when I had one.
Anyway, walking down the street (in Paddington, West London, if you are interested, after eating a pleasant pizza with a tomato and onion salad and putting away a half-litre carafe of wine) I decided to dredge my memory for whatever other pieces of adice I had come across over the years.
There is, of course, the obvious one — and one I disagree with profoundly: never listen to advice. That of course is nonsense, although the implications behind that particular piece of nonsense are worth following up. But put as bluntly as that it is out and out nonsense. There will always be those who have more experience than us, in whatever field. If you have, for example, never visited North Cornwall and want to make your way from the village near which I live to, say, St Minver, it would be worth listening to the experience of anyone who has done that journey before, whether or not you would otherwise take their advice on any other matter.
They might tell you, as a stranger, not to bother using any of the back lanes as you are most certainly bound to get yourself lost; that the route taking the main road is longer and that your journey will take you longer, but by doing so you will at least most certainly reach your destination.
So I would never counsel anyone to ignore all advice which come their way. But nor would I counsel anyone always to listen to advice. For one thing most of it is contradictory. Here's an example, building on the scenario outlined about of a young man, my son in the above daydream, taking his first tentative steps in getting to know the opposite sex. An old cynic, a bitter man, aged well beyond his years who, for reasons that are partly his fault, has had little luck with women and faces an austere old age in which the comforting company of a woman will be absent, might advise: never trust a woman, son, ever. Love 'em and leave 'em.
On the other hand let me introduce you to another man, a man who is something of a sentimentalist and one who has had the good fortune to find the true love of a good woman and who, largely because of a lack of imagination, has never been tempted to stray. Now well into is sixtieth decade and as blissfully happy with his wife as he was the moment she decided he was hers, he might well advise a young man such as my son: treat them with respect and courtesy. No doubt that is an admirable sentiment, but wholly unworldly and typical of a man who has intimately know very few women.
So as far as advice is concerned, my advice is this: listen to it, evaluate it, evaluate the chap who is giving you that advice, neither accept nor reject it out of hand, and, most importantly, take your time acting on it if you do decide to do so.
Britain is now into its second recession of the past 20 years. And an intricate part of the lead-up to both recessions was a house-price bubble. During the first, I had just arrived in London to try my hand at working casual shifts for the nationals and was in touch with a friend I had made while working for an evening paper in Cardiff, South Wales. The year was 1990 and house prices were into their second or third year of more or less trebling every few months or so. I owned a house in Birmingham on which I was still paying the mortgage and his advice was: sell, get as large a mortgage as you can and buy in London. You can't lose. Well, I ignored his advice because not many months later the house price bubble burst and a great many people who had done exactly as he had counselled me were left out of pocket and what the pundits call 'negative equity', which means their house has a market value lower, and ofen considerably lower, than the amount of money they borrowed in order to buy it.
This entry is now getting rather long, so my advice to myself here is to conclude this, the first part, and return to the thought in a day or two, by which time I shall have marshalled my thoughts, dredged my memory and come up with other examples of pieces of advice which were either totally useless or rather sage.


  1. Isn't is great to have the old man back....

  2. Funny, You made me laugh, you've always made me cry...and Ive never met you.
    More advise from another, you can take it or not. If I was that girl going on the date with your son and he did'nt want to spend any money on me, he would have lost me, because I feel if he doesnt want to bother to spend money on me, he doesnt care enough to. Which in my mind, means he doesnt like me enough, so he
    has lost me already......I could have been the
    ONE, the one whom he could have been blissfully happy with for 6 decades or least the next two left..I'm stil waiting for my airline ticket.